the story: Worf's foster brother forces everyone into a difficult position when he takes it on himself to relocate an entire alien race about to lose its home.
what it's all about: A lot of fans kind of never could tell the difference between "Homeward" and Star Trek: Insurrection. So let me clarify: they basically two completely different stories.
Insurrection is about Starfleet being manipulated into trying to relocate an entire alien race because of a blood feud with another alien race that turns out to be the same one. "Homeward" is about, well, what I said above. You'd have to make pretty broad generalizations to confuse the two, and I just don't see the point, except as a matter of convenience for fans who have little time for nuance and are really just trying really hard to be dismissive.
No, "Homeward" doesn't need to be thought of in association with Insurrection at all. Instead, it's a trademark episode of the seventh season, in which matters of family become disentangled from the past...and tangled in the present.
This time we get to meet Worf's foster brother, the son of the humans who took him in after the Khitomer disaster he experienced as a boy. This is always a tricky thing to accomplish, because fans don't like to have someone brought up they spent...six seasons having nothing to do with. But Star Trek, especially episodic Star Trek, which Next Generation most assuredly is, is uniquely suited to overlook such quibbles, if you have the mind to, and just let you worry about how Worf and his brother just don't get along, because although they grew up in the same house, they became totally different people.
Because we spend so much time with Starfleet officers in Star Trek (that was always one of the key advantages of Deep Space Nine, in that there were plenty of individuals who had nothing to do with it), it can sometimes be hard to imagine that there are people who matter in the future who aren't in Starfleet. Worf's brother is one of them. When we met his Klingon brother previously, that kicked off a whole Klingon opera in the series. Here, it's less complicated but no less emotionally taxing. Because Worf's human brother also has different ideas about how to conduct himself, and how he might contribute to galactic affairs, like Worf.
There's the whole matter of the Prime Directive to be considered. Worf's brother doesn't take it as seriously as Worf and the rest of the crew. If this had been the original series, Kirk probably would cheerily have done the very same thing, with some intense debates with Spock and McCoy, no doubt. But this is another instance where Next Generation gets to explore the greater complexities of such situations, not just with words but actions, not by interfering in wars but the basic process of living. This is a matter of deciding whether or not it's right to condemn an alien race to extinction. Enterprise made a more direct pitch with "Dear Doctor," and ultimately, fans are better off thinking of "Homeward" in relation to that than Insurrection.
- franchise - Speaks very well to classic Star Trek dilemmas.
- series - Relevant to the whole season.
- character - Certainly relevant to Worf!
essential- But you don't have to think too much about how important it is.