How to Get Into Star Trek

This article idea was suggested by a Conscious Growth Club member. After a little reflection, I thought, why not?

I’ve seen every episode of every non-animated Star Trek series, including the original 1960s classic, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, and the new Picard series. I’ve seen many episodes multiple times. I’ve seen all of the movies. I’ve been to a Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. So I’m pretty well versed in Star Trek lore.

I met William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) very briefly when I was in my 20s because we had the same lawyer for a while. That lawyer was helping me with a contract for my games business and Shatner with a book deal.

My ex-wife Erin got to be on the set of The Next Generation while they were filming the episode “Rascals,” and we bonded over Star Trek quite a bit in the early part of our relationship.

My favorite series is Star Trek: The Next Generation. Its seven seasons aired from 1987 to 1994, which was age 16 to 23 for me – a time of tremendous changes in my life, including losing my religion, moving out, getting arrested multiple times, some wild college experiences, and starting my first business. I watched the final episode of The Next Generation with my girlfriend Erin, who later became my first wife. I’ve never married a woman who isn’t into Star Trek – that’s a dealbreaker. If a woman doesn’t understand the essential communication building blocks that Star Trek references provide for a healthy, long-term relationship, we can’t be like Darmok and Jalad on the ocean.

Today my wife Rachelle and I still watch Star Trek often. Sometimes we play a “guess the episode” game, where one of us plays a random episode, and the other has to guess the exact title of the episode. Usually either of us can guess it well before the opening credits, sometimes within seconds. It’s a geeky game but fun for us.

A lot of my business and lifestyle decisions were actually influenced by my early exposure to Star Trek. One example was never having a job since The Next Generation ended – I decided to boldly go after meaningful work of my choosing and not to get trapped in hollow pursuits. Where did I get the idea to do so much personal exploration and experimenting? That’s my version of exploring the galaxy; for now I just have to do it without warp drive. Why is alignment so important to me? Because Star Trek helped me think a lot more deeply about how my values and decisions sculpt my character and how even small lapses can create big consequences.

The hardest part was realizing that the world I lived in didn’t match up very well with the values of the crew of The Next Generation. But I was happier when I didn’t give up, and I just kept reshaping my social environment to filter for a stronger values match there, full of people who value honesty, service, dedication, exploration, etc. I like people who take positive risks, not just for their own gains but for the benefit of others.

If you’ve never explored Star Trek before, in some sense I envy you. It can be an amazing journey once you get into it, one that really reshapes your character and your life path if you let it. It has affected my life more than any book I’ve read or seminar I’ve attended. Star Trek is probably the closest I come to having a religion.

To seriously answer the question about where to begin if you’ve never watched Star Trek at all, here’s my advice for dipping your toes in for an interesting taste of what it’s all about. Let me introduce you to it, if you’ll let me play that role for you.

In terms of series, I’d recommend starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a very episodic show, so most episodes are meant to stand on their own. Some episodes, including many two-parters, carry a bit of a story arc, but for the most part there really isn’t a major story arc that carries through all the seasons. It’s not like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or other shows with a long story arc. The characters do change and evolve over time, but not nearly as much as you’re likely to see in more modern shows.

The nice thing about this is that you can watch just about any episode of The Next Generation as a one-off experience, and you don’t need the context of all the episodes around it.

There are just seven core characters on the show, so it’s not hard to keep track of everyone. The links go to the Wikipedia pages for the characters in case you want to see what they look like or learn more about them. They are:

