Though Captain Kirk appeared in the Star Trek rebooted movies, William Shatner did not.
As one of the stars for Star Trek: The Original Series and the first actor to portray Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner could have been in the movies J.J. Abrams rebooted in 2009. Leonard Nimoy was, although his role was limited. And, according to Abrams, that was the problem.
Shatner’s character died onscreen in Star Trek: Generations, a sort of symbolic passing of the torch from Captain Kirk to Captain Jean-Luc Picard even though Star Trek: The Next Generation had already run for seven seasons. So canonically, Kirk was dead, and though the original Captain Kirk could have returned in flashbacks, a scene was even written for Shatner, Abrams said that Shatner wasn’t interested in a cameo. So apparently that scene was miniscule.
William Shatner wanted a more significant role in the reboot of Star Trek.
Abrams admitted that Shatner deserved more of the movie focus as he wanted, but he said he knew there would have been issues from fans who would say the show must adhere to canon. (It didn’t end up doing that anyway so they could have brought Shatner back in a creative way much like they did Nimoy.)
"It was very tricky. We actually had written a scene with him in it that was a flashback kind of thing, but the truth is, it didn’t quite feel right. The bigger thing was that he was very vocal that he didn’t want to do a cameo. We tried desperately to put him in the movie, but he was making it very clear that he wanted the movie to focus on him significantly, which, frankly, he deserves. The truth is, the story that we were telling required a certain adherence to the Trek canon and consistency of storytelling. It’s funny — a lot of the people who were proclaiming that he must be in this movie were the same people saying it must adhere to canon. Well, his character died on screen. Maybe a smarter group of filmmakers could have figured out how to resolve that."
Should the movie have focused more on Shatner’s character and possible even Nimoy’s? It certainly would have made a lot of fans happy, but that wasn’t the movie Abrams was trying to make. Being that Star Trek (2009) was a reboot, he jettisoned a lot of the canon that was established in The Original Series and started anew. But the question remains: if he was willing to circumvent some canon, why would he have had a problem with bringing Shatner’s Kirk back?
And as to how it could have been figured out, Abrams created Alias, the sci-fi type of spy show where people died and returned to life or were replaced by lookalike characters. One of the characters even found the elixir for immortality. And he and his team couldn’t figure out how to bring Captain Kirk back from the dead? That’s not a response that anyone who has seen his work is buying.