Star Trek is among the most successful entertainment franchises of all time, especially in the realm of science fiction. It's been over half a century since it first started and even now more is being added to it. People continue to watch it over and over again with new fans constantly being born.
Compared to most other shows, Star Trek is considered very "cerebral." Many scientists, writers, artists, and intellectuals have attributed inspiration to it in their lives. This seems to be one reason why it has such rewatchability, as there is depth to it that you can continue to unpack. Some are intimidated by this, but often, when they give it chance, it starts to click.
However, another problem that potential viewers run into is the question of what parts of Star Trek to watch as well as what order should they be seen in. Moreover, people are often daunted upon learning how enormous the current body of work is that comprises it. So far, Star Trek is composed of 5 complete television series (for a total of 726 episodes) as well as 13 theatrically released movies. On top of that, it's not entirely obvious what series and what movies one should see at what time, since the order in which they were produced does not match up with the chronological events in their respective stories (not unlike Star Wars ... except it's even more confusing). I will say, however, that once you start understanding how it all falls into place, it's quite rewarding ... but for beginners it often sounds despairing.
There is also another significant problem about trying to watch Star Trek, namely, that there are LOTS of awful episodes (and not a few bad films as well). On the one hand, I suppose you can't blame the creators too much, as there was bound to be a few clunkers along the way in the vast ocean of Star Trek's corpus. But still, it understandably has helped to turn off viewers who ran into a particularly bad patch. Granted, some fans enjoy the bad episodes and films because they enjoy making fun of them, but that doesn't always work for everyone.
Being annoyed at all these problems, I was eventually moved to create this guide and facilitate new viewers (and even not-so-new viewers) to experience Star Trek in the best way possible.
This guide is hopefully straightforward enough, relative to how confusing Star Trek is. Just go down the list in the order of how things are presented (though alternate options will be suggested along the way).
Each Star Trek episode is either "essential," "optional," or "worthless" and will be color-coated thusly:
As for Star Trek movies, a more in depth recommendation or condemnation will be given for each of them to help you determine which ones you want to watch.
- Essential Episodes
Those in bolded orange are "must-see" episodes either because they're good and/or because they give important context to future good episodes and/or movies. So, watch these without exception (unless otherwise specified).
- Optional Episodes
Those in purple are decent episodes that do not give necessary context to future essential episodes or movies. They aren't horrible but they're still skippable. If you want to take the quickest route, you can avoid these.
Those crossed out in gray are bad episodes that contribute little or nothing to future plotlines. These should be avoided at all costs, unless you want to suffer.
Of course, many fans will disagree with some of my recommendations/condemnations. I've thoroughly researched reviews by other fans to try to weed out my biases, but of course many will still shout objections. Where I feel my taste diverging from that of most people, I have made note of that, as you'll see.
Before going into detail, here's a broad outline of all the Star Trek's television series and movies:
|Star Trek: The Original Series|
Production: 1st of the television series (1966-1967)
Setting: The starship USS Enterprise NCC-1701 (mid-23rd century)
Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov
|Star Trek: The Next Generation|
Production: 2nd of the television series (1987-1994)
Setting: The starship USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D (mid-24th century)
Characters: Picard, Riker, Data, Worf, La Forge, Troi, and Crusher
|Star Trek: Deep Space Nine|
Production: 3rd of the television series (1993-1999)
Setting: The space station Deep Space 9 situated next to a Wormhole (mid-24th to late-24th century)
Characters: Sisko, Kira, Odo, Bashir, Dax, O'Brien, Quark, Worf
|Star Trek: Voyager|
Production: 4th of the television series (1966-1967)
Setting: The starship USS Voyager NCC-74656 (late-24th century)
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok, Paris, Torres, Kim, "The Doctor," Neelix, Kess, and Seven of Nine
|Star Trek: Enterprise|
Production: 5th of the television series (2001-2005)
Setting: The starship Enterprise NX-01 (mid-22nd century)
Characters: Archer, T'Pol, Trip, Reed, Sato, Mayweather, and Phlox
That's the general overview. A lot of series and films are somewhat interconnected and build off each other, so it's advisable to stick to the guide and not skip "essential" episodes, lest you miss an important plot point that returns later down the line. Don't worry if this seems complicated. Just scroll down and follow the list step-by-step in the order it's presented to know exactly what to do at what time.
Option: While this guide recommends that you generally watch Star Trek's productions in the order they were made, starting with Star Trek: The Original Series, some recommend watching them in the precise order of Star Trek's fictional timeline. While I strongly disagree with that, if you wish to do this anyway, all you must do is watch the Star Trek: Enterprise series first, and then start at the beginning of this guide with Star Trek: The Original Series and continue as normal. However, to see a completely perfect chronological listing of everything, you can go to this website (but the guide here is more than sufficient for this).