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Star Trek is big. Like, really big. There have been six TV series A Beginner's Guide to the Star Trek Franchise A Beginner's Guide to the Star Trek Franchise Most people know about Captain Kirk, Spock, and the Starship Enterprise. But beyond that, how much do you know about the Star Trek franchise? Our beginner's guide answers all of your questions. Read More totaling more than 700 episodes, 13 movies, and a whole host of companion novels, comics, and video games. Which all adds up to more Star Trek than you could hope to get through in years of hardcore binge-watching The Pros and Cons of Binge-Watching Television The Pros and Cons of Binge-Watching Television Binge-watching is a recent phenomenon that pretty much everybody has done thanks to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But for all of its various pros, it does also have some cons. Read More .

In spite of, or more likely because of, this ridiculously large universe, Star Trek remains a hugely important cultural icon. It has inspired dozens of other science fiction movies 6 New (ish) Science Fiction Movies Better Than Star Wars 6 New (ish) Science Fiction Movies Better Than Star Wars Is Star Wars really the pinnacle of science fiction movies set in space? Haven't several films already surpassed the Star Wars series? Here are six we consider to be better... Read More , some great sci-fi television shows 10+ Brilliant Sci-Fi TV Shows That Aren't Star Trek [Stuff to Watch] 10+ Brilliant Sci-Fi TV Shows That Aren't Star Trek [Stuff to Watch] The best sci-fi movies are often cherished by fans and placed up high upon the mantle, but it's TV shows that make up the bread and butter of any geek's media diet. A good TV... Read More , and countless ludicrous online debates Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Which Is More Technologically Advanced? Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Which Is More Technologically Advanced? There are three topics that should never be discussed at the dinner table: religion, politics, and the relative merits of Star Trek and Star Wars. Luckily for us, MakeUseOf isn't a dinner table. Read More between nerds.

If you’ve never watched Star Trek before, or have just caught some of the recent movies or old episodes in syndication, it can be hard to know where to begin. Today, in honor of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary, let’s look at some of the ways you can get up to speed.

The Completist

For the completist, there’s only one way to do Star Trek: start at the beginning and work your way through everything (except the Animated Series, even Gene Roddenberry disowned that). If you really want to get your uber-nerd membership card you’re going to need to watch every minute that’s been broadcast on TV or screened in a cinema. The best viewing order for the completist is:

That IS a hell of a lot of content, but it will give you the complete Star Trek experience. It’s not in a strictly chronological order (Star Trek: Enterprise is a prequel set before The Original Series, and The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine overlapped for a while) but it’s near enough to it that you’ll see the development of the universe.

If you’re serious, go ahead and dedicate several years of your life to getting through it all! However, for most people, the completist order is a pretty bad fit. Star Trek is great, but it’s not “lose all your friends and disregard personal hygiene” great.

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Thankfully there is an alternative way of plowing through 50 years of Star Trek, which we have outlined for you below.

The Alternative

The best way to watch Star Trek in any reasonable amount of time is to skip huge chunks of it. And by huge chunks, I’m talking complete series and runs of episodes. This viewing order might prove controversial (realistically, it will prove controversial) but let’s take a look at what parts of Star Trek are truly unmissable.

The Original Series

First off, skip The Original Series. Yes, that’s right, skip the one that started it all. No Kirk, no Spock, no Bones. It’s all skippable. I know it’s a bold claim but hear me out.

When The Original Series was being broadcast it wasn’t the cultural monster we know today; it was just another TV show competing for air time. Although Roddenberry was a visionary and had very definite views on how Utopian the future would be, the network had other ideas. He had to make compromises to get his show on TV. These compromises show.

The Original Series also doesn’t hold up very well. It’s a product of the swinging 60s and is about as cheesy as it gets. The various human-shaped-body-but-with-bad-prosthetics-stuck-to-their-faces aliens the crew encounter look ridiculous. There’s a certain nostalgia value to it, and it did kick off the Star Trek franchise, but it’s really not very good. If you must, pick a few random episodes to get a feel for The Original Series, but otherwise skip it entirely.

The Movies

By throwing out The Original Series you also get to skip Star Trek I through VI. This is far from a bad thing. The movies are, at best, overlong TV episodes and at worst, time traveling capers involving whales.

Actually, while you’re at it, skip movies VII through X too, as they’re awful as well.

