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.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard, as well as recently-revealed teasers for upcoming seasons and projects.
The announcement a couple of days ago that a brand-new Star Trek film is in the works was incredibly exciting! There hasn’t been a feature film in the franchise since 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the Kelvin (or JJverse) series. Since The Motion Picture made its debut in 1979, the Star Trek franchise has been reasonably consistent in its cinematic output, with the longest gap between films to date coming between Nemesis’ release in 2002 and JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. Aside from that seven-year gap, we’ve seen Star Trek films every three or four years on average, and there have been thirteen films released since 1979.
I’ve always considered Star Trek to primarily be a television franchise, and its return to the small screen in 2017 felt like a proper homecoming. As interesting as the Kelvin timeline films were, I was far happier to see Star Trek back on television. That’s not because the Kelvin films – or any other Star Trek films – were bad, it’s just that the television format seems to work particularly well and lend itself to the kinds of stories Star Trek does best.
As I said when I wrote up a short piece about the film’s announcement, no information was provided by Paramount Pictures or ViacomCBS about the film other than its June 2023 release date. So it would be foolish to speculate, wouldn’t it?
Foolish, perhaps, but also a lot of fun! So this time we’re going to take a look at a handful of possible settings, scenarios, and ideas for Star Trek 2023 and what it might be all about. My usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information,” nor am I suggesting any of these film ideas will turn out to be correct. This is pure guesswork and speculation on my part. That’s all.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!
Number 1: A direct sequel to Star Trek Beyond.
Attempts have been underway since before the release of Star Trek Beyond to get a fourth Kelvin timeline film off the ground. At one point, rumours swirled of a script that would have brought back Kirk’s father George – who had been played by Thor actor Chris Hemsworth in the opening scenes of 2009’s Star Trek. Pre-production on that project appeared to make headway, but – again, according to widely-reported rumours – the salaries of some of the principal cast members, including Kirk actor Chris Pine, were said to have derailed the project.
Beyond ended with a strong tease at a potential sequel. Kirk and his crew gazed out over the new USS Enterprise-A as construction on the vessel was completed, and there was a sense that the film was setting up a new story. After more than five years it hasn’t happened, and as I said when I considered the pros and cons of a return to the Kelvin timeline, Star Trek’s return to the Prime Universe and the expansion of the franchise to new shows and projects means that, at least in my opinion, the Kelvin timeline doesn’t really feel like a good fit right now.
In many ways, it would make more sense for any new feature film to at least have some connection or tie to the shows currently being produced, even if it isn’t a direct spin-off from any of them. The Kelvin timeline was a way to reboot Star Trek in 2009 after three decades of near-continuous production had burnt it out in the minds of many viewers. That doesn’t feel necessary right now. And going back to the Kelvin timeline after years in the Prime Universe risks overcomplicating things for a more casual audience.
So there are mixed feelings on this one! On the one hand, the story of the Kelvin timeline abruptly ends after Beyond, despite teases of a sequel. And the Kelvin timeline films were incredibly successful, bringing in huge audiences and plenty of money! But on the other hand, the reinvigorated Star Trek franchise has gone in a different direction since 2017, and I don’t see where a Beyond sequel fits any more.
Number 2: Captain Worf.
Michael Dorn, who played Worf in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and four Star Trek films, has often talked about his desire to reprise the role. Since at least the early 2010s, Dorn has talked at every opportunity about his pitch to Paramount and ViacomCBS for a “Captain Worf” series, miniseries, or film. Perhaps, after years of pestering them, he finally got his wish?
At this stage we can’t rule it out! Knowing so little about the upcoming project means, in theory, that practically any Star Trek pitch that we know about could be in contention. Maybe the “Captain Worf” concept was one that the company liked, and a feature film was considered the best possible option for it. One advantage to it, at least in theory, would be that Michael Dorn is well-versed in both Star Trek and the project’s central character, meaning it would be less challenging to get started with when compared to a wholly new concept. Given that the film has just over two years to go from announcement to release, that could be a significant help!
However, I’ve never been sold on the “Captain Worf” idea, personally speaking. Worf is a fun character, but I see two distinct disadvantages if he were to be the central focus of a new story. Firstly, Worf is the character we’ve spent the most time with in all of Star Trek to date – he appeared in 270 episodes and four films across fifteen years. We’ve seen most aspects of his life unfold on screen already, including his role as a father, husband, friend, and Starfleet officer. Do we really need more Worf?
And secondly, Worf is a great secondary character, but the “Captain Worf” concept would put him centre-stage. That’s great for Michael Dorn, of course, but I’m not sure Worf is the most nuanced or interesting character to spend so much time with. Both Worf and Voyager’s B’Elanna Torres have explored the “Starfleet-versus-Klingon” concept on many occasions, which is perhaps Worf’s biggest point of internal conflict and the best reason to do a project like this. It could be interesting, and a chance to return to the 24th or early 25th Century would be great. But I’m not sold on this being the right way to do it.
Number 3: Ceti Alpha V.
A few weeks ago I looked at a pitch by The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer for a miniseries tentatively titled Star Trek: Ceti Alpha V. That project was planned as a three-part miniseries, but it could have been adapted into a feature film, I suppose!
This concept would focus on iconic villain Khan in the years between his exile by Kirk in Space Seed and his return in The Wrath of Khan. He and his followers were marooned on the titular planet Ceti Alpha V, and had to endure disaster following the explosion of nearby Ceti Alpha VI.
