Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 7, “Unification III”.
Star Trek: Discovery honored Anton Yelchin by naming a starship, the U.S.S. Yelchin, after the late actor who tragically died in 2016. The flagship CBS All-Access series has been creatively rejuvenated by changing its setting to the 32nd century, which has allowed Star Trek: Discovery to create a new canon in the far future. This has also enabled the show to incorporate the legacy of the entire Star Trek franchise and that fittingly now includes tacitly acknowledging the Kelvin timeline of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies.
Anton Yelchin played Ensign Pavel Chekov in Star Trek 2009, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond. Before stepping into the role originated by Walter Koening, the talented, Russian-born young actor was well-respected for his work in Hearts in Atlantis, Alpha Dog, and New York, I Love You. Yelchin starred in another blockbuster franchise, Terminator: Salvation, but he was just hitting his stride with his riveting performances in acclaimed independent films such as Like Crazy, Thoroughbreds, and Green Room when his life was shockingly cut short in a freak accident. On June 18, 2016, Yelchin died from blunt traumatic asphyxia when his Jeep rolled down a steep driveway and trapped him between the pillar of his security fence. Yelchin was only 27-years-old when he passed away, which was two months before the release of Star Trek Beyond.
Star Trek Discovery season 3 gave Anton Yelchin a well-deserved shout out in episode 7, “Unification III”, thanks to the U.S.S. Yelchin, which now holds a small but pivotal role in the season’s main storyline about The Burn. Commander Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) driving mission is to learn the cause of the galactic calamity that wiped out all dilithium and led to the collapse of the United Federation of Planets. As part of her investigation, Burnham recovered black boxes recovered from three of the thousands of starships that were destroyed when The Burn happened over a century before Discovery’s current timeframe of 3189. The U.S.S. Yelchin was one of the vessels annihilated by The Burn a hundred years prior and it was the first of the doomed starships that offered a black box Michael was able to retrieve and analyze.
Thanks, in part, to Michael’s discovery from the U.S.S. Yelchin, she and Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) were able to determine that The Burn wasn’t a simultaneous event across the galaxy. This means that it wasn’t a natural occurrence and someone or something caused The Burn to happen – which points to a mystery villain. This is a major breakthrough that could eventually lead to Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery making the Federation whole once more.
Unfortunately, the U.S.S. Yelchin was only spoken of and not seen in “Unification III” but it was an impossible-to-miss Easter egg. Star Trek: Discovery naming a 31st-century starship after Anton Yelchin is the franchise’s most significant tribute to the late actor since Star Trek Beyond added the title card “For Anton” before its closing credits. Star Trek Beyond also made sure that when Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) toasted “to absent friends” at the end of the film, the camera cut to Yelchin’s Pavel Chekov.
The U.S.S. Yelchin follows in the footsteps of the Eisenberg-class U.S.S. Nog, which was briefly glimpsed in Star Trek: Discovery season 3’s 5th episode, “Die Trying”. The U.S.S. Nog is a tribute to the beloved Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor Aron Eisenberg, who passed away in 2019. Giving Anton Yelchin a similar accord was a pleasant surprise, especially considering it’s been a few years since he died and his version of Mr. Chekov existed in an alternate timeline. However, the Star Trek universe is gradually being united as it evolves with several hit series on CBS All-Access and it was a classy move by Star Trek: Discovery to give Anton Yelchin a belated but touching tribute that grants him a new significance in Star Trek canon.