Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.
Quite a lot of very famous, very successful people are fans of Star Trek. The franchise has an incredible reach, and has inspired the likes of scientists, engineers, politicians – and many people in the world of entertainment, too. One such Star Trek fan is famed director Quentin Tarantino, who directed such films as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. A few years ago it was reported that Tarantino had pitched his own Star Trek film, with the aim of it becoming his next project after work on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wrapped.
That film is now not going ahead, with the cinematic Star Trek franchise seemingly planning a return to the Kelvin timeline – although that announcement, it seems, may have been premature, as some of the 2009 cast were said to have been taken by surprise. But that’s a conversation for another time! On this occasion I wanted to consider Tarantino’s pitch for a Star Trek film, what it might have been, and what it could have meant for the franchise. Will we come to lament the cancellation of this project? Will we look back and say it was a missed opportunity? Or is it better for both Star Trek and Quentin Tarantino to stay in their lanes?
Quentin Tarantino can be a controversial individual, and not just for the violence depicted in his films. He’s been accused of pushing actors to do stunts that they didn’t feel able to do, of gratuitously using certain racial slurs, and of making controversial statements on sex abusers such as Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein. Some actors have claimed Tarantino is difficult to work with, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that any long-running franchise might want to think twice about an association with someone like that.
Tarantino also has very limited experience working within the framework of a larger franchise. With the exceptions of a single episode each of ER and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation that he directed, all of Tarantino’s projects have been standalone works, usually that he’s both written and directed, taking charge of every aspect of the story and production. With his most recent directing credit outside of his own projects being more than fifteen years ago, there are definitely questions as to how well Tarantino’s story would fit in with the broader Star Trek franchise, and how well he would be able to work with the creative team at Paramount Global who are in overall control.
I confess that I rarely seek out Tarantino’s films, speaking for myself. His violent style and, in some cases, deliberate decisions to ignore real history can make them uncomfortable and difficult to watch, and at the end of the day I guess that kind of film just isn’t usually “my thing.” We all have different tastes and preferences, and having seen most of his films by now I feel comfortable enough to make that kind of subjective judgement.
Given everything I just said, you might assume that I’m happily celebrating the news that Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek project isn’t going ahead – something that many Trekkies I’ve spoken with or seen on social media seem to be doing. But I’m not – and I really do wonder if we’re going to look back on this decision in the future as being a mistake, perhaps even one that did untold damage to the Star Trek franchise as a whole.
Right now, Star Trek’s short-term future seems assured. There will be new seasons of all the shows currently in production taking us to at least the early part of 2024, at least one and possibly two films in early production, and perhaps as many as three upcoming series (and/or miniseries) that are also being worked on behind-the-scenes. Official announcements for some of these projects may be coming as early as this year.
So Star Trek is busier than ever, which is great news! But things aren’t perfect by any means, and there are problems just below the surface that could prove damaging to the franchise’s longer-term success. The constipated international rollout of Paramount+ continues to be a huge weight around the neck of the franchise, cutting off millions of Trekkies from shows like Prodigy. Paramount Global’s “America First” attitude means that even fans outside the United States who are lucky enough to get Paramount+ still can’t watch all of the latest episodes at the same time as American viewers. Star Trek’s social media, merchandising, and marketing is all ridiculously sub-par, and while there are signs of improvement, there’s still a long way to go.
There are relatively few directors with the name recognition of Quentin Tarantino. He directs one film every few years, they usually receive critical acclaim and become wildly successful at the box office, and anything he creates draws a lot of attention and huge audiences. If someone of that stature were to be involved with Star Trek and direct a Star Trek film, we’d quite likely see audience numbers that eclipse even Star Trek Into Darkness – the franchise’s current high-water mark at the box office.
We’d also get huge numbers of people checking out the Star Trek franchise for the first time, and as always happens with every new Star Trek project, some of those people would go on to join the fan community and become huge Trekkies. There are millions of people who are only vaguely aware of Star Trek or who have dismissed it out of hand; someone like Tarantino has the rare ability to reach out to those people and convince them to give it a try. That’s not to say everyone who sat down to watch Tarantino’s Trek would immediately be transformed into Trekkies – but some of them would, and the fanbase could grow much larger off the back of one single film than it’s been able to in years.
That’s the real reason why a project of this nature is worth investing in. It won’t be every day that Paramount Global gets a pitch from someone as undeniably talented and well-known as Quentin Tarantino, so even if he doesn’t seem like a natural fit for the current direction of the franchise, any project with his name attached should be worth considering very seriously. The benefits of bringing fresh eyes to Star Trek and reaching audiences that no other Star Trek film could even contemplate could pay dividends for the franchise in the medium-to-long term. Aside from making a single successful film – which any Tarantino work almost certainly would be – and turning a profit, a Tarantino Star Trek film could potentially expand the Star Trek fanbase in a huge way.
In order for Star Trek to remain successful, there has to be a near-continuous level of growth in audience numbers and in terms of the money it brings in for parent company Paramount Global. If the franchise stagnates and starts to decline, we’ll be back in the position we were in in 2005, with cancellation looming and the franchise potentially disappearing altogether. Projects like Lower Decks and Prodigy have already demonstrated that Star Trek can reach out beyond its usual niche and appeal to new demographics – although the decision to withhold both shows from international broadcast hurt them immeasurably.
So Paramount Global is willing to try new things, which is great. And right now, Star Trek is more diverse than it has ever been – and I don’t just mean in terms of its on-screen faces. Different series are reaching out to completely different target audiences, whether it’s younger kids, comedy fans, or fans of serialised drama. Not every project will hold an appeal to every existing fan, but I think most Trekkies are still willing to give them a try.
