By James Nelson
You read that right. In 2016, in the fiftieth year since Star Trek first premiered in 1966, there will be two Star Trek movies, but only one of which will feature Kirk, Spock, and McCoy; and only one of which is sanctioned by the rights holders. Only one of which will probably be good, and I don’t think that’ll be the official one, either. So yes, I’m talking about Star Trek Beyond and Star Trek: Axanar.
For those of you that don’t know, Star Trek Beyond is the sequel to 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. It has been in development since STID was in theaters and is currently being helmed by director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) and with a screenplay written by Simon Pegg. Star Trek: Axanar is a completely crowdfunded fan film created by a brand new studio with absolutely zero authorization to make anything related to the franchise. You would think that I would be way more excited about the official sequel to a Hollywood blockbuster than I would about a crappy fan film made in some dude’s garage. Well, I’m not, and here’s why.
So when I heard way back in 2007 that Paramount was serious about making a new Trek movie I was excited. It had been five years since the last move (Star Trek: Nemesis) and two years since any new content had even touched a TV screen (Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005). In my entire life it was the first time that there wasn’t a new episode of Star Trek on the air. In addition, I learned that it was going to involve new adventures with the original characters from TOS (personally my favorite crew).
I grew concerned though, as the PR tours started happening and details came out about the cast and crew of the new movies. JJ Abrams, the director, had never watched Star Trek before. He was a self professed Star Wars fan (and there’s nothing wrong with that). Of the writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci only one of them considered themselves a fan of the series (Orci was more a fan of The Next Generation than TOS). Most of the cast as well had never really watched the series seriously (except Karl Urban, and it shows in his nuanced portrayal of McCoy). But, the movie came out and I loved it. It felt like a fitting tribute to the original series (with some fan service) and enough original story to stand on its own feet. It was creative and at its heart felt like an epic episode of TOS (and before I get hate mail, I know there are issues in the area of how Kirk was portrayed, like how he got promoted up, his general disrespect for authority, and some continuity issues, like transwarp beaming, but you can’t make a new series of movies without some compromise).
So I waited for the next film.
I will avoid my usual tirade on the piece of garbage called a film, but I will say this: Orci and Kurtzman did actually try to inject some Trek concepts into the movie, it just felt like the inclusion of Khan and the ridiculous amount of fan service ruined the film (plus, Khan is INDIAN!!!!!!!!)
Anyways, the problems with STID began to show me what I had expected all along, this is meant to be a Hollywood blockbuster first and foremost, a Trek movie second.
Star Trek Beyond’s troubled development
Then they announced Star Trek Beyond. I was infinitely less excited, but I felt with Abrams moving to make Star Wars, Damon Lindelof moving to make his new TV show, and Orci (an actual Trek fan) moving to the directors chair that things were looking up. They would have to prove themselves to me, but I was willing to. After all, there have been bad Trek movies and that didn’t kill me (or the franchise) before.
Then Orci was removed from the directors chair (he’s been moved to producer). Simon Pegg was brought in to write a new script because the old one was “too Star Trek-y” and that the studio wanted it to be more like the Avengers, a fun “brightly colored” movie populated by Trek characters. Justin Lin, who had been brought on as director by that point, went out on damage control to talk about his love of Trek and being a lifelong trekkie. Though I don’t want to call him a liar, it felt a little bit odd to come out and talk about his personal Trek experiences AFTER Pegg ran his mouth about the script shakeup.
All this is to say, these movies have not been made with love of the franchise in mind. It seems that the studio is looking to make their own Marvel success story in this age where nerds can wear their love on their sleeves (and are guaranteed to spend their money), but Trek has never been about money. It has been about the love of a concept of adventure and infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Wrath of Khan was made on $11 million. Trek has made money, sure, but as a low budget success telling serious stories in a fun way.
Enter the fans
This has not gone unnoticed by fans. In the absence of an ongoing series of Star Trek fans wanted newer stories following their favorite characters, and the books were not enough (and for some neither was Enterprise). Fans began to make their own shows. The first I remember seeing (and there have been a ton that you can check out here) was Star Trek: New Voyages. I don’t want to call it bad, because I commend them for their effort, but it’s not the same quality as you would expect of a major production. That being said, the stories are solid, and they have heart to them. Many shows have cropped up since telling newer and better stories and this has been possible mainly because 1.) no money is made off the name. It’s all pushed out through YouTube, usually, 2.) until recently, the series has been dormant and none of this has been seen to really affect the franchise, 3.) advances in CGI have allowed for indie film makers to have access to better models which means better, higher quality sequences. Some of the original actors, like George Takei and Walter Koenig have even appeared in these films, lending an increased authenticity to these productions.
Star Trek: Axanar is the culmination of this movement. It’s a movie that’s being developed by Ares Studios and has gone through three crowd funding campaigns to make this movie possible. It has not been without its controversy (some have raised issues with the transparency of the studios spending of donations). So why on earth would I be excited about this?
Look at the trailer
Yeah. I know that it doesn’t look as good as STID, but the CGI, the sets, the uniforms, and the acting are all on par with everything we’ve seen in any of the previous Trek series. In addition, many of these actors have actually had major roles in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. The movie is even built off a plot hook in TOS episode “Whom God Destroys.” The trailer above is for a short documentary style film that I will link below, but the feature length film will be about the Battle of Axanar, a battle that pitted the fate of the Federation against the Klingon Empire and ended the Four Years War between the two nations, and is an era of cannon not previously explored by the movies or films. So I’m excited because it’s a film by fans, for fans. It looks good and has serious Trek talent behind the screen. The movie is set to go into production in October, so we should know more by then, but it’s possible that Paramount or CBS (the two rights holders) could feel threatened and squash it. I’m hoping we’ll get to see it, and I’m hoping Star Trek Beyond overcomes its false starts and is great too. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have two great Trek movies next year?
Here’s the full “Prelude to Axanar” short film below.
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