I don't think the first three seasons were a waste. I thought season 1 did a great job conveying a sense of the pioneering days of Starfleet, and recapturing the pure exploration that Star Trek
was originally about. I felt it did as good a job in its own way of laying the foundations for the Trek universe as season 4 did. The difference is that S4 was focused more on interstellar politics and blatant continuity porn while S1 was more about the process of discovery -- both the discovery of alien worlds and interstellar politics and the discovery of the methods and practices of exploring deep space and making alien contacts.