Since the debut of STAR TREK BEYOND and the new featured starship – the 450-foot USS Franklin – we’ve seen a lot of both confusion and consternation from fans about where this vessel, purportedly the first Warp 4 ship, fits into the Trek timeline.
There are two prime factors that have become the source of this uncertainty: the nature of the ship’s history, and its registered name.
Scotty: “This is the USS Franklin, sir, can you believe it? First Earth ship capable of Warp 4. It went missing in the Gagarin radiation belt in the early 2160s.”
This dialogue is a clear signal that the ship is older than Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise NX-01, which was the first Earth vessel with a Warp 5 engine (“Broken Bow”). The NX-Beta, of which Archer and colleague A.G. Robinson piloted on the first Warp 2.5 flight, occurred in 2143 (“First Flight”), narrowing down the launch window of the Franklin to between that time and the NX-01’s maiden voyage in 2151.
This prototype nature of the Warp 4 ship is why the Franklin was christened with an NX registry (NX-326) at its launch.
Edison: “I fought for humanity – lost millions to the Xindi and Romulan Wars!”
In addition, Captain Edison’s backstory from BEYOND details him as a veteran of the old-Earth military’s M.A.C.O. service, which was absorbed into the Federation Starfleet after the Romulan War concluded and the United Federation of Planets were founded in 2161.
Because the Franklin remained an active part of Earth’s armada, now part of the UFP, it was reclassified to the USS Franklin at that time.
And for those of you asking why the NX-01 didn’t get a USS designation: remember, it was set to be retired after the events of “These Are the Voyages…” in 2161.
And if you think this is just our speculation, worry not: we got a note from Dylan Highsmith, one of the lead picture editors on STAR TREK BEYOND, about this very issue.
If you want the official explanation on the Franklin and it’s warp factor: it was a M.A.C.O. ship (or a United Earth Starfleet ship that housed M.A.C.O. personnel at times) that predates the NX-01.
When the UFP Starfleet is formed, M.A.C.O. was disbanded and the ship was reclassified as a Starfleet ship [with the USS identifier]. The ship is then “lost” in the early 2160’s.
It was important to everyone that the ship, like Edison, predate the Federation; that thematically, the ship mirrored an earlier time in history and served as a bridge in design between then and the NX-01.
Doug [Jung] and Simon [Pegg] may have worked up something [on an official launch date], but if they did it never made it to script or screen.
Either way it predates the NX-01, and was reclassified after the UFP is formed.
Another timeline comparison of note: Scotty says that the Franklin‘s “old transporter systems were only ever used for cargo,” while we learn in “Broken Bow” that the NX-01’s transporter pad was recently “approved for biomatter – meaning armory officers and helmsmen.”
In an interview with USS Franklin designer Sean Hergreaves, the artist specified that the vessel originally “transported freight more than people.”
The film also took the time to differentiate how these “old vessels” – compared to the Kelvin Timeline’s Enterprise – “were built in space, never meant to take off from atmosphere.” We see Columbia NX-02 under construction in “The Expanse,” compared to the KT’s Enterprise being built on Earth in the 2009 Trek film. Chekov and Sulu must “jump start” the Franklin by tricking it into activating atmospheric compensators to escape Altamid’s gravity.
As for why the registry number on an earlier ship than Archer’s Enterprise is higher? While that wasn’t specifically discussed, it’s our conclusion that the United Earth fleet must have started over when it came for the Warp 5 starship’s numbering – the Warp 4 ships were the previous line of construction.
UPDATE: We’ve gotten confirmation from the BEYOND production team that the Franklin registry number (NX-326) is in fact a reference to Leonard Nimoy’s birthday (March 26).
But why didn’t the registry change from NX-326 to NCC-326? Well, so far there’s only been one precedent of that, Sulu’s USS Excelsior, which started as NX-2000 and graduated to NCC-2000 after joining active service. (On the flip-side, Ben Sisko’s Defiant remained registered as NX-74205 through its entire run.)
So there you go: despite lots of initial questioning, the Franklin does manage to slot right into an unexplored gap in the history of the Alpha Quadrant.
We’re sure you’re eager to discuss the details further – so have at it in the comments below!