I recently watched a video or two on YouTube by Midnight's Edge explaining a theory on how Star Trek continuity is supposed to work, based on licensing, rights, IP, and so on. The video is titled "Why the Star Trek Prime Timeline is NOT Canon Explained" I won't go into the deep details but suffice it to say the reason things are as convoluted as they are is because:
- The rules for the license Bad Robot holds to make Star Trek content requires it to be distinct from the older Star Trek shows/movies by at least 25% (however that's measured)
- Due to the unpopularity of the later movies/show, CBS doesn't want licensed merchandise form the old shows to be devalued.
- Essentially, there are 3 separate continuities (you could think of them as separate universes, if it helps):
The Original Timeline, consisting of Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager (Along with the movies up to Star Trek: Nemesis)
- The Prime Timeline, consisting of Star Trek: Discovery and the timeline from 2009 Star Trek that Ambassador Spock and Nero came from, where Romulus was destroyed.
- The Abramsverse, consisting of the 3 Star Trek movies produced and/or directed by JJ Abrams
The implications of that are as follows:
- The Original Timeline is done. It ended with the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (chronologically by TV show airdate. Within the universe, it ends with Star Trek: Nemesis) and there will be no more in that timeline for the foreseeable future.
- Star Trek: Discovery is in the same universe where Romulus will eventually be destroyed by the supernova. Ambassador Spock and Nero will go back in time through the black hole, which leads to the creation of:
- The Abramsverse, which is the only timeline out of the 3 in which Vulcan is destroyed. It splits from the Prime timeline (NOT the original timeline) when the Narada arrives and destroys U.S.S. Kelvin. This timeline is also done, due to the unpopularity of the films.
- Star Trek: Discovery and the new show coming out featuring Picard will be in the Prime Timeline, which is NOT the same as the Original. That means this new Picard will not be the same character as the one we know. (This has been openly stated by Patrick Stewart, among others.) He will be the Prime Timeline counterpart.
- All other Star Trek TV series currently in development will be set in the Prime Timeline.
This explains the visual similarities between the interiors, uniforms and other details between Star Trek: Discovery and U.S.S. Kelvin. They are in the same universe. This also explains why there's a drastic difference between the look of the original U.S.S Enterprise and these ships. They are NOT the same universe. It also explains the major differences in appearance, scale and details of the original U.S.S. Enterprise across the three timelines.
It's true that the Klingons in the Prime timeline and the Abramsverse aren't quite the same, but they're far more similar to each other than the Klingons of the Original Timeline are to each other across Star Trek and later series, so we can take that in stride.
Note: Why would they call the new timeline the Prime timeline? Well, think about in math. If I have a variable x, and some other variable directly related to it but not the same, I might call it x' or "x prime." It isn't the original.