Dec 16, 2019
Star Trek: Short Treks “The Girl Who Made the Stars”
Previously in the Star Trek franchise: On October 12, 1974, the Star Trek Saturday morning cartoon aired its final episode, and (save for a proposed idea for a post-Nemesis animated web series) this would be the last time Star Trek would ever come close to having an animated outing… until now.
Two animated Short Treks premiered on Thursday: “The Girl Who Made the Stars” and “Ephraim and Dot”. The former is based on the African creation myth (recited in voiceover by Michael Burnham in the Discovery second season premiere) about a young girl who puts her hands into ashes, throws them up into the sky, and creates the Milky Way. And it seems this is an actual myth of several ancient African tribes, and just as Burnham’s voiceover deviates from the original legend, so too does this episode.
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We open on an unnamed space station surrounded by a lightning storm… in space, complete with the sound of thunder… in space. A little girl wakes up crying out for her father, and Dad instantly runs in, telling “Michael” that everything’s okay. Yes, the girl is young Michael Burnham, and she had another scary dream about “the shadow”. Understandable, since he does know what evil lies in the hearts of men. And Michael’s father is voiced by Walking Dead actor Kenric Green, which is, um, interesting, because his wife is Sonequa Martin-Green. I think it’s not often an actress’ husband gets cast as her father.
Michael asks the computer to “aluminum” the room, but Dad knows she actually means “illuminate” and a holographic night-light in the shape of planets materializes above her bed. Little Michael hugs her stuffed firefly as she says he’s afraid of all the “nothing” that surrounds them and thinks it might one day “eat” them. She asks if she can sleep with the lights on, but Dad says she might change her mind if she knew about a girl her age who once upon a time changed the entire universe forever. He proceeds to tell her the story of “the girl who made the stars”.
It begins “1,000 centuries ago” in Africa, and we get a Lion King-esque sweeping shot across the plain as Dad explains how “the first people celebrated the Sun”, but back then there were no stars, which made them afraid, and their fear manifested itself as “the night beast”, a giant black python.
Dad says the first people were hunter-gatherers who were just learning how to be farmers. Zoom in on a standard-issue tribal elder telling his people that they’ll soon run out of land to farm. A little girl, who looks and sounds exactly like Little Michael, pipes up to say they can journey past “the far mountain” and find new land, but the chief says that such a trip would involve traveling at night, which would anger the night beast. The chief then tells the girl to “go play”, which back in the present gets Little Michael all riled up about how “rude” he is.
Dad continues the story, where the little girl sets out at night on her own, and soon is “joined by a friend” in the form of a firefly. A moment later, the firefly is encased inside of a big eggshell, though I’m not sure how or why that happened.
Soon the night beast attacks, and the girl screams and runs. She drops the egg and the firefly just flies off, and thanks for the help, “friend”. The little girl cowers with her eyes closed, waiting for the giant snake to finish her off, when suddenly a bright object comes streaking out of the sky. She runs to it and discovers what appears to be a ship, and standing in front of it is a glowing being with six limbs. The being sees that she’s a “brave warrior” who’s not afraid, and surrounds her with rings of sparkles. She asks how she can convince the rest of her people to not be afraid of the night, so the being gives her a glowing sphere to take back to her village.
Dad explains that the being then fixed its ship, and we see it fly into the starless sky, complete with a Discovery-style warping effect as it vanishes. So, clearly this is supposed to be an alien spacecraft, but if there are no stars, where did it come from? It’s probably safe to assume this is just how Michael is interpreting her father’s story, given that all she’s known her whole life is aliens and spaceships.
When the girl gets back to her village, the elder scolds her for running off, and tells her she “angered the darkness”. But she says that she’s actually “brought us to light”, and she cracks open the sphere, making a big light show that sprays up above the atmosphere, creating all the stars in the night sky. It’s not quite throwing up ashes, but like I said, this episode takes a few liberties with the source material.
The villagers bow to her as Michael’s Dad explains that the girl figured out how to navigate using the constellations. Crossfade to the young girl as an adult, and the people have made her their queen. Back in the present, Michael realizes it was “the light inside that guided her!” Is… is that the moral of the story? Okay, I’ll take her word for it. And so, Little Michael has decided she doesn’t need the night-light to sleep after all. Dad calls her “my queen” and kisses her goodnight.
Cut back to the queen as she ululates and draws her bow and arrow to kill the night beast. And we get one of those moments that’s quickly becoming a tired action/superhero movie cliché where the final shot is of two combatants rushing at each other, and we cut to black just as the queen fires her arrow at the snake.
If the other Short Treks could be equated to short stories, “The Girl Who Made the Stars” is basically a bedtime story book, and with about as much depth. It doesn’t provide much insight into the character of Michael Burnham or her relationship with her father, and there are no connections to the rest of the Star Trek universe other than general themes of exploration and of not being afraid of the unknown.
The animation was mostly well-done and there were some spectacular images, but a lot of it felt clumsy and rushed, especially in the stiff way most of the character’s faces moved. At roughly seven minutes in length (about half as long as most Short Treks episodes so far), there’s frankly not much else to say about this one. I suppose it could be a good way to introduce younger viewers to Star Trek, but then again, maybe not, since it bears no real resemblance to the rest of the franchise. It’s a pretty trite and generic story that could have been made into a standalone short without changing much of anything.
Next time: “Ephraim and Dot”, which is about the same length as “The Girl Who Made the Stars”, but provides a bit more to chew on, with a fast-paced tale where a space tardigrade and one of those hull-repairing robots have a high-speed time-warping chase through the entire history of Kirk’s Enterprise, which is about as nutty as it sounds.