  1. Jean-Luc Picard – He’s the captain of the ship. He loves Shakespeare, order, and structure and is awkward around kids. Many of the show’s most interesting values conflicts involve him. Generally he’s a very head-based character with well-developed reasoning skills, but he can get pretty fired up and passionate about his beliefs and values too.
  2. William Riker – He’s the first officer, second in command. He loves to explore, likes jazz, and has a playful, fun-loving vibe much of the time. He can be super serious and all business when the situation warrants though.
  3. Data – He’s the android character. He doesn’t feel emotion, can’t use contractions (except on some episodes where contractions slipped through), and often fumbles with humor. He’s also one of the kindest and most generous characters on the show. His journey includes exploring his “humanity” while the ship explores the galaxy. He has a cat named Spot (which during the series inexplicably flips from a male cat to a female one, so they can make it pregnant in season 7’s episode “Genesis”).
  4. Worf – He’s the Klingon character, a tactical officer and in charge of ship’s security, taking over this role when Tasha Yar dies in season 1. His #1 value is honor, and he loves to fight. Unfortunately he isn’t very good at his job since the ship incurs many serious lapses in security, but somehow he never gets fired. He also gets transplanted to Deep Space Nine as a regular on that show’s seasons 4-7, which further develops his character. Incidentally, the actor who played him, Michael Dorn, used to be a vegetarian, got prostate cancer, and then went fully vegan. I so wish he’d been able to realize his dream of a Worf-centric spinoff.
  5. Deanna Troi – She’s the compassionate ship’s counselor who can strongly sense people’s emotions. She’s half Betazoid on her mother’s side. Betazoids look human but are from a different planet, and they have the ability to use telepathy (with each other) and to know what the people around them are feeling. She often advises Captain Picard and helps comfort people who need it, like when someone is grieving a loss. She was previously in a relationship with Riker (which is explored in certain books like Imzadi), and sometimes there’s romantic or sexual tension between them. She loves chocolate even more than Rachelle.
  6. Geordi La Forge – He’s the chief engineer of the ship, mentally brilliant and highly competent but socially awkward around women he’s attracted to. He’s blind and wears a visor to help him see, albeit differently than people with normal vision. Think of him as the ship’s IT guy – same role as Scotty in the original series.
  7. Dr. Beverly Crusher – She’s the chief medical officer and mostly hangs out in Sick Bay, dealing with alien illnesses, phaser burns, and other ailments the crew encounters. She’s a sharp and compassionate healer and also knows how to dance.

All of the characters are single, although Dr. Crusher is a widower.

There are other recurring characters too such as Miles O’Brien (transporter chief), Q (an omnipotent sadist), and Reginald Barclay (an engineer with social anxiety). One of Star Trek’s strengths is the great guest stars who add flair and style to many episodes – Barclay (played by Dwight Schultz) is among my favorites.

Compared to the original Star Trek from the 60s, The Next Generation uses subplots more often, and it tends to move faster pacing-wise. Of course it’s more modern, but its special effects are more modest than newer shows like Discovery and Picard. TNG focuses more on story, dramatic conflicts, and character interactions and less on flashy combat sequences. I also think it’s easier to figure out the characters if you’ve never watched this show before as they tend to be crisply defined. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the show is just watching the characters interact as they seek to make intelligent choices in challenging situations.

I’ll share a list of some of my favorite episodes that I’d recommend starting with. This will give you an interesting deep dive into the show for a minimal starting investment. If you like some of these episodes, then you can decide if you want to go deeper.

First off, I’d skip seasons 1 and 2 for the most part if you’re a newbie. In my opinion The Next Generation doesn’t really find its footing till season 3. I still find seasons 1 and 2 a bit hard to watch. The final episode of season 2 (“Shades of Gray”) is arguably the worst episode of all since they ran out of money and just threw it together from clips / flashbacks of earlier episodes, so the plot of that episode is super thin.

There are a few decent episodes in season 2, namely “Elementary, Dear Data,” “Measure of a Man,” and perhaps “Peak Performance,” but otherwise I’d recommend starting with season 3.

So here’s what I’d recommend watching (in order) to get your feet wet with Star Trek: The Next Generation:

