As Star Trek: Picard hits the small screen, writer Brannon Braga reflects on the character's enduring appeal
Star Trek: Picard marks Patrick Stewart’s first appearance as the title character in 18 years
If there's one fictional leader Brannon Braga thinks the real world needs, it's Star Trek's Jean-Luc Picard.
"Picard was a measured captain; a thoughtful captain. [He] really thought long and hard about making the right decision and the humanistic decision," the former Star Trek screenwriter and producer told Day 6's Brent Bambury.
The "articulate" character — played by Sir Patrick Stewart — returns to TV screens this week in the franchise's latest instalment, Star Trek: Picard. The series follows former captain Picard, now retired from the Starship Enterprise, as he deals with the death of Commander Data and the destruction of the planet Romulus.
It's the first time since the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis that Picard will appear in a live-action Star Trek film or TV series. It's also the first time Stewart will play the character since the film.
It is an unexpected but delightful surprise to find myself excited and invigorated to be returning to Jean-Luc Picard and to explore new dimensions within him. Read my full statement in the photo. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StarTrek?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StarTrek</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSAllAccess?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cbsallaccess</a> Photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/shervinfoto?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@shervinfoto</a> <a href="https://t.co/8Ynuj3RBNm">pic.twitter.com/8Ynuj3RBNm</a>—@SirPatStew
"I always knew in my gut — somehow, someway — that Patrick would play Picard again. I certainly hoped so," Braga said.
"I feel as eager to see [Star Trek: Picard] as the fanbase," he said.
Braga is very familiar with Stewart's influence on the character. He worked on various Star Trek projects in the 1990s and early 2000s, namely the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. He joined the series in 1990, three years after Stewart made his debut as the character.
He credits Stewart's acting for Picard's popularity.
"Patrick just brought a real gravitas to proceedings," Braga said. "I mean, he's such a good actor. He could make anything work."
A meeting in New York
But writing for Stewart wasn't an easy task, especially for a young writer like Braga.
"I always worried that what he thought about me; such a young guy writing for him," Braga said. "There was a huge intimidation factor."
One exchange which intimidated Braga happened during the writing of the 1996 film, Star Trek: First Contact.
Initially, Braga, along with producer Rick Berman and writer Ronald D. Moore, agreed on a "harebrained idea" that would see Picard on an unspecified planet dealing with a situation while his crew were fighting the Borg — an antagonistic alien group — on their ship.
But before filming could commence, Stewart summoned the trio to New York for an explanation.
"We went and he basically flipped the entire movie on its head," Braga said. "[Stewart] said, 'I'm the captain of the Enterprise. I'm the one who was kidnapped and violated by the Borg. Why am I not fighting the Borg on this ship?'"
Braga agreed with Stewart's concerns, and the team applied his suggestions into the film.
"The whole movie was, thankfully, upended and redirected ... and it turned out to be a good movie," he said.
'A really touching final scene'
When writing for The Next Generation, Braga says he tried to limit the number of scenes Picard was in per episode.
"The captain should come into play when the captain is needed, and that way it will be more dramatic and special," he said.
Scenes in which members of the crew played poker — a "running gag" in the show, Braga says -— were among those that didn't feature Picard.
"They would sometimes play poker with holographic characters like Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking," he said. "And sometimes it was just character-based and sometimes it was plot-based. But Picard was never in any of those scenes."
That changed for the series finale. The scene, which originally aired on May 23, 1994, showed members of the Starship Enterprise playing another round of poker when their game is interrupted by Picard. The captain expresses his intention of joining the game, much to the crew's surprise.
The scene — and series — ends with Picard dealing cards and his words "Five card stud, nothing wild ... and the sky's the limit."
Braga was one of the writers who worked on that episode. He cites this scene as one of his top three Picard moments.
"It struck a nerve to us [and] it struck a nerve with the fans, I think," he said. "I remember when we were shooting that scene, I happened to be on the set, and it was really moving."
Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Interview produced by Pedro Sanchez.
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