As I wrote then, I’m not convinced that we need to see that part of the story! It wouldn’t really explain anything from The Wrath of Khan, as seeing Khan’s descent into madness for ourselves across several hours of television – or an entire film – isn’t necessary in any way to explain his actions or characterisation. Everything we needed to know about Khan is present in Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan.
As a feature film, though, a project like this has merit. It would pull on those nostalgic strings, connect to the franchise’s most well-regarded piece of cinema, and feature an iconic Star Trek character. From Paramount’s point of view, those advantages may make it worthwhile!
Number 4: Borg Invasion.
If you’re a regular around here you might remember a Borg Invasion concept being one of my “unsolicited Star Trek pitches” last month! This is a concept that I’ve long felt would be fascinating, and while I envisioned it as a television series, it could perhaps be made to work as a film trilogy instead – potentially making Star Trek 2023 the first part of a short series of films.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! The Borg are one of the franchise’s most iconic villains, participating in one of Star Trek’s most highly-regarded episodes – The Best of Both Worlds – and best films – First Contact. The faction itself also hasn’t been seen on screen in any major way since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration, perhaps making them due for a comeback!
Discovery’s second season told a story which had the potential to be a Borg origin story, and Picard Season 1 also touched on the Borg, in particular Picard’s lingering trauma following his assimilation. But neither series brought back the Borg in a big way, despite the potential existing for either to do so. Could that be because ViacomCBS knew that Paramount Pictures (its subsidiary) was in the early stages of working on a new Borg film? Maybe!
The Borg are terrifying, and such a film would be action-packed and tense in equal measure. It’s been 25 years since Star Trek: First Contact took the Borg to the big screen for their only visit to the cinema so far, so I can’t help but wonder if they’re about to make a reappearance! Whether a Borg story would look to bring back any familiar characters or not is not clear – it wouldn’t have to, but as always in Star Trek, I’d be thrilled to see practically anyone connected to the franchise make a return.
Number 5: The Kelvin timeline version of The Next Generation.
2009’s Star Trek reboot presented an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and take another look at Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy, and the rest of the crew of The Original Series. Ever since, (some) fans have been wondering what would happen to The Next Generation in the alternate reality – would the same crew have been assembled, or would its members even exist given the dramatic changes to the timeline?
Perhaps this is something we should explore in more detail another day, but I think that the existence of Chekov in the alternate reality, and the fact that he joined Starfleet, could be taken as evidence of the alternate reality not straying too far from the Prime Universe. Chekov was born after the incursion of Nero’s ship and the destruction of the USS Kelvin, so in theory we could argue that most people we met in past iterations of the franchise should have an alternate reality counterpart – just as they have a Mirror Universe counterpart too.
Discovery Season 3 made a small reference to the Kelvin timeline – or at least, an ambiguous reference that felt like a Kelvin connection! In the episode Terra Firma, Part 1, the mysterious Kovich told Dr Culber of a “time soldier” who crossed over from the alternate reality to the Prime Universe. This soldier was wearing a uniform style seen in the first couple of seasons of The Next Generation, so it seems as though there was a comparable era of Starfleet in the alternate reality.
Could Discovery have been dropping a hint at this film? Possibly! Even if that’s just coincidence, it reinforced the existence of the Kelvin timeline – a fact that was known to Starfleet by the 32nd Century. Perhaps it was a subtle reminder to Trekkies that the alternate reality still exists, getting us ready for a new project? The Next Generation is very popular with fans, and rebooting it may seem like a solid idea for Paramount Pictures. Though I know some fans who detest the Kelvin films – or who refused to watch on principle – there’s no denying the reboot was a success, and rebooting The Next Generation could be as well.
Number 6: A Discovery film – if the show ends with Season 4 or Season 5.
Speaking as we were of Discovery, its fourth season is due for release later this year. While there is no word yet on Season 5 – at least officially – it seems likely that the show will be renewed for a fifth season, which would presumably be broadcast in 2022. But what will happen next?
Both The Original Series and The Next Generation were followed up by films starring the casts of the shows, and perhaps something similar could be on the cards for Discovery, with Captain Burnham leading her crew onto the big screen. By 2023 we’ll have had at least one – probably two – more seasons of Discovery, so the crew will be almost as familiar to audiences as Kirk and his officers were when The Motion Picture was in production!
If there is to be a fifth season of the show, that would mean production on Season 5 would likely be ongoing at the same time as this film, so maybe this is an indication that there won’t be a Season 5. With a number of other Star Trek television projects in various stages of development – including the untitled Section 31 series which is itself a spin-off from Discovery – perhaps the plan is to end the series after Season 4 and turn it into a feature film franchise instead, with television attention refocused onto other projects.
It would be a big change, but I can see at least one big advantage to a Discovery film: it would firmly establish the 32nd Century in the minds of audiences. I’ve felt for a while that Star Trek needs to try to condense its disparate timelines and time periods as much as possible, and the 32nd Century is by its very nature totally open-ended when it comes to storytelling potential. A Discovery film could be a “soft reboot,” relaunching Star Trek in the 32nd Century and setting the stage for new projects.
Number 7: A Deep Space Nine film – the return of Sisko.
