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Star Trek: Starfleet’s Number One Rule Is Also Its Most Complicated


In Star Trek, there’s nothing simple about the Prime Directive.

Paul Wesley as Jim Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Photo: Kharen Hill/Paramount+

If you have ever watched Star Trek, you already know what the Prime Directive is. General Order One. As Kirk describes it in The Original Series episode, “Bread and Circuses,” the order decrees Starfleet crews should make “No identification of self or mission; no interference with the social development of said planet; no references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.”

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. According to one episode of Voyager, the Prime Directive contains 47 sub-orders, including more than a few loopholes that have been exploited over the years, but the gist of it is, if a civilization has not yet developed warp travel, Starfleet is to treat their planet like a nature reserve, to be observed but never interfered with.

“I think of the Prime Directive as having two components,” says Robin Wasserman, who has written two episodes of Strange New Worlds. “One is the idea of non-interference with another civilization’s cultural mores (no matter how antithetical they may be to Starfleet values), while the other is the call to preserve a civilization’s ‘normal development’ by protecting them from knowledge (like, say, the knowledge of aliens) or technology that might provoke radical change.”

Bill Wolkoff, the writer of four episodes of Strange New Worlds, echoes this sentiment, calling the “spirit” of General Order One both “beautiful and aspirational.” He says, “The Prime Directive just keeps us focused on exploration. We’re not trying to play gods, we just want to meet the neighbors, share some cool things we know, and ideally learn from them, too. In other words, we’re not trying to make distant planets more like ours, or how we imagine they should be. We’re expanding our minds by discovering the universe as it is.”

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