Though 2009's Star Trek was very much a reboot for the seminal sci-fi franchise, it was creative about how it gave the property a new start. Instead of just hitting the reset button completely, director J.J. Abrams incorporated time travel in an effort to preserve the previously established canon. Officially dubbed the Kelvin Timeline, the series of modern films is set in an alternate reality that remains separate from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and other iterations of Star Trek.
Abrams illustrated how the two could co-exist by having Trek legend Leonard Nimoy cameo as Spock Prime in both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. Of course, it's difficult to think of Nimoy without also thinking of "Kirk Prime," William Shatner. For a while, it was rumored that Shatner could reprise his role in this summer's Star Trek Beyond, but those reports turned out to be untrue. As disappointing as that may be for some fans, Beyond producer J.J. Abrams has a very good reason for why it never came to be.
Speaking with the Toronto Sun, Abrams explained why Shatner will likely never appear in any Star Trek film from the Kelvin Timeline, citing the events of Star Trek: Generations:
"Obviously it’s Star Trek, nearly anything is possible. There’s the fairly simple notion that on the day Kirk was born another timeline began. But in the other timeline, Kirk died onscreen (in Generations). I don’t know how he would come back unless we went into this other reality and we did a timeline and reality jump. In all the years we’ve been working on this, I've yet to hear a pitch that didn’t sound too contorted and contrived for an audience to swallow. And I’ve talked to him (Shatner) about it. If Kirk had lived there’d be an answer. But there’s something about his having died that makes it impossible."
While Abrams does leave the door slightly ajar, he does make a very good point. Kirk's death in the Prime Universe does present a bit of a hurdle that would be difficult to clear. It would also be paramount for a Shatner appearance to fit naturally within the story the filmmakers are telling. There's no denying it would be fun to see the actor playing James Tiberius Kirk again, but if it ended up being just a shoehorned bit of fan service, it would ultimately be distracting. This is obviously something Abrams and crew have spend a lot of time thinking about, and if they can't find the right way to include Shatner, it's best if they don't do it at all.
Even if there was a method available, there'd still be a debate about whether it was something that should be done. Having Nimoy appear early on in the Kelvin Timeline was a logical and nice way of passing the torch from the old guard to the new cast. Now, the group led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto has three films under their belts with a fourth on the way. They have more than earned the right to stand on their own and carry the franchise moving forward. In the event of a Shatner cameo, there would be the danger of him overshadowing the Kelvin Timeline crew, even if it was just for one scene. A main criticism of Into Darkness was that it relied too heavily on paying homage instead of forging off in fresh directions, so the argument could be made that the Kelvin Timeline shouldn't feature anymore TOS cameos.
Including Shater in Star Trek 4 honestly is the least of Abrams' worries right now. It was recently confirmed that Chris Hemsworth would be playing George Kirk in the Beyond sequel, and his character died in the opening minutes of Star Trek. An explanation for how he returns to the fold could come across as contrived or convoluted, most likely using time travel once again. As long as the team comes up with the best story possible, fans should be happy.
Star Trek 4 is currently without a release date. We'll keep you updated as more information becomes available.
Star Trek Beyond hits U.S. theaters July 22, 2016.
Source: Toronto Sun