I was perhaps overly-critical of a “Captain Worf” idea in the entry above, but one character who I’ve been hoping to see return for over twenty years now is Captain Sisko. The ending of What You Leave Behind – the last episode of Deep Space Nine – more so than any other Star Trek finale left things open. Sisko entered the realm of the Bajoran Prophets, but promised to return in due course.
That return could happen at literally any point in the timeline; the Prophets don’t see time as linear. Sisko could thus appear in the Strange New Worlds, Picard, or Discovery eras – despite the fact that those shows take place centuries apart! But given the importance of his return to Star Trek, perhaps a Sisko feature film is on the cards.
Sisko would be such a great point-of-view character. His absence from galactic affairs for decades or even centuries would allow the writers of the film to dump a lot of exposition onto the audience without it feeling like it came from nowhere. His return could both set up the plot of a new Star Trek story and provide the audience with a way in; introducing us to new characters, factions, technologies, and the state of the galaxy itself in whatever time period he finds himself.
Such a story could also return to Bajor, looking at whether the Bajorans ever joined the Federation, as well as the aftermath of the Dominion War. The Dominion War arc is one of my favourites in all of Star Trek, and a follow-up of some kind would be absolutely amazing to see. If Sisko returned during the Picard era, he could reunite with people like Major Kira or Dr Bashir, and a mini-reunion of some of the Deep Space Nine crew would be wonderful.
Number 8: A Nemesis sequel.
A direct sequel to Nemesis seems unlikely, especially with Picard Season 2 underway and planned for next year. But the official announcement of Star Trek 2023 mentioned a film set after Nemesis as one possibility. That seems incredibly interesting! Would it be set in the Picard era, perhaps with the crew of La Sirena in major roles?
The surviving crew of the Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E have largely gone their separate ways, at least as of Picard Season 1. Riker and Troi live in semi-retirement on the planet Nepenthe. Picard is off with the crew of La Sirena. Worf and Geordi were mentioned by name, but there’s no indication that either are still even in Starfleet at this point! Season 2 of Picard may answer these questions, as well as establish what became of Dr Crusher, and if so that could set the stage for a reunion on the big screen.
As above with Discovery, Picard Season 2 is currently filming, meaning that production on Star Trek 2023 would have to wait if it wanted to include Picard himself. But there is another possibility: that a Nemesis sequel would focus on other characters. Perhaps it would look at Riker and Troi in more detail, especially if they returned to Starfleet following the events of Picard Season 1.
Star Trek 2023 may follow Riker’s time in command of the USS Zheng He, and perhaps he reunites with Worf, Dr Crusher, Geordi, or even Wesley! Or we could see the return of characters from Deep Space Nine and/or Voyager, such as Ezri Dax or Tuvok. With Captain Janeway coming back in Prodigy, anything’s possible right now!
Number 9: A Kelvin timeline crossover with either Strange New Worlds or Discovery.
One of the really enticing possibilities that came up when Strange New Worlds was announced was the possibility of some kind of Pike and Spock crossover story. I would be surprised in some ways to see Strange New Worlds – a highly-requested but completely untested – series hit the big screen, but a Kelvin timeline crossover could be a great way to do it.
Pike and Spock could team up with their alternate reality counterparts, perhaps looking to return to their own universe following some kind of crossover event. The two “young Spocks” would have to logically stand off – Kelvin Spock has already met Prime Spock but he can’t let young Prime Spock know that! It might be confusing, with two different versions of the characters, but it could be a lot of fun too.
Alternatively the Kelvin cast could cross over with Discovery’s 32nd Century. Not only have we had the aforementioned reference to the Kelvin timeline during Discovery’s third season, but we know that crossing between the two universes also seems to mean crossing into a different time period. Perhaps someone in the Kelvin timeline accidentally opens a black hole, sending them to Discovery’s 32nd Century.
The reverse would be interesting too, and could draw on themes present in episodes of Voyager like The ’37s. If Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery found themselves in an alternate 23rd Century, how many of them would struggle with the idea of remaining there, trying to rebuild their lives in a different universe, but perhaps a setting more familiar to them than the 32nd Century? That could be fascinating to explore – as would any crossover between two sets of crews!
Number 10: The Earth-Romulan War.
Picard Season 1 brought back the Romulans in a big way, and they also appeared in Discovery Season 3. The faction is clearly a big part of Star Trek right now, but one aspect of their history has never been explored – despite plans to do so in 2004-05. The unproduced fifth season of Enterprise would – allegedly – have included the Earth-Romulan war, one of humanity’s first major interstellar conflicts.
Fans have long wondered what this would have looked like – even as far back as the Earth-Romulan War’s first mention in The Original Series Season 1 episode Balance of Terror. We saw the first hints of Romulan aggression in Enterprise, as they attempted to disrupt the Earth-Vulcan alliance and start a Vulcan-Andorian War. Captain Archer managed to prevent that from happening, but as we know from Star Trek’s history, conflict with the Romulans broke out regardless.
This would be a great opportunity to bring back Captain Archer, T’Pol, or other major characters from Enterprise. It wouldn’t necessarily be an “Enterprise film,” but it could be a film that included at least some of the same characters. A single film might not be able to tell the story of the entire conflict, but it could certainly look at its most decisive battle – and with so little information having been shared on screen, it’s an almost-blank slate for any new writer or producer to play with.
