This is something I've been looking forward to seeing ever since the trailer went live. As is the case with fan productions there is a considerable waiting period before actually getting to see the end result but Prelude to Axanar has finally been released for public consumption. You can find it here, it's the second video down.
Taking the form of a History Channel style documentary, this 20 minute short chronicles the events of the young Federation's conflict with the Klingon Empire; dubbed The Four Years War for historical purposes. Right off the bat the style feels authentic with a narrator and the appropriate historical context as well as talking heads relating their experiences of the war.
Each cast member absolutely nails their roles by imbuing their recollections with a great deal of realistic emotion, there is a point where Kate Vernon's voice is heavy with regret when her character Captain Sonya Alexander talks about the destruction she had to witness on several occasions. It really hits home how tough such a war was on those fighting it. Tony Todd brings such gravitas to his role as Admiral Ramirez, making it easily believable that he's a decisive leader who had ideas that turned the tide of the conflict in Starfleet's favour.
Franchise mainstay J.G. Hertzler best known for playing a Klingon is great as always in his role as Captain Samuel Travis, portraying a man who has been in a lot of battles and has a thick skin as a result. Gary Graham makes a welcome return as Vulcan Ambassador Soval from Star Trek: Enterprise and falls back into his role easily. Star Trek newcomer Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica) is fiercely menacing as General Kharn who definitely comes across as a credible antagonist to form strategies against the Federation. Alec Peters does a solid job as Captain Garth of Izar but his inexperience shines through in comparison to the seasoned cast also featured.
The main purpose of Prelude to Axanar is to lay the foundations for the feature length Star Trek: Axanar which will be released when it's ready I suppose. I'd say mission accomplished here, the story is very well told with all the major events in the conflict
summed up clearly and succinctly punctuated with some absolutely
beautiful visual effects from Tobias Richter who renders the various
Federation and Klingon ships perfectly. Very little is seen in terms of
major battle tactics but the visuals nicely complement the information
being presented. Real scope is given to the events by the emotion filled accounts from those who experienced it, lots can be inferred from the tone of their voice.
As a Star Trek fan, I got a kick out of all the references throughout, Axanar and Captain Garth of Izar's contribution to it is a big deal in Star Trek with a few mentions but no real details so I'm interested to see this played out after all these years. Only thing I had an issue with is the film shows the U.S.S. Enterprise being built over Axanar when it's well documented that she was built over -not on- Earth but if that's my only problem then I can live with such an oversight.
Another thing that really impressed me is that the ideals of the Federation constantly underpin everything. Admiral Ramirez gives an impassioned speech about not compromising those ideals and all of the characters are fully aware that they are Starfleet officers who are tasked with upholding those principles but that doesn't mean they won't fight when those ideals are threatened. Really great stuff that tests what the Federation stands for. I also really liked how the diversity of the Federation as an organisation is what confused the Klingons who weren't aware if they were fighting a human crew with human tactics or a crew of the other species that make up the Federation.
My only real criticism other than some reference errors is that I don't feel that this was long enough, I think some of the events could have been covered in more detail instead of feeling like they washed over me. I was definitely interested in hearing more about the battle where Starfleet went on the offensive and halted the Klingon progress.
Overall, an excellent piece of Star Trek lore, the documentary style was completely unique and the events covered were absolutely fascinating. The cliffhanger ending only made me want to see more but it's going to be a long wait for the feature length follow-up. The writers really know their stuff for the most part and they absolutely get what Star Trek is all about. I would have liked more detail in some of the historical accounts but that's a minor niggle. Anyone who knows me will know that I was less than impressed by the high budget J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies, particularly Star Trek Into Darkness and to my mind this fan production is so far above these in quality and respect for the franchise. It's an absolute travesty that teams like this aren't being paid to produce some high quality stuff. If you like Star Trek then watch this, there's nothing else I can say.