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The replicator was truly a miracle piece of technology in the scope of explaining away a lot of small questions in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The tech was capable of providing food, air, space parts, and just about anything anyone living on the U.S.S. Enterprise could ever want. While handy for the fictional crew, this turned out to be a big problem for the real-life writers of the series. Former writer and co-producer Ronald D. Moore shares the big reason the writers didn't use replicators more often in the series in the quote below:
Replicators are the worst thing ever. Destroys storytelling all the time. They mean there's no value to anything. Nothing has value in the universe if you can just replicate everything, so all that goes away. Nothing is unique; if you break something, you can just make another one. If something breaks on the ship, it's 'Oh, no big deal, Geordi can just go down to engineering and make another doozywhatsit.' Or they go to a planet and that planet needed something: 'Oh, hey, let's make them what they need!' [The writers' room] just hated it and tried to forget about it as much as possible.
So, while introducing replicators to the Star Trek franchise helped stifle a some of the potentially annoying questions a Star Trek: The Next Generation writer might be asked at a fan convention, it also opened up the floodgate for some much more annoying ones. As Ronald D. Moore tells Bleeding Cool, it's very hard to heighten the drama of an episode when the audience is fully aware there's a device on the ship capable of making whatever is needed, with few limitations beyond that thing can't be a living organism. Just thinking back to the series, one will realize there are a lot of instances where the problem of the day could've been solved by any one of the crew just saying "let's use the replicator," and the rest of the episode could've been spent brow-beating Wesley into being less of a know-it-all.
At the same time, there are definitely instances where using a replicator could've been the wrong move in Star Trek: The Next Generation, so it's not as though it was always the obvious answer. For example, if Picard had okayed the replication of the Brekkians' cargo owed to the Ornarans to prevent further conflict in the episode "Symbiosis," Dr. Crusher might have never realized that the "medicine" the Brekkians were selling them was actually an elicit drug they hooked the Ornarans on to preserve their economy. Fans who may be upset that their view of the series is tainted knowing Ronald D. Moore and others knowingly ignored the "easy button" of the Enterprise may instead think to this and other examples, and instead view the Enterprise crew as simply being cautious in using such a powerful technology, rather than stupid for not using it more often.
Fans can continue to debate the nuances of Star Trek: The Next Generation or they can prepare for the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery (which recently added a TNG vet to direct) as it premieres September 24th at 8:30 p.m. on CBS with successive episodes to air on its streaming service CBS All Access. For a list of other shows making their debut this fall, be sure to visit our fall premiere guide.