PARIS • He vowed never to return, but Patrick Stewart is back in spandex for another intergalactic adventure as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in a new series of Star Trek next week.
Having bid farewell to the character that brought him international fame, the English Shakespearean actor, who turns 80 in July, was tempted back into the Trekkie universe by a whole new take on Picard.
"It has been 17 years since I said 'au revoir' to Jean-Luc," Stewart said during a visit to Paris, and a quarter of a century since the last series of Star Trek: The Next Generation ended.
"It was my absolute intention not only never to go back to that world, but also to assume that everything that could be said had been said - that there was nothing more to say," he added.
That is until Stewart began talking to Alex Kurtzman, creator of Star Trek: Picard, and screenwriter Michael Chabon, who wanted to take the commander to places he has never been before.
Chabon brings a certain cachet to the project as a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist - but he is also a longtime Star Trek fan.
"I found that they had ideas that were unexpected and that we were in a different world from the one that The Next Generation created," said Yorkshire-born Stewart, who was knighted in 2010.
The actor added that it feels like a new beginning because Picard is in a completely different situation from the one that audiences saw in him for four movies and the 178 previous episodes of the cult television series in which he appeared.
For one thing, the retired starship admiral, who once exuded such calmness and authority, will be genuinely rattled in the new series, which airs from next Thursday on CBS and Amazon Prime.
The ageing Picard has lost his bearings, rocked by the death of his android Data, who was such a talisman for the Starfleet's officers.
"There are one or two characters who have a history with Star Trek in the new series, but the world around them is transformed - it is not the same world," said Stewart, who last appeared on the Starship Enterprise in the 2002 movie Nemesis.
But he is galvanised back into action to help Dahj, a young woman in distress.
The new series also features Picard going back to his Gallic roots as French civilisation seemingly teeters on the brink of extinction.
With some scenes shot in a vineyard, Picard even gets to speak his native tongue on screen.
"We tried to create as French a world as possible," Stewart said.