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.