Set in the Star Trek universe, the short film is made as a documentary of the Four Years War fought between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire some time prior to Star Trek: The Original Series. The title refers to the Battle of Axanar, a pivotal battle in the war, which the short film builds up to. The historian John Gill (the guy who would later bring Nazism to the planet Ekos) interviews several characters on both sides of the war: Kharn (Klingon Supreme Warlord), Admiral Marcus Ramirez (Starfleet Commander-in-Chief), Admiral Samuel Travis (USS Hercules), Captain Sonya Alexander (USS Ajax), Captain Kelvar Garth (AKA Garth of Izar, USS Ares), and Soval (Vulcan ambassador).The short film brings back such notable Star Trek alumni as Gary Graham (reprising his role of Soval from Star Trek: Enterprise), Tony Todd (originally played Worf's brother Kurn in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Kurn and Old Jake Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; now cast as Admiral Ramirez), and J. G. Hertzler (originally played General/Chancellor Martok in Deep Space Nine; now cast as Admiral Travis).
The interviews are overlaid with shots of speeches, starship construction, space battles, and diagrams, showcasing the Four Years War up to this point.
Prelude to Axanar was intended as a prequel to a full-length feature, Star Trek: Axanar, which raised about $638,000 on Kickstarter, partly thanks to George Takei publicly expressing interest in the film. Besides the above-mentioned returnees, the film is set to cast Garrett Wang (Harry Kim in Star Trek: Voyager) as a Klingon cruiser commander. However, statements in a December 2015 financial report to Peters' backers that he had been paying himself and several others a five figure salary from the donations, and his plans to establish an unrelated movie studio, prompted CBS to file a lawsuit three days later for copyright and trademark infringement. Tony Todd also tweeted that he had left the project several months prior to that. Ultimately, in January 2017 it was announced that the suit was settled and production would continue, but in accordance with the new rules Paramount put in place for fan films during the lawsuit (seemingly as a response to Alec Peters' arguments that CBS hadn't provided sufficient guidance on what was acceptable), it would be reduced in length to two 15 minute parts no further public crowdfunding, and no Star Trek alum is allowed to participate outside of the original talent that worked in Prelude if they wish to return. The entire saga from beginning to end is chronicled at AxaMonitor.com.
Prelude to Axanar provides examples of:
- Bald, Black Leader Guy: Admiral Ramirez, when he becomes C-in-C of Starfleet.
- Batman Gambit: The first stage in Garth's plan is to feed the Klingons information that the new Constitution class ships are nearing completion at Axanar. This is actually a lie; when we see the ships in dry dock they're clearly in Earth orbit (and the Enterprise was built above San Francisco in canon).
- Beware the Nice Ones: The Federation after being pushed to the point of defeat by the Klingon Fleet.Ambassador Soval: An Andorian acquaintance once said: "Don't push the pink-skins to the thin ice." It wasn't very eloquent, but... the Klingons found it to prove quite prophetic.
- Blood Knight: In contrast to the Vulcans (see below), the Andorians are happy to provide phasers for the Ares-class.Travis: A Vulcan's gonna do what a Vulcan's gonna do, but the Andorians...(chuckles) they were happy to supply us the phasers.
- The Captain: Admiral Travis (he was a captain during the actual war), Captain Alexander, and Captain Garth are the three most prominent Starfleet captains during the war.
- Cool Ship: The Ares-class cruisers are the first dedicated warships designed and built by Starfleet. They prove to be more than a match for the D-6 battlecruisers, the current workhorses of the Klingon fleet, which were previously rolling over everything else the Federation had. Visually, it's similar to the Constitution class, but with the engineering hull directly attached to the saucer and the warp nacelles being below the hull instead of above.
- Confusion Fu: When the Federation started to turn the tide, a factor that helped them was that the various species of the Federation liked to serve among their own kind and that they all had their own tactics and strategies. This made Federation starships incredibly difficult to predict, much to the frustration of the Klingons.
- Crazy Enough to Work: Near the end of the film, Admiral Ramirez asks his three most trusted and experienced captains to come up with a plan to hold off the Klingons while the new Constitution-class heavy cruisers are completed. The plan Garth comes up with is stated to be this trope (Travis described it as "100% insanity; a bloodbath waiting to happen"), although the details are left to the feature film. The only thing stated is that the chosen battleground is the Axanar system, where two of the newest ships are being built (the Constitution and the Enterprise).
- Also, the maneuver Garth pulls off during the first engagement of the Ares-class cruisers. Himself commanding the lead ship USS Ares, he uses the distraction provided by Captain Alexander's USS Ajax to gun at full impulse straight at a D6, something no other Starfleet captain would be stupid enough to do due to the fact that it leaves his ship vulnerable. In the documentary, Alexander calls it "like a Klingon maneuver", while Garth himself merely states that he wanted to test if the ship really was as tough as the designers had claimed. She was. Totally unprepared for this, the D6 takes a pair of torpedoes right in the long "neck", blasting the ship in two. It's no wonder Admiral Travis calls Garth "that mad Izarian son-of-a-bitch".
