Star Trek 4's Return Explained (& Why It Could Be Amazing)

After being shelved earlier this year, Star Trek 4 is back on at Paramount. Here's why the project has been revived, and why fans can be optimistic.

Star Trek Beyond crew Star Trek 4 logo

Star Trek 4 is back on at Paramount, but why now after almost a year on the shelf? To say that Star Trek 4 has endured a troubled development would be somewhat of an understatement, but reports have now emerged revealing Noah Hawley (best known for his TV work on LegionFargo and, appropriately enough, Bones) is in final talks to direct a resurrected Star Trek 4 alongside J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company. The revived project will continue the story of Star Trek's Kelvin Timeline cast headed up by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana.

This iteration of the Enterprise crew first assembled for Abrams' 2009 reboot, which created a new continuity thanks to some timeline meddling and a particularly angry Romulan. The modern update proved to be a hit with audiences and spawned two sequels, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness and 2016's Star Trek Beyond, but neither could find the same balance of critical and commercial success as the original. Undeterred, Paramount forged ahead with plans for a fourth installment, but this was cancelled at the beginning of 2019, though cast members have since expressed hope that the film would happen eventually.

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Those wishes have now been granted, and Star Trek 4 is warping ahead once again. Several factors have combined over the past 11 months to alter the circumstances around Star Trek 4, but, despite the upheaval and lingering question marks over the future of the franchise, now is undoubtedly the best opportunity for a sequel to happen.

Why Star Trek 4 Was Originally Cancelled

Paramount were taking a considerable risk by hitting the green light on Star Trek 4 in the first place. Despite grossing higher than the original and attracting positive reviews at time of release, Star Trek Into Darkness has soured in the minds of many longtime fans and elements such as Alice Eve's gratuitous strip scene and Benedict Cumberbatch's casting as Khan have not aged well. Perhaps as a result of this, the subsequent Star Trek Beyond ended up posting a financial loss.

Early reports revealed that Star Trek 4 would find a way to reintroduce Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk, with the actor having become a big Hollywood name since his 2009 franchise debut. Negotiations seemed to drag on as Hemsworth's involvement remained in limbo, and the man himself eventually revealed that he found the return of his character "underwhelming" in the proposed script. Unfortunately, Star Trek 4's Chris issues didn't end there, as Chris Pine also failed to reach an agreement with Paramount to return. The prospect of an original crew Star Trek movie without James T. Kirk was floated, but never felt like a realistic notion and appointed director, S. J. Clarkson, eventually moved onto other projects (namely the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel) given the lack of progress being made.

With problems in scripting, finding a director and nailing down the cast, and a previous movie that struggled at the box office, it's hardly surprising that Star Trek 4 was photon torpedoed.

Why Star Trek 4 Is Now Back On

Star Trek is a franchise that will likely always have a presence on the big screen, much like James Bond or Batman, there's no stopping now that the path has been forged, and several bounce-backs from failure have proved Star Trek's enduring cinematic popularity. Nevertheless, it's perhaps a little surprising that Paramout has opted to pick up the dropped Star Trek 4, rather than starting completely afresh, but there are several factors behind their decision.

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Firstly, Star Trek 4 does appear to be starting with a relatively clean slate. Although the Kelvin cast are returning, Noah Hawley is lined up to direct and write the upcoming film, suggesting that a new script and story will be drafted from scratch. Despite the troubles Abrams' Star Trek movies have faced, the strength and chemistry of the cast has been a consistent highlight, so it makes far more sense to continue with them than to go through the troublesome process of finding an entirely new crew. Many fans would also agree that there is much more to explore with this star-studded cast and more Trek tales to be told.

There's no word yet on Hemsworth and Pine's involvement, but one would assume that the Thor actor's exit from the original Star Trek 4 project would still apply on Noah Hawley's movie. Meanwhile, Chris Pine's stalled negotiations appeared to be a significant factor in Star Trek 4's cancellation, therefore it seems highly unlikely that the sequel would be steaming ahead today if those issues weren't cleared up. Maybe the cash set aside for Hemsworth has been used to ensure at least one Kirk appears in Star Trek 4.

Since the cancellation was revealed earlier this year, several Star Trek legal and business complications have also been resolved. 2019 has seen protracted negotiations between J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot company and WarnerMedia, with an exclusivity deal finally agreed in September. As part of this deal, Abrams' prior commitments would be honored, a stipulation that apparently includes Star Trek 4. More importantly, CBS and Viacom have merged once again after a lengthy split that divided Star Trek's movie and television output. Previously, this rupture caused friction and competition; for instance when Abrams sought to produce a TV spinoff series from his 2009 movie, but CBS wouldn't accept for fear of promoting and strengthening a rival product. As of August 2019, both sides are once again singing from the same hymn sheet and this restored harmony removes one of the major stumbling blocks involved in making Star Trek movies.

What About Quentin Tarantino's Star Trek Movie?

Quentin Tarantino Star Trek Will Be Pulp Fiction in Space

Quentin Tarantino's proposed Star Trek movie has been an enigma ever since it first burst into existence, and so it remains even with the return of Star Trek 4, with no recent update from any involved party. In truth, Tarantino's idea was always independent of a fourth Abrams Star Trek movie, with the director confirming earlier this year that he wouldn't be free to start work on the project for quite some time, but that a pitch had indeed been made. Nothing further has been said since, but Tarantino's plans also first came to light while the original Star Trek 4 was still in production, suggesting that if the renowned auteur still intends to press ahead, the release of another Kelvin movie is unlikely to affect his plans.

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If Noah Hawley's Star Trek 4 goes smoothly from this point, fans might be able to expect a 2022 release date. Tarantino is currently working on a wide assortment of projects and has teased an upcoming horror film, as well as a third Kill Bill. Even if the director did still have designs for the Enterprise, he likely wouldn't be able to begin working on them until after Star Trek 4 hit theaters, meaning fans can assume Tarantino's pitch is still rattling around somewhere in the Trek pipeline, until stated otherwise.

Why Now Is The Right Time For Star Trek 4

Star Trek Beyond trailer and poster

If Paramount ever intended to make another movie with the class of 2009, now is the best, and perhaps the only, time for that to happen. Bad Robot will soon be occupied fulfilling their responsibilities over at Warner Bros., and while their deal allows for current projects to be completed, it makes practical sense to tie up that loose end sooner, rather than wait a few years and potentially have no choice but to work with a different production company. The only real choice is doing Star Trek 4 soon or not at all.

Furthermore, Chris Pine's contract negotiations show that some of the cast are getting itchy feet, and with Urban starring in The Boys, Saldana signed up for the next 76 Avatar movies and Pine himself a key part of DC's Wonder Woman, the logistics and cost of assembling the same core Enterprise crew is becoming trickier by the year. A similar argument could be made from the perspective of fan interest. There does remain a desire among the Star Trek faithful to see another big screen adventure with the current cast, but after the mixed fortunes of the past two offerings, Paramount arguably only has one shot left in the phaser before calls for a complete reboot begin to gather momentum. Then there's the looming shadow of Tarantino's Star Trek movie within the next decade. If Paramount want another Star Trek movie before Tarantino's R-rated brainchild comes to fruition, now is the time.

Kicking on with Star Trek 4 also makes sense from a marketing perspective. The next few years will see an armada of Star Trek TV shows hit the small screen including Star Trek: Picard, two animated series and a Section 31 spinoff, all in addition to Star Trek: Discovery. These shows will undoubtedly generate further interest in the Star Trek product, but won't scratch that Kirk, Spock & McCoy itch, meaning Star Trek 4 can capitalize on the expansion of the franchise while offering something totally different.

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