Star Trek: Lower Decks Creator Has Ideas for Movies, Animated and Live-Action (Exclusive)

Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan talks Season Four finale and the series' future.

Star Trek: Lower Decks wrapped its fourth season on Thursday with an episode that brought back some familiar characters and pushed the beloved series protagonists serving on the lower decks of the U.S.S. Cerritos into new places. The episode also featured some cinematic action and a grander tone appropriate for a finale and perhaps more. In the past, the biggest Star Trek shows jumped from television to film. Star Trek: The Original Series did it, with Star Trek: The Next Generation doing the same. Now Paramount+ is plotting new straight-to-streaming Star Trek movies, the first being Star Trek: Section 31 with Michelle Yeoh. asked Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan if he had an idea for what a Star Trek: Lower Decks movie could look like. It turns out that he has multiple ideas spanning animation and live-action, as well as characters beyond those in Lower Decks.

"I have an idea for an animated Lower Decks movie," McMahan tells "I have ideas for live-action Lower Decks movies. And I have ideas for brand new, totally original Star Trek movies that don't tie into anything we've seen before. I think Star Trek is an amazing genre to think about. I love the idea of not micro but small-budget Star Trek movies, where you get the bigness of a movie set, but you get to tell a Star Trek story that drives across a moment instead of a thing that has to be dealt with, like a Khan."

He continues, "I think there are cool ways to make Star Trek movies that aren't quite like the Marvel system and aren't quite like DC or the superheroes in general, but I would love a world where there's going to be Star Trek movies all the time, and when you go, you don't know which crew it's going to be about or if it's going to be a comedy or suspense or a drama. I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that it went from the first one [Captain America: The First Avenger] being a period piece superhero movie to being a spy thriller. I think there are ways to make Star Trek movies like that so that when you go, you don't know what you're going to get, you just know that you trust seeing that Starfleet Delta and that you're going to get a cool movie within that genre."

One might think that Paramount+'s first Star Trek movie project being about Section 31, a morally gray spy unit working largely independently of Starfleet's chain of command, is a step in that direction. McMahan would agree.

"Yes, and I am a big fan of Craig [Sweeny, writer] and everybody with Section 31," McMahan says. "I think it's going to be awesome. And I'm Mr. More when it comes to Star Trek. I want to see Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, which sounds awesome. I want to see more Prodigy. I want to see more movies. More, more and more like, let's go." also spoke to McMahan more in-depth about the Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 finale and what it means for the show's future. Here's what he had to say:

Star Trek: Lower Decks Creator Mike McMahan on the Season 4 finale At what point did Mariner's backstory firm up in your mind? Was this always the plan? Because it feels like an explanation for her attitude towards taking responsibility in Starfleet could have gone several different ways. How did you end up landing here?

Mike McMahan: I knew for a long time that Mariner was affected by her time in the Dominion War. There's a lot of earlier hints about that in the series. I always wanted to tie her to that original "Lower Decks" foursome, because it fits into the timeline. I held back for a really long time partially because part of me doesn't want to tell people why Mariner or any character is behaving the way they are. I just think there's a chance that you're jumping the shark at that, and I also wasn't sure if tying Mariner directly to a character from a previous episode would be too distracting or too specific. And oftentimes, I'm too cautious with stuff like, "When can I bring T'Lyn in?"  or "When can I promote them?" And I'm really, really careful.

This is such an important show to me, and this is such an important franchise to me, that I tend to maybe be too careful. Part of it is I want people to love watching Lower Decks. I don't want to make people feel like they don't know what's going on. A lot of the time, with the legacy stuff, I am waiting until I can find a way where if somebody has never seen the stuff I'm referring to, it doesn't matter because they still get it. Locarno is a bad guy from the past, Sito was an old friend, things that if you know it all, you'll know it. If you don't know it all, it's fine, or maybe it'll inspire you to go watch more Star Trek, which is even better.

But this season being about Mariner gets promoted, but Ransom won't let her get demoted -- there's that episode earlier on where he is like, "I know what you're up to. I'm going to support you unconditionally" -- that creates Mariner's story arc this season, that she can't do the pressure release that she usually does. And then when she's in that cave with that Klingon in a fight-to-the-death rain delay and she knows she can talk about stuff that will never get out because Ma'ah will die or she will die, it's kind of a win-win for her. That's the first time she's able to communicate honestly about something because she is in a space, weirdly a Klingon therapeutic space, where she can speak about it. It's so painful. That felt earned to me. That felt like a thing where I'm like, "This feels honest, this feels good," and that's when I let myself do that stuff.

I understand that it's not the same thing as what you're talking about, but it's also a little funny to hear you say you're too careful about things after giving us the "Naked Time" orgy scene a couple of seasons ago. I get it, but it's funny.

Well, it's funny too because it's a two-second thing that makes total sense within the world of the show. And I don't think of Star Trek as being a Puritan thing. I think of Star Trek as being human. It's funny. I wasn't the one who put that kind of stuff into Star Trek. But also at the same time, I want to make a show that makes you laugh. That makes you go, "God, that was fun." Or like, "Oh, I've never seen that before." I'm incredibly careful about canon stuff, and I'm a little less careful about, "Is this going to make you laugh out loud? Will this make you love this? Is this something you haven't seen in Star Trek before?" It doesn't have to be a history book. This is a whole different genre for Star Trek. And I am dancing between all the classic Trek and something totally new for Trek, and it just has to be a funny show on its own.

This finale ends up forming this third chapter of what is now a trilogy of episodes that started with "The First Duty" and then the original "Lower Decks" episode. Now we have this "Locarno trilogy" or whatever fans might want to call it. Was that on your mind, this larger franchise meta-story, or was your focus entirely on your characters?

