Just 3 days to go before the final season of Star Trek Discovery premieres on TV. For those at SXSW, the wait for season 5 ended in March: the first episode was shown on the big screen at the Paramount Theatre. And it was a very special screening, as several members of the cast were in attendance!

It was the first of two appearances of the cast at SXSW 2024; the following morning they all appeared for a Q&A. It was a spectacular and emotional experience: never before had an episode of Discovery been shown on a big movie screen, and knowing that the amazing journey of five years was about to conclude elicited many tears from the cast. The only comparable event I have attended was for the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1994, which was shown on the Jumbotron in Toronto. It was the largest gathering of Star Trek fans ever, some 50,000 of us, but no cast members were on hand for that one. This was a much more intimate event by comparison, but no less memorable.

Sonequa Martin-Green, the star of the show, said that SXSW set “the perfect atmosphere and the perfect environment for this moment. It’s such a sacred moment. It’s really exciting to have it together here, with this vibe, and all of you. The energy is fantastic!”

Producer Alex Kurtzman said that “Discovery came along at a very interesting time because streaming was just starting. We were at the beginning of a huge learning curve that has changed significantly over the last 5 years. I had done the first two Star Trek movies. What I learned was that you have to take big, bold swings, and that’s how Star Trek continues to grow. Oftentimes what happens is that if you play it safe, it gets stuck in a routine. One of the things that is so beautiful about Star Trek is that because it was born on television it really is about this bridge crew and the enduring time you get to spend with the characters.” His goal was to “bring a movie quality to every episode,” and the fact it looked so good on the big screen shows that goal was fulfilled!

The other Executive Producer at the meeting, Michelle Paradise, said shooting for Discovery wrapped in November 2023. “We found out in the New Year that the show would not be renewed. CBS Studios and Paramount+ gave us the opportunity to go back and shoot some additional days, so then we really got to wrap up the series. Season five will feel like a satisfying journey, and we were able to do a little bit extra. Saying goodbye on the sets was a bittersweet thing.”

 Mary Wiseman reflected on the growth of her character Tilley. “I feel really grateful to have the opportunity to play someone who was so fresh, and still very much in the process of being molded. She never really got stuck as just a quirky character who throws out a funny line – she was constantly evolving. That tracks with the period of life that she’s been in, the period where you really cement who you are really going to be. I love that she got to have these really clear goals. It wasn’t about executing those perfectly: she was able to change her mind and find something that spoke to her more, the person she wanted to be not who she thought would impress other people. All of those stories feel very human, very close to me.”

The character Saru, played by Doug Jones, initially had a turbulent relationship with Martin-Greene’s character Michael Burnham. “In five seasons we have been through so much together. I always talked to Sonequa about how much I hated our conflict scenes, but how much I loved our make-up scenes, and we did a lot of those! Now the respect is so deep, the trust is so there now. I would take a bullet for her, and in real-life too, I would! So life does imitate art in our situation.”

David Ayala, a British actor who plays Book (a sometime love-interest of Burnham), entered the cast after season 2. “It was a gift to join this family. One thing that was very clear to me, when looking at the relationship between Burnham and Booker: I wanted to lean as far away from it being as sentimental as possible. I wanted to lean into the many gray areas that happen within any kind of relationship, and I also wanted to give myself the opportunity to embrace a great, deep level of love that can be found in a life partner. The course of true love never did run smooth, but I really do believe these two have a love worth fighting for.”

Wilson Cruz talked about his on-screen relationship with Anthony Rapp, who he has known for 30 years. “It’s so weird to have this conversation without having him sitting by my side: he’s not dead, he’s in Tokyo! Falling in love with Anthony Rapp was the easiest part of this job. We never talked about it; we literally just looked at each other. The foundation of this relationship is the actual love we have for each other, and we’ll let that guide it. I have learned so much from him in our scenes together,” at which point Jones got all choked up and had to pause.  “What’s really special is that because we have both been openly gay actors our entire careers that we knew how much this meant: we understood how we would be received and that we had a responsibility to get it right. There was always a deep sense of security in all of our scenes together.”

Blu del Barrio, a non-binary actor, plays Adira. He described the role as “the biggest gift ever.” When del Barrio joined the cast in season 3, “I was very terrified. It was already obvious that these people have such a close bond. This is one of the best groups of people that you could possibly put together. I will be lucky if I ever get to be with a group like this again. I had just come out to my parents and was starting my transition.” Del Barrio said Cruz and Rapp “treated me like their child. As soon as I met Wilson he took me to lunch and we talked about stuff I couldn’t talk about with anybody else. They both still are my father figures. The heartbreaking part of leaving the show is not being able to see them all.”

Martin-Greene summed up the five years in three simple words: “We flew together.”

Cast photo by C Cunningham (l to r) host Scott Mantz, Jones, Wiseman, Michelle Paradise, Kurtzman, Martin-Greene, de Barrio, Cruz, Ajala

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.