On Star Trek: The Academy Years

Several years ago Pocket Books published two volumes of Star Trek scripts. One collection covered the Q episodes, the other covered Seven of Nine episodes. While a nice idea, the script choices were also slightly disappointing–the episodes were already out there in the marketplace to be viewed. I wasn’t sure who these books were supposed to appeal to. Film students? Aspiring screenwriters? Completists? I gather neither book sold very well, and we haven’t seen other scriptbooks since.

Rewind a few years. Pocket Books released a book on Phase II, the proposed Star Trek series of the mid-70s that ultimately morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That book, too, contained scripts written for the series, but these were scripts that never saw production. These were avenues that the Star Trek franchise might have gone but ultimately didn’t.

Phase II was interesting to me while the later Q and Seven scriptbooks weren’t.

But there weren’t just television episodes that weren’t produced. There were also movies that weren’t produced. The Star Trek IV that would have co-starred Eddie Murphy, for instance. The Maurice Hurley script for Star Trek: Generations were Kirk was just a holodeck creation that Picard needed to consult with on a particularly difficult mission.

And then there was the Harve Bennett/David Loughery script for Star Trek: The Academy Years, a movie that would have explored Jim Kirk’s first year at Starfleet Academy, his first meeting with a young half-Vulcan named Spock, and the loss of his true love. A summary of this script surfaced on the Internet a few months ago, and, at least for this reader, I thought the story worked.

Why bring this up now? Because Paramount has announced plans for an eleventh Star Trek film, this one focusing on the Academy years of Kirk and Spock, for release in 2008 with Lost and Alias‘s J.J. Abrams at the helm. Will Abrams’ script be an original take on the idea, or an update on Bennett’s 1990 screenplay? I’d expect the former, though I’d imagine that with the way Hollyweird works Bennett might find himself with some credit on the film.

Fandom’s reaction to the announcement has been interesting, to say the least. “No, it’s a prequel, and prequels don’t work!” “No, it’s not moving forward, and Trek only works best when it’s moving forward!” “No, you can’t recast Kirk and Spock because the actors are so identified with the roles!” “No, an Academy movie with Kirk and Spock wouldn’t have [Insert Fan’s Chosen Crew Here], so they’re ignoring my wishes!”

I find these reactions somewhat short-sighted. There’s nothing to say a prequel can’t work–Batman Begins is a perfect example of a prequel that works. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles is another. The former worked because the writer, director, and producers had a clear vision of what they wanted to do. The latter worked because it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t, namely the Indiana Jones films. Both these projects were different enough from what had gone before that they were able to establish their own identities, and they had creative teams that were able to make the differences work on their own terms. A Starfleet Academy film has the same advantages because although it’s a story set in the Star Trek universe by its very setting it would have to stake out its own identity because the Academy isn’t a starship or a space station, so the usual story beats found in Star Trek simply won’t work.

The great advantage to an Academy movie, especially one with Kirk and Spock, is that it has the familiar–Kirk and Spock–in an unfamiliar setting. Yes, there are roughly ninety hours of adventures of Kirk and Spock on film, but Starfleet Academy would be completely unlike those ninety hours. The great disadvantage to, say, a Deep Space Nine film would be the 175 episodes that fans can watch over and over–where’s the sense of new? Academy is new, another adventure of Picard and his lackeys less so.

So, how do I feel about a Starfleet Academy film? Honestly, I feel quite excited by the prospect. Fans may complain loudly on the Internet, but there’s every possibility that the film can be a creative and commercial success.

8 thoughts on “On Star Trek: The Academy Years

  1. “No, it’s a prequel, and prequels don’t work!” “No, it’s not moving forward, and Trek only works best when it’s moving forward!” “No, you can’t recast Kirk and Spock because the actors are so identified with the roles!”

    These are obvious paraphrases of things I’ve said, except they misread entirely what I did say. I agree with you that it can work, but there are dozens of factors arrayed against it working before Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (not Abrams, he’s slotted to direct) start writing a word of script.

