Star Trek has remained a ship somewhat adrift, especially since the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled before its fifth season. When J.J. Abrams brought his kinetic, alternative timeline to life in 2009, the long-running saga received a shot in the arm. Since then, the franchise, now split between Paramount (film) and CBS (small screen), continues to seek out for the right vehicle to truly set the stars ablaze in the 21st century.
Star Trek Into Darkness and Beyond were both exciting and generally well-received entries but fell victim to diminishing returns at the box office when Beyond’s meager haul seemed to call into question the fiscal viability of a fourth entry in the Kelvin timeline. Nevertheless, the saga remains wildly popular, with CBS unveiling its first streaming endeavor, Star Trek: Discovery, at the end of September. Longtime franchise creative Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), who’s involved with the latest show as a writer and producer, recently revealed a new project. Although he hasn’t disclosed the true nature of his undertaking, he did suggest that fans “can assume” it's a feature film.
At this point, production on a fourth feature remains uncertain, at least according to Zachary Quinto (alternative Spock). Meyer could be exploring new avenues for the next Kelvin feature, but he may also be drafting a cinematic concept for the Prime timeline. Either way, is Star Trek ready to return to its classic continuity?
A New Beginning in Old Places
The Kelvin timeline, admittedly, had a good run, one that doesn’t necessarily need to end with Star Trek Beyond. At the same time, the latest entry failed to catch fire at the box office, despite an exciting plot and a nearer-to-classic-films feel (thanks to writers Doug Jung and Simon Pegg). Thus far, Paramount isn't tipping their hand about sequel plans – even with what Chris Hemsworth called a killer pitch from J.J. Abrams and hints that Pegg is working on the next script. The studio’s reluctance to commit puts an asterisk in front of the Kelvin universe, possibly while the higher-ups await Discovery’s reception this fall. Meyer’s new project might, however, indicate a renewed studio interest in the fourth film. It could also signal a shift in direction for the series.
Since the 2009 reboot brought the saga back into the public eye, many long-time fans clamored for a return to the Prime timeline. It’s conceivable that Paramount listened or is at least exploring the possibilities. Since Discovery takes place before Kirk helmed the Enterprise, mining that era could prove confusing to general audiences, who might wonder why events on the small screen don't affect those on the big screen. At the same time, setting a new feature saga in the same world at least creates a consistent era across CBS and Paramount's offerings. If the latter returns to the classic continuity, though, creating a drastically different time period would set them apart.
Admittedly, the crew of the Enterprise-D hasn't donned their uniforms in a decade and a half. Paramount could preface their films with popular characters like Sisko, Janeway, Picard, Worf, or Seven of Nine, similar to Disney’s approach with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, easing audiences into the next round with a few familiar faces. Even if they chose to plant the Federation flag further in the future, younger characters could captain vessels of their own, as older characters stayed on with Starfleet as admirals and ambassadors (or even retained their commands, as deemed fit). New features could also take a page from the Star Trek Online game and invent fresh characters to serve alongside the children of noteworthy characters (preferably both), such as Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres’ daughter Miral from, Naomi Wildman from Voyager, or the O’Brien children from DS9.
Since the most recent Prime film, Nemesis, ended with the power structure of the Alpha Quadrant potentially in a state of flux. Paramount's world-builders could use that instability to their advantage, including the supernova that destroyed Romulus from the reboot as a plot element and making the near-future of Trek a very dangerous and exciting environment. Much like the game, the latest movies will require new threats but can also reintroduce classic antagonists like Species 8472, the Borg, as well as old favorites rarely seen outside The Original Series or Enterprise, such as the Nausicans or the Gorn.
While a return to the Prime reality contains endless possibilities for new stories and elements, would it require Trek's alternative universe to end? Not necessarily.
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