  1. The Offspring (season 3) – I recommend starting with this episode for several reasons. It focuses mainly on just a few characters, and it’s easy to follow if you’re not familiar with the show. It’s one of the more tender episodes, so not a lot of action, but also with a bit of humor. It shows interesting sides of the main characters, especially Data and Picard. It’s one of the better episodes of the series and deals with a major values conflict that’s relevant today (state authority vs individual freedom). I’d say this episode does a good job of showing the heart of Star Trek that I appreciate so much. It also makes Rachelle cry every time we watch it.
  2. The Hunted (season 3) – If you prefer a more action-based episode to start with, I’d recommend starting with this one instead. Otherwise you can watch it after “The Offspring” even though it’s a bit earlier in season 3. This episode also deals with a similar values conflict but on a bigger scale. It has a fun, fast-paced beginning involving a prisoner transport gone wrong. It’s one of those “things are not as they initially appear” episodes that reveals more as it progresses. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best episodes, but it’s a good one for getting familiar with some of the core characters like Data, Troi, and Picard.
  3. Remember Me (season 4) – This is an unusual episode that focuses mainly on Doctor Crusher (which makes it a really good one for getting to know her character). What I like about this episode is that it introduces a puzzling challenge that she has to figure out. It will also help you become familiar with different parts of the ship (Sick Bay, The Bridge, Engineering, The Observation Lounge, etc).
  4. Clues (season 4) – This is another mystery episode that involves more characters than “Remember Me.” It’s one of my favorites of the series. It’s a fun one where the crew has to work together to solve a puzzle. What I like about this episode is that a crew member still tries to do what’s right even when it creates major negative consequences for him.
  5. Half a Life (season 4) – This is a tender and thoughtful episode that addresses one of the many moral issues that Star Trek loves to tackle, in this case how to deal with an aging population that could be a burden on their children. Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett plays one of the main characters in this episode. She also played Nurse Chapel in the original 1960s series, and she does the voice of the ship’s computer on The Next Generation.
  6. Disaster (season 5) – In this episode the ship is badly damaged, and different characters have to face challenges that push them outside of their comfort zones. It’s a good episode for becoming more familiar with the core characters and seeing how they deal with problems.
  7. Cause and Effect (season 5) – This is among my all-time favorite episodes. The Enterprise is caught in a time loop that’s slightly different each time through. The challenge is that once you know you’re stuck in a time loop, how do you escape it? What I like about this episode is how the crew must compare notes, learn from failure, and collaborate to find a solution.
  8. The First Duty (season 5) – This episode is a deep dive into a nasty values conflict between loyalty and honesty. How do you speak the truth when doing so would betray people you care about? It also takes us back to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth.
  9. The Inner Light (season 5) – This is another of my all-time favorites and Rachelle’s too. For many people it’s their #1 favorite. It’s very different than most episodes – a deep dive into Captain Picard’s character with a delightful ending. It aligns nicely with exploring subjective reality. Season 5 has a lot of good ones!
  10. Schisms (season 6) – This is one of the scarier episodes, about as horror-like as The Next Generation gets. It’s kind of fun though as the crew has to figure out what the heck is going on while many of them are being abducted. I especially like the Holodeck scene where they try to reconstruct their abduction experiences visually.
  11. Tapestry (season 6) – This is another Picard-focused episode, also starring John de Lancie as Q (an immortal pain in the ass who loves to teach the crew lessons). It’s about how experiences sculpt our characters. This episode aired about two years after my felony arrest, and it helped me make peace with some past mistakes. This is a good episode for anyone who’s afraid to push themselves.
  12. Frame of Mind (season 6) – I fell in love with this episode the first time I saw it. It aired in May 1993 while I was going through college in three semesters (near the end of my second semester). I remember returning to my dorm room to watch the VCR recording after a long day of classes. I found it so fun and intriguing that I watched it twice back to back. It focuses on the character of Riker and how he handles a deeply disturbing situation. It’s another great episode if you’re into subjective reality. How do you know what’s real and what isn’t?
  13. Parallels (season 7) – This episode focuses on the Klingon character Worf. It’s a “fish out of water” episode that sees him trying to solve a puzzle he doesn’t understand. It’s best to watch this episode after you’ve watched many others, so you have a baseline for spotting what’s out of place. It’s one of my favorites due to how it stretches the ship’s usual reality in different ways.
  14. The Pegasus (season 7) – This episode mainly focuses on a character conflict between Riker and two captains who outrank him, forcing him to pick a side in a difficult situation. It shows how past experiences and self-reflection shaped his values.
  15. Lower Decks (season 7) – This unusual episode juxtaposes the experiences of junior and senior officers, sometimes seriously and sometimes humorously. It offers a unique perspective on the ship’s culture and values. It’s a good one to watch after you’ve grown more familiar with the main characters.

So just start watching those in order, and see if you like it enough to make it through all 15. I would highly recommend that you push through and at least watch these 15 since it will give you a decent overview of what Star Trek is about, and it will give you much to chew on when it comes to pondering your values.