The drawback, really, is that it would be hard to connect such a film to the ongoing Star Trek franchise, which has series set in the 23rd, 25th, and 32nd Centuries. Going back to a time shortly after Enterprise would isolate Star Trek 2023, and while it could be the springboard for more 22nd Century adventures to come, it could also end up feeling disconnected.
So that’s it. Ten possibilities for Star Trek 2023.
It’s quite likely that all of these suggestions are completely wrong; Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS are just as likely, in my opinion, to want to take the cinematic franchise in a new direction with a new crew than they are to revisit something from Star Trek’s past. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a lot of fun putting this list together and considering the possibilities!
Star Trek 2023 is a truly exciting prospect. I desperately hope that it will come to streaming instead of the cinema – as you may know if you’re a regular reader, my poor health means I can’t get to the cinema in person any more. Probably it will be given a theatrical release, though, which will mean months of trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible for me! Time will tell.
For now, though, suffice to say I’m intrigued by the prospect of the first new Star Trek film since Beyond, and potentially the first film to feature a different cast of characters since 2009. Whether or not this is the previously-announced project written by Discovery and Short Treks producer Kalinda Vazquez is also not clear. We know basically nothing about this film right now except its planned release date! Hopefully we’ll learn more soon, so stay tuned. I’ll be sure to take a look at any casting information, behind-the-scenes details, or any other news that comes our way.
The currently-untitled Star Trek film is scheduled for release on the 9th of June 2023. This film is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS, as is the entire Star Trek franchise. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
The Star Trek franchise sometimes lucks out on getting a wonderful guest star to jump aboard. Some of these guest stars are relative unknowns; actors and actresses who aren’t household names, but nevertheless gave wonderful, memorable performances. On the other hand, there are a handful of actors and actresses who join Star Trek when they’re already very well-known, either because they’re longstanding fans or because they were offered a once-in-a-lifetime role.
Christopher Plummer, who played General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was firmly in the second category; an established, renowned star. Plummer sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 91, and I thought it would be nice to take a look at his single Star Trek role, as well as pay tribute to this legend of stage and screen.
Christopher Plummer had a long career, first appearing on television in his native Canada in 1953. He continued to act well into his 80s, and among his final roles were the 2019 film Knives Out and a Canadian television show called Departure which was broadcast that same year. To Star Trek fans, Plummer is iconic for his role as the eyepatch-wearing Klingon General Chang in 1991’s The Undiscovered Country, where he faced off against fellow Canadian William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.
Plummer’s love of Shakespeare was incorporated into the story of The Undiscovered Country – the title of which is itself a quotation from the Great Bard. Chang would go on to quote Shakespeare numerous times throughout the film, appearing all the more villainous for it! There’s something about Shakespearean language that makes for a menacing antagonist.
General Chang was one part of a broader conspiracy to prevent the Klingons and Federation achieving peace – a metaphor, in 1991, for the end of the Cold War. The Klingons had been conceived during The Original Series as the “Russians” to the Federation’s “Americans,” so it was certainly fitting to bring them into a storyline like this.
To continue the analogy, Chang represents the hard-liners – Soviet military leaders who could not conceive of the end of their dominance and place in the world. A few months before The Undiscovered Country would hit cinemas, a number of such men attempted a coup in the Soviet Union. This was the final roll of the dice from the old guard to preserve Soviet communism and wrench control away from the reformer Gorbachev; the Soviet Union would be formally dissolved in December of that year.
Perhaps it’s because of how timely the story was that General Chang made such an impact on Star Trek. The franchise has often looked at the real world through its sci-fi lens, but few stories managed to be as relevant or as timely as The Undiscovered Country was in 1991. The end of the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation represented the end of the Cold War, the explosion of Praxis and its fallout can be seen as an analogy for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and General Chang and Captain Kirk are the respective “old soldiers” from either side who must overcome the way they feel.
Kirk succeeded where Chang could not in that regard, and The Undiscovered Country gave him a meaningful character arc in a way few prior stories had. But Chang’s role is just as interesting, as he represents the many people on both sides of the conflict who were unable to find a way to live in peace. He was a foil for Kirk; a dark reflection of where Kirk’s own biases and mistrust could have led. Chang’s philosophy was that it was better to die in battle than live peacefully with one’s enemies – and he got his comeuppance for it.
But having an interesting real-world message isn’t the only thing that makes Chang’s story so much fun. As I’ve said before, pushing too hard on that front can sometimes lead to a story or character being less entertaining! Instead, Chang was a truly interesting villain for the Star Trek franchise; a Klingon whose motivations were steeped in the concept of honour that his warrior people hold so dear.
Chang’s Klingon Bird-of-Prey could fire its weapons while cloaked, making it a uniquely challenging vessel for Kirk’s Enterprise-A and Sulu’s Excelsior during the climactic final confrontation. This battle, along with the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan, draws on inspiration from war films set aboard submarines, with Kirk and Sulu trying to outmanoeuvre and outthink their unseen opponent.
During Kirk and McCoy’s trial on Qo’noS, Chang was a powerful advocate for the prosecution, insisting they be convicted for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon – an act for which he and his co-conspirators were, in fact, responsible. Star Trek has shown numerous times that it’s a franchise capable of some great moments of courtroom drama, and this was absolutely one of them! Chang shouting at Kirk that he shouldn’t wait for the universal translator was pitch-perfect acting.
