Star Trek wasn’t the first shared universe.
We’re in an age where comic book movies and cop dramas are trying to do everything they can to develop a shared universe. We have the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Law and Order + Chicago-based universe, we have the 911-verse, plus the failed Zynderverse, the now concluded Arrowverse and I’m pretty sure Bluey is going to crossover with Game of Thrones, because at this point, why not? Yet, when we talk about shared universes, the one that jumps out the most, at least to us, is Star Trek.
Starting with The Next Generation, the franchise really embraced all of its own. It’s all canon, it’s all together and it’s all one. While you could argue that this really started with Star Trek The Animated Series and then the films, I wouldn’t, as that was all the same cast members.
When The Next Generation hit, that’s when things got the “shared universe” feel. Then of course came Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, the Kelvin Timeline films, Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, Strange New Worlds, and all of the upcoming projects. All share a universe and a timeline. More or less.
So why doesn’t it get credit for being a shared universe? Because it wasn’t. As IGN pointed out, some of the first shared universes in cinema came about in the 1930s and 40s, with the rise of the Universal Monster films.
Star Trek excels at sharing a universe unlike any other franchise
You can prefer whatever franchise you like, that’s ok by us. Are you more of a fan of the MCU? Cool. Arrowverse? Neat. It doesn’t matter what franchise you think is the most fun, but what can’t be disputed is that Star Trek shares its universe with its properties unlike any other property out there.
Star Trek has the ability to link franchises together with ease, and they can do so without having to deal with one, huge, limitation. Unlike the bigger comic book-based brand, they aren’t beholden to only the comic characters that came before.
They have to rotate characters out as actors grow bored of the work. When that happens, the studio has to rush to find new characters that can help stabilize their work, without recycling or recasting older characters. The brand took a huge hit when Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans left the MCU. Two of their stalwart character, Iron Man and Captain America, gone.
The MCU can’t easily replace them, as fans have grown to expect huge debuts and major characters pulled from the pages. They can’t just create new characters. They don’t have that kind of freedom. They’re beholden to what came before.
Star Trek, on the other hand, can move on from a James Kirk and bring in a Jean-Luc Picard with ease. The one thing Star Trek has rarely struggled with is creating a dynamic lead that fans want to see.
So when its time to refresh the brand, they just create a group of new characters (usually) and push it out for all to see. Marvel doesn’t have that luxury.
And while other shows like the 911 franchise or the Law and Order + Chicago universe don’t have that limitation either, they’re sadly stuck in procedural dramas that often see shows repeat themselves endlessly.
Star Trek has the ability to shake things up, unlike those shows.
So while Star Trek isn’t the first of its kind, it’s very easily the best produced of the shared universe.