The Next Generation

The Next Generation is almost universally recognized as being the best Star Trek series. Patrick Stewart brought a level of acting skill to the role of Captain Picard that was sorely missing in William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. Everything about the series is miles above The Original Series. Rather than having to bow to the whims of the network, Roddenberry had a lot more creative control over this series, so his vision of the future was more fully realized. It’s the show The Original Series should have been.

Produced in the late 80s and early 90s, The Next Generation holds up a lot better than The Original Series (although there are still a few too many bad prosthetics for my liking).

This isn’t to say The Next Generation is perfect. There are plenty of skippable episodes. Luckily, the wonderful Max Temkin has created a viewing list that condenses the show’s 178 hours down to just 40. This makes the whole thing manageable in just a few weekends. Star Trek: The Next Generation in 40 Hours is flat out the best way to watch the best series of Star Trek. If you’re looking to invest as little time as possible, this is the way to do it.

Deep Space Nine

While Roddenberry was fully able to realize his vision in The Next Generation, his Utopian ideals were even criticized in the writer’s room. Roddenberry banned crew members from having any conflict with each other, because a bunch of people crammed together in a tin can wouldn’t fight in the 24th Century… obviously.

After Roddenberry died, the writers who had been limited creatively on The Next Generation decided to push the boundaries and explore the limits of Star Trek‘s Utopian future. What happens when the ever-tolerant Federation comes into contact with a truly intolerable group? It makes for compelling viewing.

Deep Space Nine is set on a space station. With all the major characters confined to one main location, the writers were able to take a more continuous approach to the story rather than the episodic nature of the previous two series.

Although this is great for fans of character development, it makes it harder to skip episodes as the series works best as a whole. Still, Max Temkin had a shot with his Medium post condensing Deep Space Nine down to 82.5 hours. He wasn’t able to condense things quite as much as with The Next Generation, but it’s still a good deal shorter than the original run.

Deep Space Nine divides Star Trek fans because it strays the most from Roddenberry’s vision. This controversy is, to me, what makes it such essential viewing for Star Trek fans. It will get you right into the middle of one of the biggest Trekkie debates. Nerd cred engage!

Voyager

Voyager, while either the second or third best Star Trek series depending on who you ask, isn’t essential viewing. It’s another 200 hours of a crew banging about in a spaceship. It’s a lot more serialized than The Next Generation so it does have more character development, but it also makes it much harder to drop in and out.

If, after watching The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, you’re still hungry for more Star Trek, then it’s time to dive into Voyager. You’re probably going to have to tackle the whole thing, at least until Max Temkin tackles the unenviable task of condensing Voyager down.

Enterprise

There’s not much to say about Enterprise than to advise you to skip it. While it’s not bad, it’s far from great. It was cut short after only four seasons, making it one for the completist rather than the casual fan.

The New Movies

The new Star Trek movies are a total reboot of the franchise. You don’t need to have seen any of the TV shows or earlier movies to watch them (although you will catch plenty of references and in-jokes if you have). They’re a lot more action driven than the rest of the Star Trek universe, so some Trekkies The 10 Best Sites To Go On A Star Trek & Become A Trekkie The 10 Best Sites To Go On A Star Trek & Become A Trekkie Let's live the dream within the other universe we know - the World Wide Web and see what it offers the Trekkie and their love for Star Trek. Read More aren’t fans. For everyone else, these are three fun movies worth watching with friends (if you didn’t catch them in the cinema 6 Reasons You Shouldn't Abandon Movie Theaters 6 Reasons You Shouldn't Abandon Movie Theaters Movies are awesome. Watching a movie in a theater makes them awesome-er. Sadly, most people are skipping movie theaters and just watching films online instead. Which is something we simply cannot let happen... Read More ).

Live Long and Prosper

Star Trek has a long history. It’s been a big part of pop culture for the last 50 years, and its popularity shows no sign of waning. There are new movies on the way and a new TV show too. Star Trek: Discovery looks rather promising, and it will hopefully become essential viewing for generations to come.

In this article I’ve had to make some pretty big calls about what the highlights of Star Trek are. I openly admit I could be wrong about some of them.

So, if you’re a massive Star Trek fan, feel free to let me know in the comments just how badly I’ve messed up. You should also recommend some of your favorite series, individual episodes, or movies so that everyone gets to hear more than just my take on this wonderful franchise.

