Ever since Star Trek Beyond came out in 2016, Paramount’s had some trouble getting a fourth entry to the reboot film series off the ground. Before and after the film was announced to everyone’s surprise (including the actors!), creative teams for Star Trek 4 have been attached and dropped from the film numerous times. The most recent of these departures was director Matt Shakman back in August after he got pulled in to direct Fantastic Four for Marvel.
Prior to Shakman, this all started with SJ Clarkson tapped to direct the film, from a script by JD Payne and Patrick McKay, who currently run The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power over at Amazon. Speaking to Esquire, McKay touched on what the duo’s film would’ve been had it seen the light of day. The most open secret about the unmade movie is that it would’ve seen the return of Chris Hemsworth’s George Kirk, James Kirk’s (Chris Pine) father who died in the opening minutes of the 2009 film, and McKay confirmed that the two men would’ve been reunited.
“The conceit was that through a cosmic quirk in the Star Trek world, they were the same age. It was going to be a grand father-son space adventure—think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in space,” said McKay. “We were really thrilled about it.” He and Payne worked on that script for nearly three years with Clarkson and Rings EP Lindsay Weber, but things just fell through, which he called “heartbreaking.”
Regarding how the two Kirk men meet, Payne cited the Star Trek: Next Generation episode ‘Relics’ as their in-world justification. “[The TNG crew] find Scotty, who’s been trapped a transporter for a couple of decades, and they’re able to have cool adventure with him,” explained Payne. “Our conceit was, ‘What if right before the Kelvin impacted with that huge mining ship, George Kirk had tried to beam himself over to his wife’s shuttle where his son, Jim Kirk, had just been born?’ […] It’s like the transporter had absorbed his pattern up into the pattern buffer, but hadn’t spit him out on the other side. It was actually a saved copy of him that was in the computer.”
From there, the film would’ve seen the Enterprise crew pull the pattern of George out of the ship’s wreckage, and he would’ve had no idea of the time that passed. The film’s villain, which the pair described as “original” and not someone from the original series, would’ve served as the reason to go hunting for George’s ship in the first place.
Paramount junking their film is what led to Payne and McKay to reorient towards television, and the rest is history. It sounds like an interesting idea that the two had, but in some ways, it also feels like a step back. One of the reasons that Beyond was so good was that it felt like an actual ensemble film rather than one that specifically focused on Kirk, which had been an issue with the previous two films. Daddy issues and unresolved familial issues are all the rage in genre fiction, but they don’t need to fuel a story every time.
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