Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Kelvin timeline films: Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
One of the worst things to happen to the Star Trek franchise last year was the disastrous announcement and rapid un-announcement of a sequel to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. The film quickly fell apart as it became clear that Paramount had done nothing to secure the main cast, director, or even schedule filming dates and plan location shoots.
But it wasn’t bad for the Star Trek franchise because I desperately wanted to see a new Kelvin timeline film. In fact, I don’t know of any Trekkies in my immediate circle who would say that they’re desperate to get back to the Kelvin timeline! The reason why it was such a disaster is how damaging a mess like this is for Star Trek as a brand.
From the point of view of fans and the franchise’s broader audience, this kind of situation might not seem like a big deal, and I get that. But for folks who work in the entertainment industry, seeing how poorly Paramount handled this is going to have longer-term implications.
A sequel to Star Trek Beyond has failed to get off the ground for basically seven years at this point. More than one script that would have brought back the Kelvin crew has been considered, and pre-production has begun at least twice, yet the film hasn’t materialised. The chaos last year, with the film being pulled from schedules just a few weeks after its announcement, is just the latest in a long line of blunders from Paramount – and anyone working in Hollywood, whether they’re a lowly production assistant or a talented, well-known director, is now going to be thinking twice about attaching themselves to a disorganised corporation that’s repeatedly failed to make this film.
Matt Shakman, who had previously worked on WandaVision for Marvel and has also directed episodes of Game of Thrones, had been tapped by Paramount to sit in the director’s chair, but he exited the project when things fell apart last year. Recent comments that Shakman made have seemed to suggest that a Star Trek Beyond sequel may still be in the works, and several outlets have seized upon this news to begin speculating about what may or may not be happening behind the scenes.
But as you might’ve guessed from the title of this article, I’m not convinced that there’s a place for the Kelvin timeline any more. Maybe it’s time to leave it behind, and put the considerable money that would’ve been thrown its way into other projects.
More Star Trek is always a good thing, and that’s the caveat I will always give whenever we have discussions like this! If there is to be a new Kelvin film, I’ll definitely tune in when it comes to streaming or Blu-ray (my health prevents me from taking trips to the cinema any more, regrettably). It’s also worth noting that when Star Trek goes to the cinema it tends to pick up a much bigger audience than it does on television or streaming – and reaching out beyond the existing fandom and viewer base has to be considered a priority for Paramount in the months and years ahead.
With those points in mind, though, if I were in charge of the franchise for Paramount, a fourth Kelvin timeline film is categorically not the project I would choose to give the green light to.
Since Beyond premiered in 2016, we’ve had 144 episodes of Star Trek across six different productions – if you count Short Treks, that is. The Star Trek universe has massively expanded to include a huge variety of new shows set in different eras, appealing to diverse audiences, and with varying styles. I’m just not sure where the Kelvin timeline fits in with everything else Star Trek is currently doing – and in addition, adding an alternate timeline into the mix when the franchise is already playing in so many different time periods risks making Star Trek look even more complicated and convoluted than it already does.
Strange New Worlds has picked up several characters who are also present in the Kelvin timeline, and there’s a real risk that these two projects would trip over one another – or at least tread on each other’s toes. If I had to choose only one set of these recast or reimagined characters to stick with, I’d definitely choose the Strange New Worlds versions; Season 1 was absolutely outstanding, and seeing where Captain Pike and the crew will go next is one of my most-anticipated entertainment experiences of the year.
The Kelvin timeline served a purpose in 2009 when its first instalment premiered. It rebooted things, reimagined Star Trek for a new century, and stripped away some of the more niche and convoluted aspects of a more than forty-year-old franchise to ensure it would appeal to the widest possible audience. And it succeeded in that regard, with all three films turning a healthy profit and proving definitively that there was still life in a franchise that many had written off.
Without the Kelvin timeline, it’s hard to see how we’d have gotten Discovery, Picard, and the modern Star Trek productions that we’re continuing to enjoy, so we absolutely owe it a debt of gratitude for what it accomplished. But its original purpose has long since evaporated, with the idea of seeing “young” Kirk and Spock in their Academy days having been replaced by taking a look at their five-year mission. With Strange New Worlds also including Spock, Uhura, and even Kirk himself in some capacity, I just don’t see where their Kelvin counterparts fit any more.
