There are two Captain Janeways. With the launch of the animated Nickelodeon series Star Trek: Prodigy, Captain Kathryn Janeway — Captain of the Starship Voyager — has been duplicated, this time, as a hologram.
While Trek fans are used to doppelgängers crashing the Final Frontier, the latest Janeway isn’t evil and likely won’t ever cross paths with the original version. Still, in our universe, hologram duplicate or not, Janeway will always be the actress Kate Mulgrew.
In Prodigy, Mulgrew is back, voicing a training hologram of Janeway. Because the series is aimed at children, Janeway is the literal voice of one generation, helping to guide the next.
Ahead of the series premiere, Mulgrew spoke to Inverse about her journey back to Starfleet service, what made Voyager different, and what fans of all ages can expect from Prodigy. Mild spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Prodigy, Episode 1, “Lost and Found.”
To say Mulgrew inspired the next generation of dreamers, thinkers, and scientists would be imprecise. Star Trek: Voyager ran from 1995-2001, meaning it influenced the thinking of a specific generation of fans — including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has publicly cited Janeway as one of her heroes, and grew up watching Voyager when it was on the air.
Although she’s done plenty of unrelated TV, film, and stage work since Voyager (including a supporting role as Galina "Red" Reznikov on Orange Is the New Black, for which she was nominated for an Emmy and won a Critics’ Choice Award), Mulgrew knows the impact she’s had as Janeway goes beyond what she could ever have imagined.
“It was seismic,” Mulgrew tells Inverse, discussing the history-making turn that made her the first woman to lead a Star Trek series. “The importance of that part at that time, in my life and in the history of the world, has carried on to this day. At the time, I didn't know the magnitude of what it would mean. But I came to understand when we were shooting Voyager that the significance of this was would not only be resonant, but very, very important going forward.”
“It was seismic.”
Voyager was the fourth live-action Star Trek series ever, and the second spin-off from The Next Generation. The 1995 series was an attempt to push the envelope in terms of what Star Trek could look like while also staying true to the show’s premise of a starship roaming around the various unknowns of the universe.
“It was a starship truly lost in space,” Mulgrew says. “75,000 light-years from Earth and encountering every possible or conceivable difficulty.” Because of Voyager’s isolation from the goody-goody values of the Federation, Voyager brought an “immediacy” to some of Star Trek’s famous morality plays in a way that, Mulgrew says, “I don’t think the other [various] series quite did.”
Back when Mulgrew first auditioned for Voyager, she knew nothing about the franchise. In her new role on Prodigy, she’s the one introducing a crew of wayward kids to Starfleet. At the end of the first Prodigy episode — “Lost and Found” — the training hologram of Janeway is activated on the USS Protostar, a mysterious and abandoned Federation starship, which has been held by a warlord in the Delta Quadrant.
The tweens who have grabbed the Protostar are just running for their lives, a fact that the hologram Janeway may or may not be hip to. Mulgrew says that one of her goals was to give this version of Janeway some “eccentricities” she may not have had before.
“In hologram form, in animated hologram form, it's delicious,” Mulgrew says. “Because kids are going to respond, not only with alacrity, but I think intuitively to this hologram. They’re sort of stunned to find themselves learning from her how to survive.”
In real life, Janeway has schooled countless generations in the ways of deep-space survival, so it’s only appropriate that Janeway is back to guide a new generation of characters on the finer points of boldly going. When I tell Mulgrew that by some Netflix metrics, Voyager is the most popular Star Trek of all, she replies with a confident nod, saying, “It was only a matter of time.”
Whether it's in the confines of a hologram or as flesh-and-blood, Mulgrew knows that the influence of Janeway can’t exactly be traced in a straight line. Because Janeway was a scientifically oriented female hero in the Star Trek pantheon, the character not only redefined the franchise but also the way pop culture welcomed women into space. Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to leave Earth’s atmosphere, attended the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager in 1995 and owned the Starfleet combadge worn by Janeway in the series.
“God knows the women in STEM were inspired by Janeway, and my friends Stacey Abrams and AOC,” Mulgrew says. “Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton had me to the White House at the end of my first season to speak to women in science. It’s touched everybody. The reverberations have only grown.”
Star Trek: Prodigy airs new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+.