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Star Trek Canon Explained

October 1, 2008

Canon. That’s a big word in fandom. Whether it’s Star Wars, Buffy, Harry Potter or the X-Men, fans argue whether something is “canon” or not — whether it really happened within the fictional framework of the comic or movie or TV show or whatever.

There’s a general rule of thumb Star Trek fans use when it comes to canon: If it was on screen, it happened. So the books don’t count, nor the comics, or the fan-made videos, or any of that. The various series and the movies. That’s it. Some say the animated series doesn’t count; others argue that. I accept it as an extension of the original series and have no problem with it being part of canon.

Now comes the problem.

Star Trek is littered with inconsistencies. A smiling Vulcanian who worked for UESPA slowly became an emotionless Vulcan Starfleet officer. (There are some YouTube videos that sum this up far better than I ever could.)

So what gives? If canon is so sacred, how does one explain all these mistakes? Well, I can tell you, if you’re ready to be devastated by my epic geekiness. They aren’t mistakes. Everything happened, even the contradictions.

Riker did it.

Remember the opening of the Enterprise two-parter In A Mirror, Darkly? It offered up an alternate take on the ending of the film First Contact, with Zephrem Cochrane opening fire on the arriving Vulcans and the people of Bozeman, Montana, looting the ship. This was supposed to be how the mirror universe split from the “real” continuity.

Well, if you recall, just before that happened, Cochrane broke the warp barrier for the first time. But he had passengers — William T. Riker and Geordie LaForge, visitors from the future who weren’t there the first time he did it, but arrived in an effort to repair the timeline altered by the Borg.

First Contact showed us the original timeline, then the modified 24th century Borg Earth, and then returned us to a new 24th century, one in which Cochrane made that flight, then went on, fully aware of the impact of his actions, fully aware that he could not have made it into space without help from futuroids who came back to … it’s too mindbending even for me, and I think about this stuff all the time.

Star Trek has gone to the past before, but great pains were generally taken to protect the people of history from knowing the truth about their visitors. Except for Kirk, who took the mom from Seventh Heaven back to the future with him. And also that Voyager two-parter where Ed Begley Jr. found the timeship, but that was Voyager.

It boils down to this: When Riker decided to tell Cochrane the truth, he changed the timeline. So all those little flutters throughout the various Star Trek series and movies, those little inconsistencies one might explain as “sloppy writing” or “poor research” were in fact nothing so far-fetched. It was just fallout from good old-fashioned time travel, and a space stud Alpha Male who couldn’t keep his trap shut.

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