As we can infer from Paramount’s failure to negotiate contracts with the Kelvin stars, several of them are probably beyond the reach of the corporation’s current budget. Zoë Saldaña has found fame in Avatar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Pine has been in Wonder Woman for DC, among other roles, and Karl Urban has received praise for his role in The Boys on Amazon Prime Video. While these people weren’t “unknowns” in 2009 by any means, their star power has risen, and with it, the money they’d expect to receive for a film like this has also increased.
A new Kelvin timeline film would be an expensive undertaking – far more expensive even than Into Darkness, which holds the franchise record with an approximate $190 million budget.
As a comparison, Season 3 of Picard is estimated to have cost Paramount somewhere in the region of $9 million per episode, and Discovery is also somewhere in the $8-9 million per episode range. Some quick maths tells us that, even if the new Kelvin timeline film were to cost the same as Into Darkness and not a penny more, it would still be more expensive than producing two ten-episode seasons of modern Star Trek shows.
Paramount does not have unlimited funds! And even when compared to the likes of Disney, Amazon, and Netflix, Paramount has to be a lot more careful with where it spends its money. I’d very much rather have two seasons of modern Star Trek than one new Kelvin timeline film – especially if those seasons are going to be anywhere near as good as Strange New Worlds Season 1 was!
It feels like the abandoned film helmed by Matt Shakman was the Kelvin timeline’s last realistic chance at a revival. Its collapse has caused all sorts of problems for the Star Trek franchise, especially with ambitions to return to the cinema still being held by Paramount, and those issues shouldn’t be overlooked. But it may be for the best in the long run.
It’s true that Beyond teased a sequel in its final moments, with Kirk and his crew looking out as the Enterprise-A was being constructed. There will be some fans who truly wanted to see where those versions of the characters might go next. But with Star Trek seemingly finding its feet again on the small screen, and having firmly returned to the prime timeline, I just don’t think there’s a place for it any more.
When the Beyond sequel was announced last year, it didn’t exactly light up the board, even within the Star Trek fan community. There was chatter and interest, of course, but there wasn’t the kind of hype bubble that there was in 2007-08, for example, when the first film was in production. Partly that’s because Star Trek as a whole is right on the cusp of oversaturation and franchise fatigue, with 51 episodes being broadcast in 2022 alone. But partly, it must be said, it’s because there was just never a whole lot of excitement for the Kelvin timeline to begin with.
I’d watch a new Kelvin timeline film… but I wouldn’t be wildly excited about in the way I am for Strange New Worlds Season 2, for example. And even if the film managed to pull in a decent audience at the box office, these versions of the characters are tried and tested by now. The chances of Star Trek 4 bringing in scores of new viewers to the franchise for the first time is slim.
The Kelvin timeline served a purpose in the 2000s and 2010s. The trilogy did a lot of good, and paved the way for the success Star Trek is currently enjoying. But it’s also difficult to see how to integrate it into the franchise as it currently exists – it’s off to one side in its own little narrative box. And because several of its characters are now part of Strange New Worlds, there’s even a danger that it could feel repetitive to bring back the likes of Spock and Uhura.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning: no. I don’t think we still need the Kelvin timeline. And if I were in the room, I’d argue that there are better ways for Paramount to spend money on Star Trek than greenlighting a new film starring this cast – whether that means new seasons of television or alternative pitches for feature films.
The damage done to Star Trek as a whole by the film’s collapse last year can’t be overstated, and may take time to fully appear. Paramount needs to get a grip, because mistakes like that can’t afford to happen again. But maybe it will be for the best. The money that could have been spent on a sequel to Beyond can be reallocated… and with no new live-action Star Trek projects currently announced, that could mean that the likes of Discovery and Strange New Worlds will be able to continue for an extra season apiece.
There are reportedly other feature film pitches that Paramount is working on, and the Beyond sequel was one of two that were supposedly announced over the last couple of years. Whether the other film, written by Discovery and Short Treks writer and producer Kalinda Vazquez, is still going ahead… who can say? Paramount’s disorganisation and chaos is boundless, it seems!
Regardless, if there’s news about a Beyond sequel or any other Star Trek feature films in the months ahead, I’ll be sure to take a look at it here on the website. So I hope you’ll stay tuned!
The Star Trek films should be available to stream on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available, and are also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and properties discussed 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.