Star Trek first beamed onto television screens in September 1966. The Original Series quickly found itself a place in popular culture, but when it reached an abrupt end after three live-action seasons, it looked as though the USS Enterprise would never complete its five-year mission.
That mission would prove to be an ongoing one, and Star Trek had its best days ahead of it. By its 55th birthday in 2021, the franchise had grown to include 10 series, 10 films, and countless spin-off media, with more to come.
The space saga has found a new lease on life in the last half-decade, buoyed by subscription streaming. CBS All Access, now Paramount+, brought the franchise to a second peak after the 1990s. Between 1987 and 1994, the second Star Trek series, The Next Generation, brought the Enterprise to a whole new set of fans on the backs of the earlier crew’s ongoing cinematic exploits. TNG would launch a phenomenal 18 years of continuous Star Trek adventures on television screens spanning four series.
When the original Star Trek crew wrapped up their big-screen adventures in 1991 with The Undiscovered Country, TNG was ready to move into movie theaters at its peak. Enterprise reached a premature end in 2005 despite finding some form in its third and fourth seasons. After nearly two decades and 624 hours of primetime television, it’s understandable that the franchise needed a rest.
A few bleak years followed for Trek fans, although the extended universe of comics, books, and video games kept the franchise alive while replenishing its dilithium crystals.
Just as the movie run of the 1980s had proven the franchise’s worth and eventually returned it to television, the clever reset of 2009’s Star Trek began a resurgence over multimedia.
The result is a rich and diverse collection of series that has explored the history of Starfleet forwards and back. Main storylines across the combined series now cross from the 22nd to the 33d century. That time span, along with its production history, is what you should consider when you take on an epic Star Trek marathon.
Time and again
Time travel is built into Star Trek and has been since the fourth episode of The Original Series, “The Naked Now.” The penultimate episode of that first season, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” became an instant classic thanks to the heartbreaking time travel mechanic at the center of its drama.
Trek’s frequent trips through time mean that any chronological viewing of Star Trek, even following the general narrative period of each series, will usually leap about the timelines. If you’re as fortunate as the crew of Deep Space Nine was during the brilliant 30th-anniversary episode Trials and Tribble-ations, you might find yourself back on the original USS Enterprise itself.
Some series have deeper connections to multiple timelines than others. Star Trek Enterprise may have taken the franchise back in time to prequel The Original Series, but it couldn’t resist tying itself to the future. A temporal cold war plot introduced interference from the 28th century even though it charted Starfleet’s early days in the 22nd century.
Star Trek Discovery went further when it reset its timeline after its second season, propelling the show and most of its cast to the 33rd century. So far, Discovery has taken Star Trek further forward than any series has gone before.
Watching the Star Trek series in order
Despite the considerable gap between the series’ two peaks, during the 1990s and now, Star Trek has adjusted to modern streaming in more ways than one. Most notably, episode counts have more than halved per live-action season since 2017.
The television series by release date
Star Trek: The Original Series (3 seasons, 1966 – 1969)
Star Trek: The Animated Series (2 seasons, 1973 – 1974)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (7 seasons, 1987 – 1994)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (7 seasons, 1993 – 1999)
Star Trek: Voyager (7 seasons, 1995 – 2001)
Star Trek: Enterprise (4 seasons, 2001 – 2005)
Star Trek: Discovery (3 seasons, 2017 – present)
Star Trek: Short Treks (2 seasons, 2018 – 2020)
Star Trek: Picard (1 season, 2020 – present)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (2 seasons, 2020 – present)
Star Trek: Prodigy (1 season, 2021 – present)
The film series by release date
The Star Trek films followed directly on from The Animated Series after the concept of a live-action revival on television was abandoned. With the second film, the timeline wisely jumped two decades into the future, allowing the original crew of the USS Enterprise to age gracefully. The seventh Star Trek film took TNG to movie theatres, and they bid adieu to Captain Kirk on the way. The crew of the Enterprise-E would voyage for three more movies before the franchise returned to that continuity during 2020’s Picard.
In 2009, Star Trek successfully relaunched the story onto the big screen, bringing the crew of the Enterprise back thanks to a split timeline. The three films, 2009’s Star Trek, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, are set in the so-called Kelvin timeline, named after the USS Kevin, which was present at its creation. This timeline diverged from the Prime Star Trek universe that includes all other films and series (despite speculation early in Discovery’s run that it was in a different timeline to The Original Series). As such, the new Star Trek films run concurrent to The Original Series in chronology, but their unique position allows them to incorporate several future echoes. The reason behind the divergence was picked up in the prime timeline during Star Trek: Picard.
To see the Prime Universe movies in production and chronological order, use this watch list.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Star Trek Generations (1994)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
The recent animated expansion of the Star Trek Universe has allowed the show to drift back in time. Both Lower Decks, the adult comedy series, and Prodigy, the kids-focused animation, tag on to the end of The Next Generation period, shortly after the return of USS Voyager from the Delta Quadrant.
Over the last decade, Star Trek: Online has become a powerful narrative outside the shows and films. It deserves mention because it uses well-known characters and includes voiceovers from original series cast members. However, it is classed as soft canon, which means that future Star Trek series may contradict it despite its mainly future setting. Star Trek: Online is set in 2411, approximately 30 years after the final Next Generation film, Nemesis, and a decade after Star Trek: Picard.
Star Trek: Short Treks was an anthology series that ranged from Discovery’s second season to the far future of the 33rd century during the excellent Calypso.
If you want to watch the complete Star Trek series in chronological order, you’ll have to warp through this watch list.
Star Trek: Enterprise (2151 – 2161)
Star Trek: Discovery, Seasons 1 and 2 (2255)
Star Trek: The Original Series (2265 – 2269)
Star Trek: The Animated Series (2269 – 2270)
Star Trek I – VI (2273 – 2293)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (2364 – 2370)
Star Trek: Generations (VII) – Star Trek: Nemesis: X (2293 – 2379)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2269 – 2375)
Star Trek: Voyager (2371-2378)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (2380)
Star Trek: Prodigy (2383)
Star Trek: Picard (2399)
Star Trek: Discovery, Season 3 onwards (3188 – 3189)
We’re going to be setting foot in the Alpha Quadrant more than ever. At least two more live-action Star Trek shows are planned, both spinning out from the period of Discovery’s first two seasons. Strange New Worlds will continue the adventures of Captain Christopher Pike, Mr. Spock, and Number One in the 22nd century, promising something a little closer to The Original Series.
Section 31, the ever-intriguing dark side of The Federation that first appeared in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is set to have a show too, picking up the misadventures of Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou. We last encountered her in the 22nd century. However, whether the former Emperor of the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire will stay in the Prime Universe and that period is yet to be seen.
The upcoming Star Trek series are:
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Arriving 2022)
Star Trek: Section 31 (TBC)