No, I mean, it's a Nicholas Meyer Wrath of Khan. I was trying to make it very clear that Star Trek does this really well, and it did it once with features after an episode hadn't aired for a really long time. Now this is what Star Trek can do animated. You see that people a lot of the time are like, "Oh, animation is good for Star Trek because you can see more squiggly arms on aliens, or go to more places." But another power of it is it is this kind of magic of doing what Star Trek does best and saying that these one-off characters could, possibly, show up again.

You mentioned that Mariner goes through a lot this season. She comes to terms with a lot of things. I know you are deep into Star Trek: Lower Decks Season Five at this point. I know you probably don't want to say too much, but how different should fans expect her to be going forward now that she's resolved a lot of things?

Mariner hasn't resolved anything, but she's been unburdened by them. I think it's important to say that mental health isn't something you solve, it's something that you take care of and that you are aware of, and that communication and there not being a stigma about it and things that you carry don't necessarily have to be heavy. There is a possibility to diffuse them. Going forward, Mariner is Mariner. Mariner is a funny, loving, chaos-creating, sci-fi badass, who is just a little less burdened by the things that she was carrying before. I find, because I'm done writing season five, the Mariner in Season 5 is the Mariner that I love from Seasons 1 through 4, just happier.

As you said, this episode is very Wrath of Khan, including the ships hiding in the clouds sequence. Considering you had done those "Crisis Point" episodes that lovingly made fun of the Star Trek movies, was there any worry going into this about, "How do we get the audience to take us seriously now after we had so much fun taking the piss out of the Star Trek movies?"

No, because even when we're taking the piss out of the Star Trek movies, it's clear we love it and we're doing a cool movie. A lot of it is the framing and the stakes and the music a lot of the time. Something Lower Decks does well in my opinion is makes you laugh and then immediately pivot to real stakes. That's a skill of ours that is partially the performances, the editing, the music, but I'm never worried we're not going to make a moment land because my directors and everybody, they know the score, they know what we're up to and we can pivot like that.

A lot of this episode is about Mariner, but Boimler also gets his big moment in this episode when he gets to captain for the first time, which is interesting because, in one of the earlier interviews I did with Jack Quaid, I asked him about Boimler potentially becoming Captain. He's said something like, "I know he wants it, but I don't know if he actually wants it." Is this a reaffirmation that maybe he really does want it and will be good at it? What made this the right time and what does it mean for him now?

What spoke to me about that moment was that it ties directly to that Redshirts episode in a previous season where, in this moment, Boimler was trusted by Ransom and the Captain to get this done. And what I think is interesting is, people love that they see him in the chair because they believe in Boimler too. But what being a Captain is about isn't about sitting in a chair in the middle of a bridge during a high-stakes moment. Freeman is being the captain there. Freeman is putting herself in danger, flying through a fireball. Boimler is being trusted and he's in that chair, and it's great. But being a captain is more than just that moment, and moving forward, Boimler's now had a taste of the epic part of being a Captain, but you have to earn being a Captain in a lot of different ways, and the thrill of that does not take him across the finish line yet with where we're going.

I have time for one more question. Since I didn't get a chance to ask you about this towards the beginning of the season. I'm going to roll it back to the premiere to have you weigh in on one of Star Trek's biggest controversies: Did Janeway do Tuvix wrong?

Janeway didn't only do Tuvix right, she also did us right. Although, I don't know if she did him right, but look, listen, she's not in the Alpha Quadrant. She's surviving, and she's doing what she has to with the resources that she has. Now, did Tuvix beg for his life, and she still murdered him? Yeah, that was pretty rough. But you know what, dude? Did anybody, did any of us really want more Tuvix? I was relieved. I did not want to watch another five seasons of Tuvix. I didn't want to lose Tuvok for that. I think people are still allowed to argue about the ethics of Janeway's decision, which is fine. Sometimes things are not black and white. Sometimes you're allowed to do the right thing, but it not be good. Sometimes you can do everything right and still not win. But ultimately, I'm glad we didn't have to watch Tuvix again. What a sigh of relief that he wasn't in the next episode, Tuvixing it up.

That is the 100% correct answer. Thank you.

[Laughs] Of course.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Cast

Star Trek: Lower Decks stars "lower decks" crewmembers of the U.S.S. Cerritos Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), Ensign Tendi (Noël Wells), and Ensign Rutherford (Eugene Cordero). Provisional Ensign T'Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz) joined the crew in Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3. The U.S.S. Cerritos' bridge crew includes Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O'Connell), Lieutenant Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore),  and Doctor T'Ana, (Gillian Vigman).

Mike McMahan (Rick and MortySolar Opposites) created Star Trek: Lower Decks. In Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4, "an unknown force is destroying starships and threatening galactic peace. Luckily, the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos isn't important enough for stuff like that! Instead, Ensigns Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, Rutherford, and Provisional Ensign T'Lyn are keeping up with their Starfleet duties, avoiding malevolent computers and getting stuck in a couple caves – all while encountering new and classic aliens along the way."

How to watch Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4

CBS' Eye Animation Productions, Secret Hideout, and Roddenberry Entertainment produced Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4. Secret Hideout's Alex Kurtzman, Roddenberry Entertainment's Rod Roddenberry and Trevor Roth, and Katie Krentz (219 Productions) are executive producers with showrunner Mike McMahan. Aaron Baiers (Secret Hideout) also serves as an executive producer. Titmouse (Big Mouth) serves as the animation studio for the series.

Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. and Latin America. In Canada, Star Trek: Lower Decks airs on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel. Star Trek: Lower Decks will also be available to stream on Paramount+ in the UK, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and South Korea later this year.