As far as iconic franchises go, few are as big or widely loved as Star Trek. Since its original run began in 1966, Star Trek has had a great fanbase that has only gotten bigger and more intense as time has gone on. In the more than fifty years since the series began, the Star Trek franchise has expanded to feature six live-action series, two animated shows, more than a dozen films, and with more stuff always on the way. If you haven’t already started watching and loving Star Trek, there’s a lot to sift through and it can be really daunting for newcomers looking to dip their toes into the wonderful world of Star Trek. That’s where we come in.
Depending on the kind of viewer you are, we have all sorts of ideas on how to get you into Star Trek (and if you are already into Star Trek, check out our epic list of Star Trek gifts). Whether you like campy old sci-fi or you prefer something more contemporary, there’s great Star Trek for you. If you’re not picky, want to binge-watch, and just need a place to start, we’ve got you covered there, too. Even if you’re super picky and only want to see the cream of the crop, we have some great lists of only the best from the best shows in Star Trek’s legendary history.
Let us help you to boldly go where no one has gone before! You’ll be doing the Vulcan salute and buying tickets to cons in no time.
Keeping it Simple: Starting Right at the Beginning
If you want to keep it simple and you are really in it for the long haul, you can start at the beginning with what is now called Star Trek: The Original Series. Featuring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock, your best chance of starting at the beginning and enjoying it is if you like your sci-fi a bit on the cheesy side. Although it has aged pretty well for a series created more than 50 years ago, it’s still science fiction from an era that can seem funny today. Luckily, the first season is particularly solid, and it is even front-loaded with a handful of really great episodes, so it’s really not a bad way to go. That said if you’ve already watched older sci-fi like the original Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica and decided they weren’t your thing, starting with the campiest material in the Star Trek canon may not be the right choice. If you like some scenery-chewing with your spacefaring adventure, however, you’ll love starting right here with Star Trek: The Original Series.
The show was definitely groundbreaking for the time and started during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura was particularly groundbreaking and influenced more than a generation of young Black women who were thrilled to see someone on screen who looked like them and wasn’t in a stereotypical role like a maid or a nanny. George Takei starred as well as Hikaru Sulu, the ship’s pilot, and a bridge officer like Uhura. Having two main cast members who were people of color may not seem like that big of a deal in 2020, but in 1966 it was just about unheard of. Star Trek has only gotten more groundbreaking since.
You’re Not a Patient Person and Just Want to Watch the Best of the Best
There’s also doing it chronologically, but only watching the absolutely essential episodes. This is also a good way to introduce yourself to the shows without necessarily committing to the whole kit and kaboodle. Star Trek is more than 30 seasons of various shows, so that’s a lot to get into. Chances are that if you see the best few episodes (and a couple of movies!) of every show and still don’t really “get” it, it simply isn’t for you. Here are a few recommendations from each of the first three series to get you to start with just the cream of the crop.
Star Trek: The Original Series
- Season 1, Episode 22: “Space Seed”
- Season 1, Episode 29: “The City on the Edge of Forever”
- Season 2, Episode 1: “Amok Time”
- Season 2, Episode 15: “The Trouble with Tribbles”
- Season 3, Episode 2: “The Enterprise Incident”
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (film)
“Space Seed” introduces the iconic Star Trek villain Khan, who is naturally the big bad later in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. “The City on the Edge of Forever” is Star Trek doing a time travel story at its absolute best. “Amok Time” is a great look into the culture of the Vulcans, the race to which Spock belongs. “The Trouble with Tribbles” showcases Star Trek at its funniest, and “The Enterprise Incident” is just a great episode from the pretty uneven third season. Closing out with what is widely thought to be the best Star Trek film to feature the original cast, this is definitely a good sample of the original show to get you started.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Season 2, Episode 9: “The Measure of a Man”
- Season 2, Episode 16: “Q Who?”