  1. Andy Johnson
    November 15, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Ran across a great set of books on the Original series, more of a behind the scenes look of the making of every episode. -- thesearethevoyagesbooks.com --
    Has budgets, ratings, memos from Gene to the cast and crew - cool stuff.
    Wonder if they knew they were making History?

  2. Del_Duio
    September 10, 2016 at 3:46 am

    I don't think skipping TOS is a good idea at all. Say what you will but it's worth it just for the Kirk / Spock / Bones moments. There are also some worthwhile episodes like Day of the Dove, The Enemy Within, and City on the Edge of Forever to name a few.

    To me, DS9 is by far my favorite of the series and there's really only maybe 4 you could skip out of 176. Hint: If Vanessa Williams or Quark in drag is in the episode, you can skip it! Aside from the amazing primary cast DS9 also sports a huge secondary / reoccurring cast and hands down the best villain in all of Trek: Gul Dukat. Unlike other Trek series, DS9 has no weak seasons too.

    TNG is a fantastic series however it's first season is pretty terrible and only got marginally better in season 2. It really took off after though and seasons 3-5 are fantastic. Data, Picard, Worf, Geordi, Riker.. All incredible characters. TNG has some of the best episodes too like Yesterday's Enterprise, I Borg, Who Watches the Watchers and 40 more hahaha.

    Voyager I thought was okay, but has far too many 'blah' or 'so so' episodes which was a big problem. There are some really good episodes but they are few and far between. Another problem VOY had was the lack of a good 2nd in command with Chakotay. Unlike TNG's Riker or DS9's Kira Chakotay barely registers through most of the series' run and that's a sticking point.

    I never got into Enterprise, but I really tried. To me it's the worst of all the series by far. And that horrible theme song! If anybody has to skip an entire series, this is the one right here.

    The movies: Skip the first 10 movies?? Are you high?! Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, Voyage Home, and The Undiscovered Country are all great. First Contact seems to be the favorite of the TNG movies but I really liked Generations and Insurrection too. Nemesis was bad though, and was a shitty way to end the TNG crew's run.

  3. CKS
    September 9, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    This article is a great concept... But recomending that a prespective Trekker totally skip TOS, Voyager, and all of the movies; but watch 80+ hours of the boring, pretentious DS9 is incredibly wrong.
    You can definitely condense TOS down. The Nerdist article of 'The 11 Most Essential STAR TREK Original Series Episodes' is a good attempt... but I would also include at least these: 'The Devil in the Dark', 'All Our Yesterdays', and 'The Tholian Web'.... And I'm sure there are few others that I would add if I thought long enough.
    I would also recommend watching these movies: II, IV, and VII. Those three are the best of the lot and are proper additions to the series they are based on... C'mon the rematch with Kahn, the intro of the Borg Queen, and Chekov back in the Cold War America asking about the "nuclear wessels"; these are all unmissable iconic Star Trek moments.
    You are definitely right about TNG; it is probably the best series. I don't know much about the condensed list you mention, but I've heard it is pretty good,
    You are also probably right about Voyager. It is much too serialized to watch randomly. So until someone can come up with a good condensed list it probably has to be skipped.
    I just could not stomach DS9 and as far as I'm concerned it can be skipped, unless someone can point out one or two good episodes that can stand on their one, just to get a flavor.
    Enterprise and the new movies are decent but so disconnected from classic Star trek that they can also be skipped for the prospective Trekker.

  4. Gary
    September 8, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    Are you serious? Skip the original series? That planted the seed for the 50 years of Trek that followed. I grew up watching the original airing of TOS. That is what hooked me on Star Trek to begin with. As far as skipping the first 10 movies, I will agree that some were definitely better than others. However, this will prevent people from seeing the best Trek movie of all time: Star Trek II, Wrath of Khan. It is far superior to the "new" Star Trek Into Darkness (which, in the opinion of myself and several thousand others, ranks just below an unpolished turd in popularity). You can't skip ten movies and three or four entire TV series and still call yourself a fan.

    I'm just curious. When you read a book, do you just skip every other chapter, or do you read the whole thing? Basically, that is what you are suggesting to people who want to learn about the Star Trek universe. It just doesn't work that way.

    • shaun watters
      September 9, 2016 at 8:51 am

      Skip TOS and the movies ?!?!??! damn fool

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