After directing the first two movies in the rebooted Star Trek universe, J.J. Abrams stepped away to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens and offered the original 50-year-old space franchise to a different filmmaker: Justin Lin. But while Lin had been best-known in recent years for directing four action-packed installments of the Fast & Furious series – and helping to make that franchise a colossal global success – he had initially come from the world of indie, character-driven films…and was a huge Star Trek fan ever since childhood.
So even though fans were worried about the “Fast & Furious guy” taking over Star Trek, the truth is that Star Trek Beyond feels a lot like an episode of the original series (and yes, it does have some insane action sequences in it as well). When we sat down with Lin in Los Angeles recently, we asked him about marrying modern action to the more cerebral Star Trek and got an eloquent speech about both, why Star Trek influenced his take on Fast & Furious and what the franchise meant to him and his family.
You came into this with a rep as the “action guy” and Star Trek has always been seen as a little more cerebral. What made you feel in your mind that you could bring both sensibilities together?
Justin Lin: I know that that’s the perception, but I came from the indie world, you know, and when we started in Fast & Furious, we were in the gutter. And I remember talking to Vin and everybody at the studio and saying, “Hey, let’s see if we can try and build the relationship through these characters, because somehow Han has to know Dom, you know. So I remember that was kind of the approach, through the characters, and through four movies we were really kind of able to grow the relationship, the community, and on a global scale it just became so huge.
I left thinking I was going to try new things, I was going to go back to my indie roots, do TV – just to really challenge myself. And of course I get a call from J.J. going, “Hey, do you want to take over the franchise?” And it actually became a very personal and emotional decision, because I know everyone’s going to go, “What the hell is this Fast & Furious director going to come in?” And I get all that, I totally get that. But I also don’t have to do this, you know, and I wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons. Because Star Trek was a big part of my life, it was a big part of my life growing up. It was the only time I got to spend with my parents and my brothers growing up, watching the original series. And I think it was through that process that I realized how much Star Trek influenced my Fast & Furious process, you know, because at the end of the day, why I loved Star Trek was because it about this group of people that got together, and it’s through that shared experience you get a sense of family.
At the same time, they’re just going into the unknown and being bold, and this whole sense of discovery and exploration, that’s the DNA of Star Trek. And so I felt like if I could engage the audience on that level, then if you’re a lifelong Trekker/Trekkie or someone who’s never seen it and seeing it for the first time, this should be something that’s inclusive. And that was kind of the – again, it wasn’t being strategic in any way, it was looking back and saying, “Okay, if I’m going to be a part of this, I’m going to want to celebrate it.” I get it. People are like, “Oh, Star Trek has been around 50 years, can we try and make it more like this? Or more like that?” And I was like, “No, you’ve got all the goods here. Let’s embrace it, let’s double down, let’s really go and celebrate the essence of what made it great.”
And what makes it great is the mission statement is about – you know, with all the characters and everything – the mission statement is also about being bold and trying new things, and to challenge these ideals. I also felt that maybe it was time to deconstruct some of the ideas that we might have taken for granted now, and hopefully by doing that and maybe by ripping (apart) the Enterprise, which is in a way the home of these characters, maybe they can find their way back, and if they do, maybe it will reaffirm why it’s been so beloved, you know.
And so, those are the things that went through my head and it definitely – I knew it was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t. It was the most relentless 18 months of my life. But looking back now, it’s the greatest to be working that hard with this group of people that cared…that’s something you feel when you make indie movies, right, and when I make big studio movies, that’s my challenge, is always to make sure I weed out the people who are just clocking in and out. But on this one I didn’t have to do that because everyone cared. And it’s something I’m proud of – not just the movie but the process too.
Star Trek Beyond opens in U.S. theaters July 22, 2016.