Short Treks’ “The Brightest Star” in Review
Do you want to learn more about the Kelpiens? Are you wondering if they were named after their habit of harvesting kelp? While “The Brightest Star” surprisingly implies an affirmative answer to that last question, let’s see what else it has for us. It’s time to dive into the first episode that deeply explores Saru’s people.
A group of Kelpiens willingly gathers to sacrifice themselves to the Ba’ul. A priest leads the ceremony.
Having found a piece from the Ba’ul ship, the “priest” — who is actually Saru’s father — takes it back to their home. He instructs Saru to dispose of the Ba’ul fragment that evening. Saru questions what might be possible if they take to the skies like the Ba’ul, but his father insists that the Great Balance must not be upset; they must continue to sustain the Ba’ul by sacrificing their lives.
That night, rather than destroying the fragment, Saru uses it to send a message of greeting. He keeps the device and continues to check it for a response. He eventually receives a simple response: “Hello.”
Saru asks his father what would happen if Saru were to reach vahar’ai for the next harvest. His father simply says it would be his time and that he should be honored to be chosen in order to maintain the Balance. Saru questions how his people could be content simply waiting to be taken. Eventually, he receives another message: “Today.”
Saru and his sister Siranna head away from their encampment. When she expresses a desire to retreat back to safety, he encourages her to do so and proceeds on his own.
A Starfleet shuttle lands in front of Saru, and Georgiou, a lieutenant at this point in the timeline, greets him. Amazed by his ingenuity in turning the fragment into a beacon, Georgiou invites Saru to join her but warns that this would mean he could never come back home. He accepts her offer.
While Saru departs on his journey to the stars, Siranna gazes after a light in the sky. She’s unaware that it’s the shuttle taking her brother away.
Portraying Saru, Doug Jones carries this episode very capably. We see a different side to Saru in contrast to his family. While on Discovery he’s frequently the crew member too driven by caution to truly “boldly go” — at least in comparison with the humans around him — among Kelpiens he’s truly the bold one. He’s extremely likable, full of curiosity and hope. At times, his desire to go further almost makes him feel like a different character. In truth, he’s a character behaving differently according to his species’ context, which only makes him feel more real.
This installment also marks the brief but welcome return of Prime Georgiou, played by recent Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Michelle Yeoh. We’ve seen her as Mirror Georgiou many times, but this is a rare glimpse of Prime Georgiou outside of the two-part Discovery series premiere: “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”. Yeoh pulls it off with the positivity, professionalism, and sense of wonder one would expect from a (future) Starfleet captain, even in what amounts to a cameo. As much as Paramount keeps talking up a possible Mirror Georgiou/Section 31 series, I’d love to see more of this Georgiou instead.
This episode is also good Star Trek. Saru not only looks to the stars and hopes for something better but takes action and makes tough decisions — leaving his family behind — to reach those goals. At the same time, Siranna tells her brother, “Look down every now and then. There’s beauty there as well.” And she’s not wrong: We can find beauty where we’re willing to look for it. Ultimately, both were able to thrive in their own ways.
The episode contributes quite a bit to Saru’s backstory. Up to this point, we knew little about the Kelpiens, beyond them being a prey species. The Vahar’ai is casually introduced without much explanation, but this isn’t a bad thing; if anything, it’s a detail that deepens the episode with repeat viewings.
The Ba’ul are conceptually introduced here, and their relationship with the Kelpiens becomes a little clearer. At the time this episode was released, it might have felt like a retcon in that it doesn’t feel at first like the Ba’ul and Kelpiens have the type of predator/prey relationship that might lead the Kelpiens to benefit from sensing “the coming of death,” as Saru said in his first appearance. We might imagine that the relationship between the two species changed significantly as technology changed Ba’ul society.
While some of the ground covered here is retread in the Discovery episode “The Sound of Thunder” (which even re-uses footage from this episode), this fills out the background nicely and gives extra weight to Siranna’s return in that episode.
We also see some of Saru’s Kelpien ingenuity when dealing with unfamiliar technology. One criticism leveled at the Discovery Season 2 finale “Such Sweet Sorrow” is how unbelievable it is that a primitive civilization like the Kelpiens became effective fighter pilots almost immediately. While this is a legitimate criticism, Saru’s ability to quickly grasp and adapt to the unfamiliar Ba’ul technology here lends a little bit of believability to that concept.
I do question Saru’s ability to read the English messages being sent over the Ba’ul device. The audible Kelpien used to draw attention to the universal translator just makes this harder to ignore. I also have to wonder how the Ba’ul missed the signals regularly being sent out using their own technology. But ultimately, these are nitpicks of a good episode.
“The Brightest Star” showcases a good use of Short Treks: filling in gaps and character background in a way that could otherwise feel unnatural. On the Short Treks DVD and Blu-ray, Bo Yeon Kim says, “Initially, the pitch for the short was a day in the life of Saru, but as we concurrently started breaking the story for 206 [‘The Sound of Thunder’], we realized we had a really amazing opportunity to kind of tell a prequel story without having to depend too much on flashbacks or expositional […] anecdotal storytelling in 206.” It was a clever way to go with the episode, and I’m glad they went for it. The two episodes make for a great pair, and the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.
Roger McCoy is pretty sure he was watching Star Trek before he was born! He has contributed to the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology series from Simon & Schuster (not directly related to the TV series of the same name) as well as a couple of unofficial Doctor Who anthologies. He believes a Star Trek story does not have to be canon to be good and does not have to be good to be canon, but if a story is Star Trek then you have his attention. He can be found online on his laptop in the other room; come on over and say hi! He’s probably just looking at Star Trek news.