Three ways Lower Decks makes Star Trek more three-dimensional

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During the era of The Next Generation through Voyager, Trek made much usage of Paramount Pictures’ Stage 16, which functioned as the location for the majority of temporary swing sets for the production. This stage, nicknamed ‘Planet Hell’ by Trek productions, served as the location for a vast majority of alien worlds, the kinds of locations that away teams would beam to for missions that took them off the ship. The demands of a production schedule being what they were, it was usually unlikely that we’d see more than one or two locations on a particular world.

Comparatively, in the second episode of Lower Decks, Ensigns Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) find themselves attempting to track down a Klingon general on the planet Tulgan IV. The pursuit takes them across the bustling city, which is chock full of various districts and cultural neighborhoods for the different alien races that have set up communities on the planet. Areas like “Little Qo’noS,” the Klingon district where the general first vanished, or a Risian district, representing the oft-referenced “pleasure planet” of Risa. It’s a small thing, but it has a major impact. 

Within just those few moments of screen time we get this feeling of Tulgan IV as a lived-in, existing world where various cultures would take up roots, and — like immigrants building communities in our time period — would craft spaces for themselves to hold on to their culture and claim a semblance of home even as they create a life for themselves elsewhere. It hammers home the idea of the galaxy as this vibrant mix of cultures and does away with the often unintentionally homogenized spaces created simply due to the impossibilities of building a brand new set in the time available to shoot. 

Similarly, while animation backgrounds still cost time and money, and the work of talented artists to create, the power of Lower Decks to create alien worlds means getting to see places like the crystal-heavy world visited by the away team in “Temporal Edict” and the lush flora and fauna of the Galardonian homeworld in “Second Contact.” These alien worlds are a major departure from the constraints of Stage 16 or the random locations one might find near the Southern California set of Picard or Pinewood Studios Toronto for Discovery.

On the inverse, the show does seem to have a small stable of repeated backgrounds onboard the USS Cerritos. This mimics the live-action Trek shows which tend to use permanent sets on a soundstage for shipboard activities, and provides a touch of familiarity in doing so, giving us an anchor to the Trek we already know and love while the characters are “at home.”

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