A complex villain, whose motives were to continue a conflict that he could simply see no way of bringing to a peaceful end, General Chang is absolutely one of the most interesting and entertaining antagonists in all of Star Trek, and is up there with Khan as one of the best ever faced by Kirk and The Original Series’ crew.
Christopher Plummer had a long and varied career, one which touched many different genres and styles of acting, and endeared him to generations of audiences. His one moment in Star Trek was not his defining role – and is not the headline in most of his obituaries in mainstream news outlets today – but I firmly believe it showed what he was capable of at his best: a classic Shakespearean actor capable of transitioning to a wholly new genre. He will be missed.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the films on this list.
One of the things people will ask about any franchise, really, is “what’s your favourite film in the series?” And it can be a difficult question to answer, especially in a franchise like Star Trek where the films tell different kinds of stories. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a very different entity from its sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – and those are just the first two titles! The former is a more ethereal, slow-paced affair, whereas the latter is very much an action-sci fi film. People have preferences over which style they prefer, of course, and that’s to be expected, but comparing different styles of film and different kinds of stories is difficult. It’s like asking “do you like comedy or horror?” The answer can be “I like both”, or “it depends what I’m in the mood for in a given moment” – but neither of those answers makes for a satisfactory ranked list!
There have been, as of 2020, thirteen Star Trek films – with a fourteenth rumoured to be in the early stages of production. The films were released between 1979 and 2016, making Star Trek one of the longest-running film franchises, alongside such series as James Bond and Star Wars. The films have featured three different casts: the cast of The Original Series, led by William Shatner; the cast of The Next Generation, led by Sir Patrick Stewart; and most recently the reboot cast, led by Chris Pine. I have long felt that there is scope within the franchise for other crews to get a look-in; don’t get me started on the idea of a Deep Space Nine film or we’ll be here all day!
Initially I planned to do a proper ranked list, with each film in order from 1-13, but that was just too difficult. Instead I settled on this approach: the films will be split into four groups, which reflect their rough positions in my ranked list. There will be a bottom three, a lower- and an upper-middle, and a top three. Within the sections, films are listed in chronological order by year of release. It’ll make sense when you read it, don’t worry!
So without further ado, let’s rank the films!
The bottom three:
This wasn’t a particularly easy task, because generally speaking, I have enjoyed at least parts of all of the Star Trek films. While some of them do have issues in terms of things like plot, special effects, and dialogue, every single one has redeeming qualities that make for worthwhile and entertaining viewing. However, when considered alongside other offerings in the franchise, these are the films I feel are the weakest. Remember that these sections are in chronological order of release, not ranked in order of preference.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Where The Final Frontier arguably came undone was William Shatner’s involvement as writer and director. Due to contractual obligations with Paramount, after Leonard Nimoy had his turn in the director’s chair with The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, William Shatner was able to exercise his right to write and direct his own Star Trek film. And he seized the opportunity to put Kirk at the centre of the story, as Sybok (Spock’s long-lost half-brother) used his power of pain removal to corrupt members of the Enterprise-A’s crew.
There were specific issues with some of the film’s visual effects, too, notably in its climactic final act. The “god entity” which Kirk and the crew encounter was widely criticised, even at the time, for being sub-par, and a now-infamous sequence with rock-aliens ended up being cut entirely from the film due to the visual effects being so poor. Shatner would blame this on using a new special effects company, as his first choice was busy on another project.
There are some great moments in The Final Frontier, though. The camping scene with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was touching at points, and ended up being one of the last times we got to see the trio alone together before The Original Series era was over. The shuttle crash was also a high point for me, being sufficiently tense and dramatic. Scotty saying he knows the Enterprise “like the back of his hand” and then immediately walking into a bulkhead was genuinely funny – if slapstick. And finally, the setting of Paradise City on Nimbus III managed to perfectly convey that it was a run-down failure of a settlement – a metaphor for the peace initiative that it was founded for.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Nemesis was, until January 2020, the furthest point in the main Star Trek timeline (except for some sequences set in the far future), and because of that I think its status may have been over-inflated. It isn’t a bad film per se, and it does try to tackle a number of different issues. Firstly, the premise of Picard vs Picard is interesting in theory, as is the film’s exploration of Romulan society and the introduction of the Remans. The Romulans had had a long presence in Star Trek, but Nemesis was the first time we’d seen them in such detail.
It’s often criticised for being “not very Star Trek-y”, with much of that criticism being aimed at its director, Stuart Baird, who admitted up front that he wasn’t familiar with the franchise when making the film. However, the main points about Picard being cloned, the Remans being telepathic, and the references to Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War story arc did, at least in my opinion, tie it to the rest of the franchise in an adequate way.
Data being killed off was also a point of significant criticism at the time, not just for the death itself but for how Data was handled in the story. Star Trek: Picard has recently rectified that – Data was able to have a proper goodbye, and it was shown how his legacy remains in the way his friends think of him. But for eighteen years the way Data’s death was handled was, for some fans at least, a bone of contention.
The buggy sequence at the beginning of the film – complete with a car-chase – was also something that many fans felt did not work. And it does, at the very least, feel like something that was shoehorned in rather than an organic element of the story.
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek had been in continuous production for 19 years (or longer, depending on how we count things) when Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005. For many, it felt like the end of an era and it seemed for a time that Star Trek was dead and not coming back. However, in 2006 rumours began circulating of a new film being in production, and this project – helmed by JJ Abrams – would eventually become Star Trek.