- There are numerous references to Garth being crazy or having a crazy plan. Years later, Garth did go crazy, as seen in "Whom Gods Destroy". He got better, though.
- Documentary Episode: The whole short film is an in-universe documentary made and narrated by the noted historian John Gill, some time after the end of the Four Years War. Since Gill died on Ekos in "Patterns of Force", this has to be sometime before he goes there — say the 2240s or so.
- Humble Hero: Alexander mentions that Garth will play down his heroics in the war—which he does during his interview. Especially regarding the Battle of Cygnus III.Travis: And then there was Garth. (chuckles) That mad Izarian son of a bitch. That was his day.
Alexander: Garth likes to play down his contributions. Don't you believe it. What he did that day, no captain had ever done.
Garth: We got lucky. It was Sonya's maneuver that gave me the opening.
Travis: Sonya pulled a feint to starboard...Garth just went for it.
Alexander: It was like a Klingon maneuver.
Garth: It was a new ship. They said it was tough...I wanted to see what she could take.
- Ignored Expert:Garth: If the Klingon High Council had listened to Kharn...
Kharn: If the High Council had listened to me...
Garth: They would've had D-7s at Cygnus III...
Kharn: The D-7 would've been ready for battle...
Garth: And all our new Ares-class ships would've been cut to pieces.
Kharn: And we would have defeated the Federation.
- Late to the Tragedy: By the time Alexander and the Ajax arrive at Inverness, the battle is already over—and the Federation lost.
- Lensman Arms Race: At first, the Klingons dominate the battlefield with their D6 battlecruisers. Then Admiral Ramirez commissions the construction of the Ares-class cruisers, the first dedicated Federation warships, which prove to be more than a match to the D6. In response, Kharn orders the design of the more advanced D7, which is supposed to be able to rip the Ares-class cruisers to shreds. As a counter, Starfleet is in the process of finishing the construction on the first of the new Constitution-class heavy cruisers. It's a race against time as to who can bring their ships into battle first.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: The early stages of the war do not go well for the Federation, to say the least. The Klingons are dominating at every turn, and nothing Starfleet throws at them works. It's not until Admiral Ramirez is appointed Commander-in-Chief that he is determined to turn the tide by showing the Klingons that no one fucks with the Federation.
- The Magnificent: Kharn the Undying.Alexander: The Klingons revered him...with good reason.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The Klingon High Council ignore Kharn's advice to accelerate the construction of their new D7 cruisers, not seeing the Federation as a real threat to their existing forces. The result is that the new Ares class ships are able to turn the tide against the D6 fleet instead of being shredded by the superior D7s. Kharn himself also does this, allowing his forces to use "the strategy of least respect", purposely fighting in an inefficient manner to show contempt for their enemies. He notes in the documentary that this led to them squandering their initial momentum and advantage.
- Nicknaming the Enemy: After the introduction of the Ares-class cruisers, the Klingon start giving out nicknames to their captains, whom they now see as Worthy Opponents. Captain Kelvar Garth becomes "Garth of Izar", which he admits is not the worst name a Klingon can call you with, while Captain Sonya Alexander gets called the far less flattering "Queen Bitch Whore of the Federation".
- Prequel: To all Star Trek series except for Enterprise.
- Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: The stated names of Ares-class ships all come from Classical Mythology (Ares, Ajax, Hercules). All warriors, as befits the first dedicated class of warships.
- Rousing Speech: Ramirez delivers one in Archer Arena after being named C-in-C of Starfleet. His fellow commentators are still awestruck over how inspiring it is.Ramirez: We are facing an enemy, that is consumed and committed to our total destruction. An enemy that demands to be fought, and we will fight! But I say to you our greatest challenge, is not the might of a Klingon fleet. The greatest challenge laying before us, is to do what must be done, without undoing the dream of the Federation. For myself, I have but one fear: Destroying the dream of the Federation. Compared to such a loss, I DO NOT FEAR THE KLINGON EMPIRE!
- Rule of Three: Re the plans for the upcoming Battle of Axanar.Travis: The admiralty had three plans. The first one...wasn't worth spit. The second one...was a good plan, a solid plan. But the third...that was Garth's.
- Technical Pacifist: Vulcan refuses to contribute any actual weapon designs to the new Federation warships, although they do design some of the other systems. They are debating whether to withdraw support for the war effort entirely.
- Took a Level in Badass: Starfleet itself with the construction of the Ares-class.
- Turn in Your Badge: Admiral Slater, the C-in-C of Starfleet early in the war, is forced to step down when he fails to stop the Klingons.
- Violence Is the Only Option: When interviewed, Soval regrets that the Vulcan diplomatic delegation has little room to maneuver, as the Klingons see the Federation as weak and unable to defend itself, so they see no reason to negotiate.
- Worthy Opponent: The Klingons finally start seeing the Federation as this after the introduction of the Ares-class cruisers. Specifically, they see the three most decorated captains (Travis, Alexander, and Garth) as this trope. Inverted earlier in the war, where they purposely use bad strategy as a mark of contempt and are only impressed by the Federation forces dying well.