If you watch the above and like them enough to continue, here’s the second batch of 15 that I’d recommend next:

  1. Elementary, Dear Data (season 2) – This episode has a Sherlock Holmes theme and has some playful plots twists. IMO it’s just an okay episode, but it serves as the setup for a much better episode in season 6, “Ship in a Bottle.” You could watch these two episodes back to back if you like Sherlock Holmes, but it’s fine to watch them with some separation as well.
  2. The Measure of a Man (season 2) – Does a self-aware android have rights, or is it property? This episode explores AI rights from an interesting perspective. This episode should have warned us to start preparing for AI law decades ago, a field which will likely struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of ongoing development.
  3. Who Watches the Watchers? (season 3) – This is one of Rachelle’s favorite episodes, dealing with interactions between an advanced society and a primitive one. When Rachelle and I walk down a narrow sidewalk where there isn’t room to walk side by side, or if we’re practicing social distancing as we pass by other people, we often walk Mintakan style. This is one example of how our shared Star Trek knowledge enriches our lives, sometimes in small and playful ways, other times in much bigger ways. To share these insider experiences as part of a relationship journey is one of life’s most rewarding delights.
  4. First Contact (season 4) – In this episode Riker gets stranded in an alien hospital, and the aliens react much like humans probably would. When I watch this episode, it reminds me of how much further human society has to develop. It also includes one of the most playful scenes in the series.
  5. The Nth Degree (season 4) – Here’s a fun episode that focuses on a recurring character with social anxiety (Barclay). This episode reminds me of various gains we can make from investing in personal development, such as increased confidence, while also warning of the risks of disconnection.
  6. In Theory (season 4) – The android Data explores his first romantic relationship with a female crew member. It’s a sweet and endearing episode that Rachelle and I often quote, especially the “lover’s quarrel” scene.
  7. Darmok (season 5) – This ridiculously quotable episode tackles a difficult communication problem and shows how important it can be not to make erroneous assumptions about intent. It’s definitely a fan favorite.
  8. The Game (season 5) – This episode involves an addictive game and a conspiracy to take over the ship. Rachelle says I mainly like it because of my crush on Ashley Judd. She’s probably right. I also think it’s an interesting take on addictive behavior and how it sucks people in. Consider how many aspects of tech and society function like “The Game” today.
  9. The Masterpiece Society (season 5) – Imagine the ultimate master-planned community based on everyone doing what they’re meant to do. Would it be resilient enough to endure? I like this episode due to its interesting themes, characters, and exploration of values, especially the clash of Eastern and Western philosophies.
  10. Conundrum (season 5) – This is a fun episode to watch once you’re pretty familiar with the main characters. In this episode the whole crew gets amnesia, and it’s amusing to see how they behave when they lose their identities. How would you naturally behave if you lost the connection to your identity?
  11. Ship in a Bottle (season 6) – Only watch this one after you’ve watched “Elementary, Dear Data” since it continues the storyline of one of the Sherlock Holmes characters. It’s fun!
  12. Lessons (season 6) – I’d only recommend watching this one if you’ve seen “The Inner Light” first since there’s a connection between these two episodes. “Lessons” is a Picard-focused episode that explores the Captain’s character through a relationship lens.
  13. The Chase (season 6) – I really like this adventurous episode, and it’s one of Rachelle’s favorites too. It’s best to watch this one after you’ve seen many others. It connects the dots between the different races/species. I like how it makes me think about how we’re all connected, even when we fight and disagree. It also has some good humor.
  14. Rightful Heir (season 6) – This is a great episode for better understanding Worf’s character and Klingon culture. I love the character of Gowron, especially his intense eyes that could stare a hole in a bulkhead. This episode explores belief, faith, and leadership. It’s one of the most spiritual episodes of the series.
  15. Firstborn (season 7) – This is another Worf focused episode that shares more insights on Klingon culture and delves into regret, loyalty, and self-acceptance. Of all the episodes that feature Worf’s son Alexander, this is my favorite.

This will get you to 30 episodes, which is still only 1/6th of the show’s 178 episodes. And there are hundreds more episodes of the other series too. I think these 30 should give you a wonderful mini-dive into the show and the Star Trek universe. Think of it like watching 3 seasons of a show that’s 10 episodes per season.

Watching one episode per day would make for a great 30-day challenge, right? One month from now, you could be reasonably well-versed in some understanding of the Star Trek universe. Even though it may seem mundane, this little investment could enrich your life more than you expect.

There is so much more to the show and the Star Trek universe, but these episodes are a great way to get started.

Enjoy and prosper! 🙂

P.S. If you actually do this, let me know what you think and how it impacts you. I’m genuinely curious to know. Other than the original 1960s show, I watched most of these shows when they first aired, then rewatched many episodes over the years afterwards. I wonder what it would be like for someone who hasn’t seen any episodes and just starts getting into Star Trek today.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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