This film was a significant change from anything that had come before in that it was a stylised, action-heavy film – with some sci-fi trappings. The franchise had dipped its toes in the action-sci-fi world before (more on that in a moment) but for many fans, Star Trek took too much of an action-oriented approach to its story. While there were familiar elements – most notably the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Spock – the time-travel and alternate universe elements of the story took a back seat to fighting and drama.
The decision to recast The Original Series characters, instead of using a new crew, was also a problem for some fans – I know several people who still, more than a decade on, have refused to see Star Trek simply for that reason. There were major aesthetic changes that went along with the recasting – notably the USS Enterprise itself, both inside and out. Many of the sets – which included a Budweiser brewery as the Enterprise’s engine room – simply felt very far removed from what had come before.
The recast crew behaved very differently to their Prime Timeline counterparts, which only added to the feeling that Star Trek was something radically different. The decision to have Kirk and Spock be at odds for large parts of the film may have given both characters a chance for development over the course of their arcs within the film, but was incredibly jarring to longstanding fans of The Original Series.
All in all, a combination of the various factors listed above came together to make 2009’s Star Trek a major change for the franchise. There are great moments in the film, but they’re interspersed with action sequences that would be more at home in another franchise.
The lower middle:
Leaving the weakest films behind we’re now approaching the middle of the road. All of the next four films have great moments – and a smattering of issues. They are, however, better than the ones we just looked at.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
For some reason, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the first film with The Original Series’ cast that I can remember watching. It’s possible I’d seen others while very young, but if so I can’t remember them. Because The Search for Spock is the middle part of a trilogy, I think some aspects of it were confusing in that first viewing!
I’ve mentioned a number of times on the blog, but my introduction to the Star Trek franchise, in the early 1990s, was The Next Generation. It wasn’t until later that I was introduced to The Original Series, and this film may well have been my first point of contact with its crew. So on a personal level, I think I have more of a connection to The Search for Spock than I otherwise might!
There’s a great villain here – Kruge, played by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame – and his relationship with Kirk, particularly in the latter stages of the film, is genuinely interesting. The death of David Marcus was also something shocking an unexpected for a Star Trek film of this era – particularly as he was a returning character from The Wrath of Khan.
The main thrust of the plot is somewhat convoluted, however. The idea of a death-and-rebirth narrative is interesting, but it’s also one which can be complicated and difficult to get right – as The Search for Spock shows in places. It also works to undermine Spock’s sacrifice in The Wrath of Khan, which was the emotional crux of that film. That’s not to say I want Spock to stay dead considering some of his subsequent appearances, but an immediate (or almost-immediate) resurrection can make a character’s death or sacrifice lose some of its impact, and I’m afraid that definitely happened here.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Time-travel stories are among my least-favourite in Star Trek. The mechanics of time travel are inconsistent across the franchise, with it being shown to be both something routine that starships are capable of as well as something technologically difficult or impossible to achieve. I also dislike stories where the crew travel to the present day, as I feel in every single case where it’s happened the stories have become dated.
The basic premise here is interesting, though, and it’s a great example of how Star Trek can use its science fiction setting to highlight real-world issues – in this case, the issues of pollution and a loss of biodiversity in the oceans. While the whale-probe was, I felt, visually uninspired and seeing the crew in the mid-1980s after travelling back in time dates the film considerably, there were some fun moments.
Scotty interacting with a 1980s computer was funny, as was the line about changing the timeline by giving someone the formula to make “transparent aluminum”. The franchise has always had a sense of humour, and after the very serious tone in both The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, it was a welcome change to see a film which brought back these lighter moments.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
In the months before Star Trek Into Darkness released, there was rampant online speculation about Benedict Cumberbatch’s character. Many fans correctly guessed that “John Harrison” was actually legendary Star Trek villain Khan, so going into the film having read all that the revelation didn’t surprise me as much as it should have.
However, Star Trek Into Darkness is, in my opinion, a decent homage to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that manages to celebrate elements from that film without going too far and crossing the line into copying and ripping it off. Considering JJ Abrams would later cross that line – twice – in the Star Wars franchise, I’m thankful that he didn’t do so here.
Many of the issues I mentioned with 2009’s Star Trek are still present, but the Khan story always worked well in an action setting so I think that aspect of it, at least, can be forgiven. And despite the fact that we haven’t known this version of Kirk and Spock for very long, Kirk’s “death” in the Enterprise’s engine room was still an emotional hit in the same way Spock’s had been in the original.
Star Trek Into Darkness aimed to be a spiritual successor to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and it did largely succeed. While it’s definitely the lesser of the two, it was a significant improvement over Star Trek, and remains for me the high-water mark of the JJverse trilogy.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Star Trek Beyond is the most recent of all the Star Trek films (at time of writing). Director JJ Abrams left the franchise to focus on Star Wars, but his style was nevertheless present. Beyond attempted to move away from the high-octane action of Into Darkness and tell a story which focused on characters and the dangers of interstellar exploration.
There were some great visual moments – notably Starbase Yorktown, described as a “snow globe in space” – and the story did tie into some elements from Star Trek: Enterprise, which was a nice nod to fans. I also noted, in Chris Pine’s portrayal of Kirk, something that felt like a throwback to Jeffrey Hunter’s original Christopher Pike at the beginning of the film, as he deals with the heavy burden of command.
