Rumor has it Star Trek 4 will be rebooting Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Citing anonymous but “trusted and proven” sources, the website Giant Freakin Robot (GFR) claims Paramount Pictures’ next Star Trek movie will be “essentially” rebooting Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). According to this rumor, the film will feature new actors in such iconic roles as Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi La Forge, and Worf. It will be set in the “Kelvin Timeline” begun in Star Trek (2009), carrying it forward into a fresh version of the 24th century with which Star Trek fans have been familiar since TNG debuted 35 years ago.
In GFR Deputy Editor Nathan Kamal’s estimation, a TNG reboot would be “a pretty big risk” for the Star Trek franchise, “but in many ways … makes sense.” He points out audiences haven’t yet seen “any hint” of the TNG future in the Kelvin Timeline. And he argues moving the Kelvin Timeline ahead would give the production’s budget more breathing room. Since Star Trek Beyond (2016), “the careers of stars like Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and John Cho have steadily risen,” making them perhaps too expensive to bring back.
As of this writing, GFR’s report remains only an unconfirmed rumor. But it provoked a strong reaction from this Star Trek fan. I remember vigorous and vehement debates in mid-1980s fandom about whether Paramount should even consider rebooting the original Star Trek—at the time, the only Star Trek—with new actors playing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and others. Now that the franchise has seen not one but two actors after Leonard Nimoy playing Spock, such arguments seem as “quaint” as the Mac computer Scotty tries to talk to in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Even so, I find myself thinking a Star Trek: The Next Generation reboot would not be the best choice the franchise could make. A TNG reboot might make sense for the Kelvin Timeline from a certain point of view, as GFR maintains. But boldly going ahead with a TNG reboot could also be, to paraphrase Mr. Spock, an illogical conclusion, illogically arrived at.
Rebooting Star Trek: The Next Generation would contradict Star Trek’s orientation to the future.
Rebooting The Next Generation with new actors playing established characters might seem smart given the generally high praise for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW). The franchise’s latest series is a prequel to the original and recasts several legacy characters, both major and (arguably) minor. (I’d bet good quatloos no one ever expected Star Trek to recast Transporter Chief Kyle—but welcome aboard, André Dae Kim!)
But SNW is a special case. Strictly speaking, it’s a spinoff of Star Trek: Discovery. Had Anson Mount not impressed viewers with his portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike in Discovery’s second season as much as he did, SNW might never have happened. The series is as close to a reboot of the original series as we’ve yet seen. But it’s a happy by-product of Discovery’s daring to do something different in its second season than it did in its first.
Discovery continued to dare to try something new by jumping forward to the 32nd century in its third season. Whatever you think of the series, and however much behind-the-scenes turmoil may have reshaped its format, Discovery has consistently embodied the Star Trek ethos of truly seeking what’s “strange” and “new.” Leaning on nostalgia for the past, as SNW does and as rebooting The Next Generation would, contradicts Star Trek’s forward-facing, future-anticipating ethos.
What’s more, rebooting a series that was itself a reboot is absurd on its face. TNG succeeded because it was not looking backward.
After Admiral McCoy’s quick cameo in the first episode and the fiasco that was “The Naked Now,” TNG started getting serious about “seeing what’s out there,” well beyond the people, places, and scenarios we’d encountered in the original series. It steadily improved as it did so. It won over skeptical fans because it proved how big, diverse, and exciting the Star Trek universe really could be, just as Discovery is doing today.
If the still-hypothetical Star Trek 4, once it escapes whatever pre-production wormhole it’s stuck in, wants to show us the Kelvin Timeline’s 24th century, why not play by the Kelvin Timeline’s own rules? As Zachary Quinto’s Spock said in the 2009 movie, Nero’s temporal incursion “creat[ed] an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated.” Logically, the more time after Nero’s incursion passes, the more the Kelvin and Prime timelines should diverge.
Give us a new Enterprise, then, even an Enterprise-D—but why must Jean-Luc Picard be its captain? Or Deanna Troi its counselor? Might the Klingons and the Federation still be at war in the Kelvin Timeline’s 24th century, meaning Worf is nowhere to be seen? The Kelvin Timeline’s 24th century could be an effectively blank slate on which to introduce entirely new characters, having entirely new adventures.
Sure, Star Trek 4 could give us new actors playing TNG characters. But the choice more consistent with Star Trek’s orientation toward what lies ahead, not behind—the more logical choice—would be to give us something new.
I hope the franchise’s current creative powers , instead of rebooting Star Trek: The Next Generation, will heed the Federation President’s wise words in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: “Just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing.”