Superficially Star Trek and Star Wars seem to be pursuing similar strategies, pivoting away from movies, towards umpteen concurrent TV shows. What can this tell us about our chances of seeing another Star Trek movie?
Every so often I google ‘Star Trek 4’, or ‘Star Trek Movie’ to see where we are with a new Movie, just in case there are some developments I’ve missed. The short answer is no, there’s nothing in development, I haven’t missed anything, as there was nothing in development the last time I checked either. And the twisted web or projects in pre-production hell is impossible to follow.
Those include Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction in space”, S.J. Clarkson and Matt Shankman’s respective Kelvin Timeline sequels, Noah Hawley’s not a Kelvin Timeline sequel, and Kalinda Vazquez’s original idea. The Shankman and Vazquez projects are both scheduled for release in June 2023, so they’d better get cracking on those!
Wrath of Khan OG director Nicholas Meyer even wrote a proposal back in 2020.
With all of these projects floating about, it’s unbelievable that not a single one of them is in production.
Meanwhile, the reason for Star Wars’ pivot towards TV is obvious, no one was having any fun with the movies anymore. Big franchise movies are big business, and business is risk-averse. Compare to the last two movies of the Skywalker saga; The Last Jedi took risks, turning some of the Star Wars lore on its head, this divided fans, and spooked Disney. So The Rise of Skywalker overcorrected, making every single decision the safest one possible. The Rise of Skywalker was more a business proposition than a creative endeavor.
TV is a better forum for taking risks. TV shows can make the kinds of bold artistic decisions that blockbuster movies simply cannot. The reason is that TV shows only have to appeal to fans of the franchise, while movies must appeal to everyone who may consider going out to the movies on the opening weekend, everyone who’s looking for something to do between dinner and drinks on a Saturday night, or who wants to spend a couple of hours under the cinema’s air conditioning during the summer blockbuster season. This is especially true now that the movie industry is experiencing seismic upheavals. Studios are looking for certainty in an industry where certainty is vanishingly rare.
I think the lesson we can learn from Star Wars is that perhaps it’s a good thing that we can’t get another Star Trek movie made. Star Wars is clearly happier on TV, and naturally, so is Star Trek.
The most recent (and technically still current) Star Trek cinematic series, the Kelvin timeline, features the period in Trek history that even non-fans are familiar with, and characters who those non-fans are familiar with (but played by hot young actors), and it’s unconstrained by the continuity that those non-fans would not be familiar with. In addition to that, there are modern visuals and plenty of action. This was the closest Star Trek will ever come to an absolutely certain mass-market crowd-pleaser.
It’s not that the Kelvin movies were all bad (the cast was great), but even their defenders will admit that there will come a time when they’re played out; when their time has passed. Unfortunately, the film industry at the moment would not tolerate any deviation from the Kelvin formula. And that’s no fun for anyone.
While Star Trek is going from strength to strength on TV, we just don’t need movies.
…cinematic movies, anyway. It seems there is a Star Trek movie project with momentum. The long-discussed Section 31 project starring Michelle Yeoh will be a TV movie (I suspect because the newly minted Oscar winner could not commit to an open-ended TV series). Being a TV movie, it flew under the radar of those obsessing over the Trek movie dramas, but being a TV movie also means it has the best of both worlds. It will be able to tell its story in a way that only movies can, but with the creative freedom that TV’s direct line to the fans allows.
It occurs to me that this format would be an ideal place for Tarantino’s maligned project, which involved revisiting that gangster planet from the Original Series. An R-rated Star Trek movie revolving around a reference that only fans would get would never have worked in the cinema.
At this point, I just don’t see another Kelvin timeline movie happening. They began when there was no Star Trek on TV. That’s not the case now; Star Trek lives on TV, and that’s where it thrives.