Today is the three year anniversary of a big milestone for the 2009 Star Trek movie. On March 27th 2008, JJ Abrams called cut and wrapped principle photography on his first Trek film. With production on the next film still months away, today we ponder a question posed by sequel co-writer Roberto Orci – how much time will have passed for the characters between the two films?
3 years since "Star Trek" wrapped
Three years have elapsed since the end of principal photography on JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. On March 27th, 2008 the director wrapped the141-day long production by gathering the cast and crew for a thank you and to hand out gifts. Although there were some pick up shots and second unit work to be done (like the Iowa scenes shot in Bakersfield), the production phase was over. 15 months later Star Trek went on to be a big success and Paramount quickly moved to secure the team for a sequel, having already signed options with the actors to appear in two additional films.
In the three years since wrapping production on Star Trek the various members of Star Trek’s "Supreme Court" (JJ Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof) have, in addition to Trek post-production, been very busy on their other projects (sometimes together, sometimes on their own) including Lost, Morning Glory, Undercovers, Fringe, Hawaii Five-0, Welcome to People, Cowboys and Aliens, Prometheus, Super-8, and more.
And the Star Trek actors have also been busy with all of the major cast shooting multiple TV and/or film projects over the last three years. And of course the actors have aged and are all now in their 30s or 40s (with the exception of young Anton Yelchin at 22). Chris Pine will be just four years younger than William Shatner was for the first season of Star Trek, Zachary Quinto will be only one year younger than Leonard Nimoy was, and John Cho will actually be ten years older than George Takei was in 1966.
Starting last spring/summer the writing team of Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci began the process of breaking the story for the sequel. Last fall they began writing the script. That first draft is still pending, but reports indicate Paramount is still planning to go into production in late summer and release Abram’s second Star Trek production June 29, 2012.
Bob Poses A Question: How Long?
There are many big unanswered questions regarding the Star Trek sequel. For example: we still don’t know if JJ Abrams will direct, what it will be called, or who will be the villain (if anyone). And there is also an important question in regards to time.
When fans and general movie-goers sit down to watch the Star Trek sequel in the summer of 2012, it will have been three years "IRL ("in real life" as the kids say) since they had last visited the crew of the USS Enterprise. This brings up the issue of elapsed "in universe" time between the films. This issue is one that sequel co-writer Robert Orci called "significant" when he posed the following question to TrekMovie community members in our comments section back in January:
Q: By the time we reunite with the beloved crew of the USS Enterprise in the summer of 2012, what adventures from the original series should already be in their PAST?
None? Two seasons worth? Ten Episodes? Which ones?
Obviously Orci knows the answer, but lets play Bob’s game and analyze his proposed options.
Option 1: "None" – no time elapsed between films
This scenario would see our valiant crew go from that final scene in Star Trek straight into the events of the sequel. This kind of dovetailing is how Star Trek’s ‘Genesis Trilogy’ of films were done (Star Trek II, Star Trek III & Star Trek IV).
The advantage of this approach is that (assuming this new crew make at least three films), you can have a nice tight trilogy that all ties together. This model can also justify the importance of the USS Enterprise as much of Starfleet was destroyed by Nero. The film can also pick up on the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Vulcan and the attack on Earth, jumping right into blowback action. In addition, you can continue to explore how the new crew get to know each other better.
The disadvantage is that the characters will not be much different than they were by the end of Star Trek 2009, which means the film could end up re-hashing the drama around the crew’s (and especially Kirk’s) youth and inexperience. Plus, if the designers want to make any changes to the Enterprise or to costumes, this becomes harder to justify (although it is possible some changes were made while the ship was being repaired following the battle with the Narada).
Option 2: "10 episodes" – or a few months time elapsed between films
This scenario would give our crew some time, but have them seen not too long after the finale scene of Star Trek.
The advantage: most of the upside of the above "no time" approach, while giving the characters some opportunity to refer to events and experience they have had. For example, the film could include references to encounters the crew had with say "a surly Gorn captain" ("Arena"). The additional time also allows for introducing some changes in the Federation itself and how it is dealing with the loss of Vulcan, which would be a 9-11 like event with likely profound repercussions to society.
The disadvantage: You are still limited in how seasoned the crew will be compared to the first film, so you are still dealing with an young crew (and fresh Captain). You don’t really have much time to explain away any major design changes as well.
Option 3: "2 seasons" – or a couple of years of time elapsed between films
In this case we find our crew well into their mission (is it five years or open ended?) to seek out new life and new civilizations.