Penned by Simon Pegg, who also played Scotty, I appreciate what Beyond tried to do. It’s clear Pegg is a huge fan of the franchise, and that he wanted to tell a story that would have been at home in The Original Series. There were hits and misses in terms of the story, but he did an admirable job trying to nudge what was in danger of becoming an action franchise closer to past iterations of Star Trek.
One point I greatly disliked was Jaylah. Not the character herself, nor her portrayal, but the name. A homophone for “J Law”, aka actress Jennifer Lawrence, who at the time was famous for her role in The Hunger Games, I just felt that the reference was stupid and unnecessary.
Sadly, the film was overshadowed by the losses of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin – the latter having taken over the role of Chekov, and was killed in an accident at the age of 27. While Nimoy’s passing was acknowledged in the film, the filming and much of the post-production work had already been completed at the time of Yelchin’s death, and while a simple message at the beginning commemorated him, some argued at the time that the producers behind Beyond should’ve done something more.
The upper middle:
Now we’ve arrived in the top half – and we’re finally looking at films which are good all-rounders. Any one of these could have broken into the top three, and they’re all films which I’m happy to go back to time and again.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
According to some rumours, The Undiscovered Country almost wasn’t made following the reaction to The Final Frontier two years earlier. However, the cast did reunite for a final outing – and this film finally saw them earn a decent pay packet for their roles. Gene Roddenberry saw The Undiscovered Country shortly before he passed away – and he hated it. It was a shift in tone from The Original Series, and he felt that presenting Starfleet as a military organisation, and in particular some of Kirk’s anti-Klingon racism had no place in his vision of the 23rd Century.
Regardless, his objections were overridden and what resulted was a much better film – in my opinion – than any other since The Wrath of Khan. Kirk’s portrayal was humanised by his flaws and failings, and the plot was dramatic and tense as a conspiracy within Starfleet – aided and abetted by the Romulans and some within the Klingon Empire – sought to disrupt a budding peace initiative.
The film’s special effects were great – and many even stand up today. The “Praxis Effect” is named for a location from The Undiscovered Country, and has been used many more times in subsequent pictures, which is certainly a testament to that particular visual effect!
The final scenes of the film are especially touching, as it was clear even at the time that this was to be the final outing for the cast. Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov would return in Star Trek: Generations and of course Spock was back in the JJverse, but this was the last time the full cast were together, and the ultimate finale of The Original Series in that respect.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
A lot of people (of my generation, at least) would surely pick First Contact as their favourite Star Trek film. It’s often held up alongside The Wrath of Khan as one of the absolute best, and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
Picard is forced to confront the worst moment in his past when the Borg return, hell-bent on assimilating Earth once again. Though defeated in the Battle of Sector 001, the Borg and the Enterprise-E travel into Earth’s past – specifically to the day where humans and Vulcans made first contact.
Sir Patrick Stewart gives what is one of his best performances both inside and outside of Star Trek here, as Picard is haunted and overwhelmed by his history with the Borg. And the Battle of Sector 001 was one of the franchise’s best space battles – the last-minute arrival of the Enterprise still gets me even though I’ve seen it countless times!
Worf, who was a regular on Deep Space Nine at this point, did feel like he’d been shoehorned in as temporary captain of the USS Defiant, but that didn’t really detract from things. While I freely admit time-travel is not my favourite premise, because the setting was still in the future – the year 2063 – it didn’t feel awkward in the way some episodes and films do. And seeing humanity’s first warp flight, as well as learning a little more about the events in Earth’s history prior to the founding of the Federation was interesting!
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
I feel like Insurrection gets an unfairly bad rap. While it could be argued that there were sillier elements to the film’s “fountain-of-youth” story, I feel like the points people often criticise about some of the behaviour of the main characters are actually the things I enjoyed most.
Picard and his crew travel to the Briar Patch, where Data has malfunctioned and gone rogue, exposing a secret Federation mission to observe a humanoid race. It turns out that the observation mission was simply a cover to harvest the planet’s life-preserving natural wonders – a scheme dreamt up by a rogue Admiral and a race called the Son’a. In what could be considered a mutiny, the crew race to save the planet’s inhabitants.
This kind of story, where a small crew has to work outside of the law to do the right thing, is exactly my jam. I love these kinds of stories – both inside and outside of Star Trek – so Insurrection was great for me. It also marked a change from seeing Picard and his crew as totally straight-laced, giving them freedom to let their hair down a little. It’s primarily for that reason – the crew seemingly acting “out-of-character” – that some people don’t like it, and I do understand and respect that. Sometimes that can be jarring. But in the context of Insurrection’s story, I just feel that it worked. And as a film that wasn’t just an action-fest but that told a story with heart, I feel that it captured perfectly the spirit of what Star Trek has always tried to be. Insurrection is the kind of story that could have been an episode of The Next Generation – which is why I like it.
The top three:
This is it, then! Out of all of the Star Trek films, we’ve arrived at my personal favourites.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Last year marked The Motion Picture’s fortieth anniversary. I wrote an article to commemorate the occasion – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. In short, The Motion Picture succeeded for me for several reasons. Firstly, as a slower-paced, ethereal story with a message, I feel that it fits in perfectly with what Star Trek is and aspires to be. Secondly, it set the stage for Star Trek coming back into the popular consciousness in a big way, and launched the franchise into the 1980s – the decade which would see several good films and a return to television with The Next Generation. Thirdly, much of the aesthetic of Star Trek, things we consider inseparable from the franchise, had their roots here – not in 1966. The sets built for The Motion Picture would be in continuous use on other Star Trek projects for years afterwards, in some cases right up to the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005.
The Motion Picture succeeded in bringing Star Trek back. And while it may not be everyone’s favourite, if it weren’t for the modest success it enjoyed in 1979 and early 1980 there would have been no more films, and probably no additional series either. Star Trek would have fizzled out and would be remembered today as a cult 1960s show with one failed film. That isn’t the case – and everything that’s happened in the franchise since 1979 has happened on the back of what The Motion Picture did.
As a story, I like that it’s not about defeating or killing an enemy. Instead, the climax of the film is about understanding, merging, and the creation of new life. Star Trek set out to seek out new life – and The Motion Picture showed us that the new life we might discover out in the cosmos could be almost entirely beyond our understanding. But despite that, Kirk, Spock, and the crew managed to bridge the gulf, solve a mystery, and save the Earth in the process.
While The Motion Picture may be, in some respects, dated from an aesthetic point of view (some sets and costumes are very seventies!) I do like some of the visual sequences. When Kirk and Scotty travel by shuttlepod to the refit Enterprise, it’s a genuinely emotional moment to see the ship in all its glory. And the music adds to that. While we’ve come to know The Motion Picture’s theme better as the theme to The Next Generation, it debuted here, as did Star Trek’s “golden age”.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The Wrath of Khan needs no introduction. For many fans, this is the best film that the franchise has to offer – and arguably it’s the best story featuring the cast of The Original Series. Supervillain Khan returns, having been exiled by Kirk in Season 1 of The Original Series, and he’s determined to have his revenge.
The maroon uniforms that debuted here are among the franchise’s best, and aesthetically the film looks amazing. Some moments have been dated somewhat by the passage of time, but the recent 4K rerelease still held up on my television at least!
Featuring some amazing performances, including from Ricardo Montalbán, who reprised his role from The Original Series, The Wrath of Khan is a classic revenge tale in a 23rd Century setting. There are some amazing twists along the way as the Enterprise is catastrophically damaged, Kirk and his crew end up trapped inside a planetoid, and a project created by Starfleet scientists for the purpose of terraforming is co-opted and turned into a weapon of mass destruction.
The Battle in the Mutara Nebula was arguably Star Trek’s best ever space battle at the time – inspired by classic war films set on submarines, it was a claustrophobic, edge-of-your-seat ride as the damaged Enterprise tries to hide from and battle Khan’s USS Reliant. Both ship designs are now considered iconic in the franchise. The battle still holds up today, even compared to the franchise’s more recent offerings.
Spock’s sacrifice is hard to put into words. Though we now know he survived – after a fashion, anyway – the raw emotional moment of seeing him die in front of his friend, and then be launched into space, is incredible. Both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are outstanding here, and while Shatner in particular can be justly criticised for some of his performances in The Original Series, any critic should look at this film and the sequence with Spock in particular before writing him off.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Dr McCoy made a cameo appearance in The Next Generation’s premiere, and both Spock and Scotty would also crop up in later seasons. However, for the most part, the show trod its own path and stayed clear of The Original Series. This was a good decision overall, as allowing the franchise the opportunity to flourish without its original crew arguably opened the door to its future success. But by 1994, The Next Generation was over as a series – Deep Space Nine and the soon-to-premiere Voyager were continuing in the 24th Century. It was also approaching Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, and so it was decided to bring together the two different eras and tell the ultimate crossover story.
Seeing Kirk and Picard together on screen, working in common cause, was amazing. It’s absolutely one of the high points of the franchise for me personally, as both characters are fantastic. Both Sir Patrick Stewart and William Shatner are on top form, and Kirk’s death toward the end of the film was a truly heartbreaking moment. The early part of the film also explored a small portion of the unseen years in between The Original Series and The Next Generation – an era which, I’d argue, would make for an interesting prequel film or series.
Malcolm McDowell plays Soran, who is a devious and truly impressive villain, and the film ties itself neatly to The Next Generation with the return of the Duras Sisters. Kirk’s death wasn’t the only devastating loss in Generations, either, as we also have to say goodbye to the Enterprise-D after seven years. Just as in The Search for Spock a decade previously, the loss of the Enterprise was a genuinely emotional moment.
Star Trek can tell deeply emotional stories – and Picard’s arc in the film as he loses his only remaining blood relatives, and is then tempted by the Nexus giving him a family of his own is a great example of this. The Nexus itself, and how exactly it works, is left a little ambiguous as of the end of the film, but it managed to avoid the trap of The Final Frontier and stay clear of portraying it in a quasi-religious way, even though the whole story with Soran being desperate to get back can, in some ways, be taken as an analogy for religious zealotry.
As a fan of both The Original Series and The Next Generation, and both captains, this crossover story always feels fantastic.
So that’s it.
I managed to get the films into some kind of vague ranking! It wasn’t an easy task, because on a given day I might have a craving to sit down and watch The Final Frontier or Star Trek Beyond, and even though I don’t consider them as good as others in the franchise, they still have enjoyable moments. When films in a series can be so different from one another, it can be hard to pin down which ones are subjectively “better”.
Nevertheless, I gave it my best shot!
The Star Trek franchise, including all films mentioned above, is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.