- Season 3, Episode 16: “The Offspring”
- Season 3, Episode 26 & Season 4, Episode 1: “The Best of Both Worlds”
- Season 6, Episode 10 & 11: “Chain of Command”
- Star Trek: First Contact (film)
Probably the most popular character in Star Trek: The Next Generation is Data, an android who constantly struggles with what it means to be human. Both “The Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring” focus on Data and his desperate need to be truly human, and the questions of what really makes someone alive. “Q Who?” and “The Best of Both Worlds” both showcase the Borg, a terrifying cybernetic race that threatens every species in the galaxy with assimilation. “Chain of Command” is more standalone and showcases leading actor Patrick Stewart’s acting chops. Closing out the list is by far the best film to feature the cast of The Next Generation, Star Trek: First Contact. It brings the Borg storyline to a close as well as building on what you learned about Data’s story so far and his quest for humanity.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
- Season 1, Episode 1: “Emissary”
- Season 1, Episode 19: “Duet”
- Season 4, Episode 3: “The Visitor”
- Season 5, Episode 6: “Trials and Tribble-ations”
- Season 6, Episode 13: “Far Beyond the Stars”
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a significantly darker show than any of its predecessors, and also tends to have more of an ongoing plot than the other series. That makes it a bit tougher to pick out episodes that work on their own, but we think these five are a good example of what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has to offer. “Emissary” is the first episode of the show, and also happens to work wonderfully as a follow up to the Borg storyline on Star Trek: The Next Generation. “Duet” is another first season episode that shows the heft that the stories of Deep Space Nine carry at their absolute best. “The Visitor” is an emotional story about sacrifices made for family, and “Trials and Tribble-ations” is a fun sequel to the original “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode from Star Trek: The Original Series. “Far Beyond the Stars” is a very heavy episode about racism, and a really stunning piece of science fiction all by itself. Deep Space Nine is not as light as earlier shows, but at its best is really the best of Star Trek.
You Want to Just Pick a Series and Commit Because You Hate Skipping Around, but You’re Not Wild About the Really Old Stuff
If you really want to just pick a series and go from there, but you’re not necessarily into the schlocky side of really old sci-fi, you should basically just go ahead and start at the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the first episode of the first season, “Encounter at Farpoint.” Star Trek shows notoriously have a tough time in their first season as they try to find their feet, but there are a handful of bright spots in the season and it has its own charm. Although it feels a little dated today, it is positively modern compared to Star Trek: The Original Series. You just have to remember that it’s only going to get better as it goes on.
A whole generation of Star Trek fans and then some were introduced to the fandom by Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it is still widely regarded as among the best if not the very best of Star Trek. The cast is second to none, and there’s a reason that Patrick Stewart is so iconic in the role of Jean-Luc Picard. If you’re willing to put up with some early struggles to get going, you will be rewarded with patience in what turns out to be one of the better science fiction television shows ever made.
You Want Something More Modern That Doesn’t Feel Dated at All
Although divisive among longtime Star Trek fans, I am here to tell you that Star Trek: Discovery is fantastic, and will be a wonderful introduction to the series for viewers with more modern viewing sensibilities. It has a wonderful cast every bit as good as some of the best Star Trek has ever had as a franchise, and the stories are truly excellent. It is certainly darker than your average Star Trek, although later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were similarly intense, but if you’re looking for something new that is still going for you to get into, Star Trek: Discovery is a delight. It is currently available for viewing on CBS All Access, with Season 3 having just started, and the first two seasons also available on Blu-Ray and DVD. There are certainly references to the older shows that you will appreciate more if you have knowledge of older Star Trek, but they are little more than easter eggs; even newcomers will love Star Trek: Discovery if they have any interest in sci-fi.
Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to watch Star Trek. If you and the life of a Trekkie are meant to be, any one of these methods will have you hooked in no time at all and diving headfirst into the wonderful and diverse world of Trek. We’ve only scratched the service of the close to thousand episodes so far in the whole franchise, and there’s far more on the way.
In addition to Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Lower Decks, there are at least two other Star Trek shows in production that we know about, all of which are currently on or will be on CBS All Access. The older shows, including Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Enterprise are all currently available for your viewing pleasure on Netflix, or even better, on DVD & Blu-Ray.
No matter which path you choose to begin your journey among the stars, we hope you love it.
See Also: Best Time Travel Movies