That diversity could have been a point in favour of Tarantino’s Star Trek film. If I were in charge of greenlighting these things for Paramount Global, I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Tarantino Trek instead of other projects. But if I knew the Star Trek franchise was already doing a number of very different things already, I think I’d have taken that risk and found a place for it. Worst case scenario, you get a mediocre film that almost certainly still turns a profit. But in the best case, the Star Trek fanbase grows significantly, and with the renewed attention such a project would bring, more people would be inclined to try out other recent offerings. Combine the release of Tarantino Trek with a decent marketing campaign highlighting Paramount+ as the home of Picard, Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, and so on, and I think all of the pieces are there for the film to be a launchpad for unprecedented subscriber growth and more new eyes on the franchise than we’ve seen in a long time.
This is the same fundamental reason why I supported the Kelvin films when they kicked off in 2009. I have friends who still to this day refuse to watch the Kelvin films because they hated the decision to re-cast The Original Series characters, they didn’t like the aesthetic of the films, and they felt they would be too action-oriented, taking Star Trek away from its roots. I obviously don’t agree with those criticisms, though I can understand where they came from to a degree. But even though the Kelvin films weren’t my all-time favourites in the franchise, they succeeded at rebooting Star Trek.
Star Trek 2009 could be a textbook case study in rebooting a franchise. It got so many things right – and it was rewarded for that with what was, at the time, the highest audience numbers and best box office returns for any film in the entire franchise. It shot past The Wrath of Khan and First Contact, easily overtaking both even when accounting for inflation. And for the casual audience that the Star Trek franchise had been losing by the millions from the late 1990s through to the early 2000s, the 2009 reboot demonstrated that there was still life in the franchise. New fans joined the fan community having seen the Kelvin films, and have since gone back to watch and enjoy older series and films. Tarantino’s film had the potential to do what Star Trek 2009 did – but at a completely different order of magnitude because of the huge name attached to it.
I might not have enjoyed Tarantino’s film. But I recognise that he’s a talented filmmaker, storyteller, and director – and someone with undeniable talents in those fields should be the kind of person that Paramount Global seeks to attract to the Star Trek franchise. This isn’t to put down or belittle anyone currently or recently involved with Star Trek – there are some fantastic creative people who’ve told some wonderful stories that deserve more praise than they get, sometimes. Comparing and saying “who’s better” is always going to be a subjective thing with no real answer, but for my money, if the option to have both is on the table – Tarantino and the current crop of Star Trek creatives – then I’d happily find a way to include him.
I confess that I was a little surprised by the reaction to the news that this film isn’t going ahead. There were quite a lot of Trekkies who seemed to be celebrating its demise – and while I can understand some folks may find Tarantino an unlikeable person or might disagree with some of the things he’s said and done, I can’t help but feel that this schadenfreude may be misplaced. In time, we may look back at this project’s cancellation and wonder what might have been if it had gone ahead.
For all the time that we’ve spent discussing the potential in Tarantino’s film, we haven’t actually talked about what the film itself was supposed to be! All of this has to be taken with a grain of salt, based on interviews and gossip, but it seems as though Tarantino was interested in taking another look at The Original Series classic episode A Piece of the Action. That episode was set on a planet whose inhabitants revered the mob lifestyle of Chicago in the 1920s, and saw Captain Kirk and Spock become “gangsters” – of a sort.
I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a campy charm as it mimics, in its own way, the gangster movies of a generation earlier; Hollywood films of the 1930s. The original Scarface, The Roaring Twenties, and G Men are all the kind of titles that A Piece of the Action drew its inspiration from, and while those films are less well-known in 2022, when A Piece of the Action premiered, they were only between 30-35 years old – akin to a viewer today recalling a film from the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Gangster films have done well in recent years, too. Films like The Irishman, The Highwaymen, and TV shows like Peaky Blinders have all put their own spins on the genre since 2010, showing that there’s plenty of interest even today in this kind of period gangster flick. Tarantino’s film could have easily been on par with any of those, blending humour, drama, and action together while appealing to a segment of the audience that past Star Trek films have failed to reach.
A Piece of the Action might not be my choice to return to, but again that’s thinking about it in isolation. I can happily agree with anyone who says that A Piece of the Action isn’t the best part of Star Trek and isn’t the one thing they want to see more of! But in the context of an expanding, broader franchise, with different projects going in wildly different directions, I think I could find a place for it.
And that basically encapsulates how I feel. On its own, if there was no room for other Star Trek to be made, or if greenlighting Tarantino’s film would mean cancelling something like Discovery or Prodigy, then I’d shoot it down in flames. But as one part of a franchise that has a lot of different projects on the go and that hopes to target different audiences? I really do believe that it could have been made to work. Maybe not every Trekkie would have liked it. But again, if it were a one-off project with a new cast of characters, that’s almost incidental. What would matter far more, in my view, are the new fans it could create, the new eyes it would bring to Star Trek for the very first time, and the potential it could have to repeat and even eclipse the success of the Kelvin films at growing the fanbase. This would, in turn, have the effect of shoring up support for the franchise at a time when the “streaming wars” and the missteps made by Paramount+ have placed Star Trek’s longer-term future in doubt.
There are a number of Star Trek films that never got off the ground for one reason or another, just as there are series concepts and episodes that were likewise never made. Perhaps in future, Tarantino’s project will be just one of many such entries on a list, and it won’t matter that it didn’t happen. If shows like Prodigy and Strange New Worlds succeed at keeping the franchise feeling fresh, I think we stand a good chance of reaching the sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new films and shows still on the air. But beyond that… it gets harder to predict. I’d hate to be looking back a few years from now, with Star Trek off the air once more, wondering what could have been if Tarantino’s film had gone ahead.
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.