Recasting Captain James T.Kirk was unthinkable. But they did it anyhow. That, and the reboot of Star Trek with the 2009 film, were among the many bold moves which propelled the franchise back into the cultural zeitgeist, and gave a new generation of science fiction fans something new to cheer for.
If you look back at what was going on with Trek back when the film started shooting, there was just one word — nothing. Thanks to the franchise-killing Nemesis (in 2002) and the cancellation of Enterprise (2005), Trek entered a phase where there was no presence of the franchise on television or the movies. This had not happened since the gap between The Animated Series end (1975) and the debut of The Motion Picture (1979).
The plan to bring Star Trek back to the silver screen happened only after the split between CBS and Paramount, which allowed the latter company to create their own version of Trek for a film series. According to the agreement, this new version of Trek must be slightly different. MORE ON THAT HERE.
It was decided to bring in Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to write the script, and wonder-director J.J. Abrams to direct. J.J. admitted that he was more of a Star Wars fan than a Trek fan, but was happy to play his part. The team would caution fans not to categorize this film as a “reboot,” which the cleverly circumvented with time-travel, but as an unlikely sequel to Nemesis.
The unthinkable happened — they recast Kirk with young actor Chris Pine, who brought a new energy to the role not seen since the 1960s original series. They cast a new Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yeltsin). The enemy of this new crew was the same as The Original Series’ first villain — the Romulans.
They brought back Leonard Nimoy, they redesigned the Enterprise, they gave Sulu a fold-out sword, they had Spock and Uhura fall in love, and they made Trek an action-first franchise. WOW! Those were a lot of changes.
Why this matters
The success of the 2009 film put Trek back on the map. Let’s face it, later incarnations of Trek (the cast of The Next Generation included) are not as recognized as Captain Kirk and Spock. These characters are cultural icons, which rank as high (or higher) than any other science fiction franchise — including Star Wars.
Using these icons to restart the franchise was critical. It was also necessary to expose the new generations to Star Trek. This young group (Generation Y) knew all about Star Wars, thanks to the Clone Wars film and subsequent series on television. The 2009 film (and its two sequels) brought Trek back into the limelight and gave young people a look at a different style of storytelling which differed from the laser swords and hokie religions that Wars offered.
But thanks to this emergence of Trek in the movies, it breathed new life into television. While then-CBS President Les Moonves famously disliked Trek (as detailed here) and did not want to bring the franchise back to TV. Instead, he put Trek on CBS All Access, and he left CBS later (unrelated to Trek).
Thanks to the success of Star Trek (2009), we are starting to see a new golden age of Trek, with the Discovery and Picard shows, a Section 31 series in the works, two animated Trek shows, and possibly, a show called Star Trek: Strange New Worlds which might feature Anson Mount as Captain Pike.
Though some fans are upset by these new takes on Trek (which Jonathan Frakes says are inspired by the Abram’s trilogy), due to their high-end effects, different costumes, realistic jargon, and timeline-altering technology, the numbers prove that the needs of the Trek fans outweigh the needs of the few.
CBS All Access, which will soon be rebranded as a new service, to include content from CBS, Showtime, Paramount, and other Viacom-owned properties (like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Smithsonian Channel). The network also announced that subscriptions for All Access (and Showtime) were up 50% this year when compared to last.
Today, the so-called Kelvin Trilogy remain highly thought-of films. Many compare them to the series of Star Wars films that Abrams’ made for Disney, and find that the adventures of new Kirk and new Spock are far superior to Rey and … whoever the rest of them are.
So, enjoy your new Golden Age of Trek, friends. Perhaps you should break out your DVD or Blu-ray of the 2009 film and give it a watch for old-time’s sake.