The advantage: This scenario matches up in universe time with real life time. It also gives the writers the ability to move the characters along and make reasonable changes. This is especially true of Kirk, where two years or more in the captain’s chair can move him into more of the confident swagger we saw on the original series. You also have the freedom to introduce all sorts of new design elements, props and characters that have been introduced to the Enterprise in the intervening years. And the additional time allows writers lots of chances to throw in references to experiences the crew has dealt with (both new and related to the prime timeline). The two-year gap could also see our crew dealing with a very different universe in the post-Vulcan destroyed Federation (possibly a war, or changes within Federation society, etc.). And of course having a multi-year gap matches with the real world so it fits with when the audience last visited this universe and
fits with any perceptible aging of the actors.
The disadvantage: This version limits the ability to explore the crew getting to know each other, or Kirk’s evolution from new to seasoned Captain. With years of elapsed time in between films, filled with other experiences, the two films could feel like they don’t fit with each other as part of a trilogy (like the "Genesis Trilogy"). Any experiences referenced for such a large “in between” period would reduce the options for use in the third film.
The new crew heads out at the end of 2009’s "Star Trek" – how much time has passed when we see them again in the 2012 sequel?
Orci also asks the question "which ones?", and in this case he is referring to which specific original Star Trek episodes did the new crew deal with, albeit in a different timeline. This is also a very intriguing question. In the scenarios where there is a span of time between films, you can have the crew make reference to various encounters to both show they are now space veterans, and to have some fan easter eggs. These could even be used for plot points both serious ("I don’t trust them Spock, remember what happened at Organia") and not so serious ("Scotty, you look worse than after your shore leave on Argelius II").
Who has this new crew encountered since we last saw them?
A note about the extended universe
The consideration of how much in-universe time should have elapsed between films should only be decided based on what best serves the sequel as a film. However, the final decision has big repercussions for the extended universe of books, comics and games. Even though it has not been considered official canon, the extended universe of Star Trek fiction has served to "fill the gaps" in Star Trek, telling stories in between films and episodes.
So the decision on how long of a gap (or if there is even a gap) has a big impact on the extended universe. In fact, it has already had an impact. In 2010 Pocket Books was planning to release a series of books set after the film. But after four books were written Bad Robot and Paramount had them all put on hold. This was due to concerns that the books could end up conflicting with the movie.
So the longer a period of time they leave between the two films, the more opportunities there are for future extended universe Star Trek stories, including the four books that were put on hold. This tradition of filling in the gaps has been one utilized by Trek books in the past, including the 2009 "Star Trek Countdown" comic series/graphic novel which filled the gap between Nemesis and the 2009 movie. In addition, even a throwaway line in the sequel could be the launching pad for an entire book, comic series or video game. So I am sure Pocket Books and IDW (and any future official Star Trek game publisher) are all hoping there is a gap for them to fill with new stories.
Star Trek books, comics and games have often filled in the gaps before and after feature films
My take: Two seasons (maybe less)
Perhaps my bias shows in the plusses and minuses outlined above, but I feel that the best approach is to give this new crew some experience before we meet them again. In a way that is exactly what Gene Roddenberry did with the original Star Trek. The original series had no origin story episode and instead it dropped viewers right into the five year mission.
JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek was an origin story (for this new universe) and as such it dealt with a family coming together, and all the drama and conflict that this created. By building in some experience (and getting closer to the time setting of the Prime Universe), we can now move on to new conflicts and new arcs for these characters, shedding all the ‘wet behind the ears’ issues dealt with in the first film. This again is especially important with Kirk, who can now move into that bluffing Kirk seen in "The Corbomite Maneuver" which was actually the first episode produced after the two Star Trek pilots. Sure maybe ‘Cupcake‘ may still need some convincing, but we don’t need to rehash all the ‘is he ready?’ stuff. That being said, if we have a 1-2 year gap, we can still have some of the ‘getting to know you’ elements continue into the second film.
I am also intrigued with seeing how the events of the first Star Trek film have changed the Federation and the rest of the galaxy. Has it spawned conflict (hot or cold) with either the Romulans or the Klingons? What is happening with the refugee Vulcans on their new colony? How has the Federation dealt with the loss of a major planet?
More time also allows for the introduction of more new costumes, props, and design or functional elements of the USS Enterprise. And of course if they did want to jazz up the engine room sets, more time allows us to explain away why Scotty isn’t seen amongst an array of what appear to be steam pipes.
Bottom line: one – two seasons for the three years between movies sounds just about right.
Experience for the new Kirk can take him closer to the cool confidence seen in "The Corbomite Maneuver"
VOTE: What do you think?