    The only one I stand by is that Trek is at its most successful when it moves forward. The movie series did that, TNG and DS9 did that. It’s not necessary for success, but I think it’s a better formula for success.

    And I never said you can’t re-cast Kirk and Spock, I said it would be difficult.

    Other folks may be saying what you quoted, but your entire paragraph felt like a paraphrase of my own LJ entry on the subject, but re-cast in Hysterical Internet Tones Of Doom, and I wanted to set the record straight.

  2. My apologies, Keith, if the paragraph seemed like a paraphrase of your own words on the subject–I was unaware you’d weighed in with an opinion on the next Trek film. My LiveJournal reading has been spotty of late, to say the least.

    I thought, rather, that I was paraphrasing some of the Internet chatter found on TrekBBS and on various mailing lists, where there really does seem to be an instant bias against the film because it’s not what the hard-core want. The problem, as you yourself pointed out elsewhere, is that the hard-core fan simply isn’t a factor in the business calculations of the IP holder.

    I’ve always thought that Paramount needed to seriously rethink their approach to the Trek films. They’re asking audiences to pay to see another adventure of Picard, when those same audiences can sit at home and watch adventures of Picard for free. Where’s the impetus for the audience to spend their money? A Starfleet Academy film, irrespective of the franchise on which it’s based, doesn’t have that same drawback because the television series didn’t go there.

    (For sheer fanwankishness, Riker, Sisko, and Janeway were all at the Academy at roughly the same time–there might be a movie in that.)

    Keith, I do thank you for setting the record straight. Again, I apologize for any unintentional, out-of-context paraphrase. Not my intent, not by any means.

  3. With the fragmented fan base being what it is, I’m not at all surprised about the overwhelming negative reaction. I try my best not to judge something before I’ve seen it and I’ll be adopting that very philosophy with this film until I see a completed product of some kind.

  4. … there really does seem to be an instant bias against the film because it’s not what the hard-core want. The problem, as you yourself pointed out elsewhere, is that the hard-core fan simply isn’t a factor in the business calculations of the IP holder.

    Well, I’ll tell you… the reason I’m less than enthused about plans to do The Young Jimmy Kirk Chronicles is because I don’t see it appealing to anyone outside the hard-core base. Why would the Untold History of these characters interest anyone who doesn’t already have a significant interest in them? You and me, sure, we’ll be first in line at the theater, and no matter how it turns out, at least we’ll enjoy watching the Timeliners and Canon Enforcers rant on the various boards for the next ten years. But the average movie going public? I think they’re more likely to be put off by the concept, worried that it would be inaccessible to the non-hardcore fan (the Serenity Effect).

    Just my two quatloos.

  5. Well I read somewhere that JJ Abrams was asked because Executives at Paramount are getting positive feedback on MI:III. Still, I think JJ Abrams is a wrong pick especially after the treatment he wrote for SUPERMAN which had the WB filmed, would have been the biggest piece of shit and a disgrace to the character.

    Bryan Singer said in the past that he had a terriffc Trek story and that he hoped to one day get a chance to direct one. In my honest opinion, Singer is 100% more qualifed for the Job then Abrams is and his film resume speaks for itself.

    Granted, Abrams script may never get made and somehow I just don’t see it happening. (I’m also assuming that Erik Jenderrson’s script went out the airlock).

    Still, if you want to revive the Trek franchise put it into capeable hands or someone with a good track record. Someone like: Bruckheimer, Silver, Donner, Speilberg or for kicks Tim Burton if you want a dark, weird, creepy Trek film.

    My only hope is that Rick Berman’s not involved. (So help us if he is).

  6. Geoff, you got my e-mail about my story for Constellations. You know the date I gave you. 🙂

    (Even after signing the contract, I’m still not comfortable with revealing the story’s title. It’s odd, I know, but that’s just how I am.)

    Once you read the story, you’ll understand.

    Not fighting words at all, just a statement on the way Allyn’s twisted little mind works. 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *