Boldly Going Backwards

Paramount Making Star Trek: Origins

Paramount has been trying for years (basically since 2016 when Star Trek: Beyond came out) to get another Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. movie off the ground. They’ve gone through multiple proposed projects, from a time travel plot that would have seen the return of Chris Hemsworth’s George Kirk, to a hard-R rated project from Quentin Tarantino. Every year saw one project after another get proposed, one director after another come and then go as Paramount faffed around and failed to get any kind of Kelvin Universe sequel working. Development on this project was reaching Duke Nukem Forever levels of vaporware. It was funny, unless you were a fan of the previous films and just wanted more adventures with this crew (in which case it was just sad).

Well, another twist in the fates of the Star Trek movie universe has come out as Paramount has officially green-lit a new movie for production. Developed by Toby Haynes (the creator behind Star Wars: Andor) and written by Seth Grahame-Smith (of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), this new Star Trek movie isn’t the one fans were expecting. It’s not a fourth film reuniting the Kelvin universe crew (Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk, Karl Urban’s McCoy, Zachary Quinto’s Spock, et al) but, instead, an origin story for the whole of the Star Trek universe.

Now, I have some questions about this because, let’s face it, this plan sounds incredibly stupid. As any Star Trek fan will tell you, the origins of the Star Trek universe are well known at this point. There was World War III in the late 1990s (which later shows have said, “oh, well, the timeline is evolving and events happen but, you know, they happen later) which, of course, led to the rise, and then downfall, of Khan. There were the troubles in San Francisco in the mid 2040s. This then led to a restructuring of human civilization that coincided with Zephram Cochrane developing the first Earth-made Warp Drive. This drive was noticed by the Vulcans, who greeted humanity on First Contact Day. From there, Earth and the Vulcans created an alliance, Earth developed their first Earp 5-capable ship, the Enterprise, and then the Federation developed from there.

We know all this, of course, because all of it has been well documented in various Star Trek materials. World War III was discussed time and again in Star Trek: The Original Series. The troubles, and the ensuing riots, occurred in a time travel episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. First Contact was, of course, shown in Star Trek: First Contact. And all of Star Trek: Enterprise was about the first ship even before the Federation truly existed. We know the full history for the Federation, guys, and the Federation is Star Trek.

It is possible that the studio meant “the origins of the Federation in the Kelvin timeline”, but that, too, doesn’t make much sense. The Kelvin timeline, as was detailed in 2009’s Star Trek, split off from the main continuity at the point where Spock, in the 25th century, traveled back in time to before the date of The Original Series, got caught up in a battle between the U.S.S. Kelvin and Nero’s ship, the Narada, and that led to the timeline forking, creating the events of the Kelvin movie series. If you did an origin for that timeline, you’re still looking at an origin for the same universe we know. Time travel and all that doesn’t change enough to create a completely new timeline (all of which we documented in our extensive article on the subject).

So then, what is actually the point of this film? What exactly is paramount trying to tell with this story? The obvious answer is that Paramount doesn’t really have a clue on the matter. The studio is getting bought by Skydance, to make an even bigger mega-conglomerate, and they clearly want to get a film in their big franchise into production to show their new corporate daddy that they have big projects on the horizon. And considering nostalgia and the need to give fans “what they want”, a movie that goes back and treads well-worn territory sounds, at least to the bean-counters, like a good plan.

Far be it from me to shit on this plan completely without first seeing what exactly Haynes and Smith have (and credit where it’s due these are too creative dudes who really can reinvent material), but the whole idea of an origin story for Star Trek feels dumb. This sounds like something the studio suits came up with and then grabbed two solid names to try and make it work. If this was Haynes’s idea, I have some faith there might be a solid hook. But if this was an idea developed internally by Paramount and they shopped it out to a director known for his TV work who is looking to break into movies, well, that’s something else altogether.

The thing about Star Trek is that it’s supposed to have its eyes on the future. It started in the 1960s as a vision of where humanity could be, the utopia we could make without racism and capitalism and all the other issues that plagued us then (and still plague us today). It was hopeful, looking ahead, ready for what came next. That sits at odds with where the franchise is now which, so often, feels like a playbox full of toys meant to relive the glory days of the franchise without pushing it forward.

Think about the works we’ve gotten. Enterprise was a show that went back to the origins of the Federation. This did give us a new time period for the franchise, decades before The Original Series, but the show itself existed to say, “here’s how we met this alien race,” and, “here’s how this technology came into being.” It was more interested in exploring what was instead of looking ahead. Then there was the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, which was set ten years before The Original Series and, for many points of its run, was absolutely obsessed with showing us how we got to the time period we knew. That show then jumped into the future but not before spinning off Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which shows us the events of the U.S.S. Enterprise before James T. Kirk became captain.

I want to point out that I love Strange New Worlds. I think the cast is great, the episodes are fun, and the writing is on point. It is a show, though, that is obsessed with the Federation’s past instead of looking towards its future. And that also goes for Star Trek: Picard, which really just wanted to be extra seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and did a miserable job at it), and Star Trek: Lower Decks (which I do also enjoy, mind you), which is meant to be fan-service about the whole series (hell, they even reference events in Star Trek: The Animated Series on that show). The Kelvin movies, set in an alternate timeline around the events of Star Trek: The Original Series, don’t help this at all as it’s just another way for us to experience the same characters and the same time period all over again.

The sad thing is that the only show really looking towards the Federation’s future is Star Trek: Discovery where, in the third season and beyond, the show moved into the 32nd century and has been exploring a very different time period. I say “sadly” because, honestly, Discovery isn’t that great of a show so while I love the chutzpah of bouncing so far into the future for new adventures in a new time period, I would have loved more if it had been done by just about any other series (well, not Picard, but you know what I mean). The franchise is meant to look forward and only one of its (weaker) shows is actually doing just that (the fact that the 32rd Century seems to be dealing with the same stories from the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th centuries notwithstanding).

Where is our look forward? Where is the hopeful vision of the future that gives us new stories that defy expectations? Say what you will about Star Trek: The Original Series (it has its weak stories and questionable ideas sometimes, all wrapped in a very dated package at this point) but you never knew, week to week, what kind of story you’d be in for. The future was vast, and mysterious, and unexpected, with new thrills to be experienced around every turn of a planet. We haven’t had that kind of unexpected mystery in a long time, and as good as many of these shows have been it’s hard to say that even my beloved Discovery or Strange New Worlds are really pushing forward the future we tune in for.

Going back and doing a Star Trek origin story movie feels like another retread of a time period we’ve seen before. It’s like Star Wars, with that franchise absolutely obsessed with the handful of decades between the Republic, the Empire, and the New Republic. People keep demanding new stories there, and only recently was The High Republic put out, with stories that, well, feel a lot like the stories we’ve always gotten from that franchise. That’s my worry here, with Star Trek doing another navel-gazing adventure in a time period we’ve likely seen before. We want something new, something fresh, something interesting. Give us the future the franchise promises. Take us to the stars and let us see new mysteries, strange new worlds and new adventure. Boldly take us anywhere other than the past.