Star Trek Beyond writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung recently discussed the upcoming film with the official Star Trek magazine in its June issue. The pair touch on their writing process, being life long Trekkies, and a bit more about Beyond.
Warning possible spoilers below…
The Writing Process
Pegg began by affirming that he was “famously mis-quoted, or misunderstood at least, before the film started shooting, about the studio wanting the film to be “less Star Trekky,” which sounded awful, and wasn’t at all what I meant.” Pegg continued, “the studio is very conscious of the fact, and rightly so, that Star Trek has a very inclusive universe, and that, despite the 50 years of history, we shouldn’t assume that every audience member knows Star Trek inside and out.”
Pegg explained, as he and his writing partner Doug Jung were navigating such a vast history and trying not to retread something Trek had done before, they had a wealth of sources to lean on. “We got tips, and found pieces of information, through people who just love Star Trek,” said Jung. “And if we got a good tip, or a good direction, we’d take it from anyone. We had a really great one from a gentleman who did the alien dialects [for Star Trek Beyond]. I put something in about Vulcan physiology that was 180 degrees wrong, and he sent an e-mail with a very elaborate explanation, with references to episodes in the original show, that supported what he was saying, so that was great.”
Pegg noted that eagle-eyed fans should be on the lookout to references to The Original Series. “Whenever we watched an episode of [TOS], we’d always take down the names of ancillary characters, just so when we had to come up with names for characters, they would be canon.” Pegg added that these references are “little things that you wouldn’t notice if you were new to this thing, but if you were a real Star Trek fan, a Memory Alpha-reading super fan, you’d be like “Yes! I get it!”
Pegg and Jung, both being life-long Star Trek fans, wanted to bring the thought-provoking plots and allegories to Beyond. “I always loved the episodes that had an allegorical sense to them,” comments Jung, “An episode like “The Doomsday Machine,” which very clearly has that cold war analogy. They’re making a comment in that episode, in my interpretation at least, that what we’re doing now will have lasting effects on the future, and future generations, in a way that we can’t possibly predict. That’s the amazing power of Star Trek.”
On writing the feature, Jung did not want the aspects of Star Trek that work best, commentary on the human condition, to get lost in a Hollywood blockbuster. He said “rather than taking us into a world that feels dynamic and interesting, visually and aesthetically, it’s bringing Star Trek back to this human aspect…that inherent human desire for exploration and discovery, that also questions who we are, and what we’re trying to accomplish as a species. That’s something that this crew, and the whole idea of the Enterprise, is coming up against. They always confront that within themselves, and that was something we were really trying to mine – the real sweet spot where you get the bigness, and the adventure, and the scale, but at the same time bringing it all back to what it is they’re trying to discover about themselves.”
In regards to the setting of the film, Jung revealed that “the natural step seemed to be “let’s take them on their five-year mission, but the discussions were always “how far?” Is it a year? Is it four years? Is it the end of the five-year mission, which for a whole host of reasons seems wrong?” Jung explained that “we thought that the idea of them being about two years in is kind of interesting. We really wanted to open up, in a humorous, but also a poignant way, what does it mean to be locked in a big metal tube for two years with the same people?”
Pegg further explained, “we liked the idea of exploring the nature of what a mission like that would do to a crew. We thought “let’s make it the same length of time it’s been [between Star Trek and Into Darkness], and send them out into what we call the frontier.” Pegg added, “We get the idea that they’ve been moving around the galaxy, in a variety of directions, and had encounters with many new lifeforms and new civilizations. They’ve got the record for the number of first contacts they’ve made, and the amount of new inductees into the Federation that they’ve managed to court.”
Pegg outlined the beginning of the film, revealing that we pick up the adventures of the crew as they broker a treaty between a planet called Teenax and a planet called Fabona. “They’re right out at the edge, near a big nebula called the Necro Cloud, constantly pushing into unknown territory and uncharted space, and they’re pretty tired. It’s been a very successful, but quite an exhausting three years.” Pegg explains, “We really wanted to examine the effects of long-term space travel. They’re the first of the NCC-17 deep space missions. They were almost like guinea pigs, in a way – no one had ever been out that far, or been out that long before, and we wondered what that would do to them. They’re out there, away from their families, their homes, for a long, long time. We wanted to address how they would feel at this point. ”
“They stop off at a prototype starbase, called Yorktown, which is a Federation hub on the very, very edge of Federation space. It’s a place where all the new Federation inductees, or anyone who’s in the area and fancies picking up a leaflet, can go in and learn about it. Doug [Jung] and I would go into hysterics, writing about Andorians handing out leaflets like they’re at an airport.” Pegg continues, “That’s where the Enterprise picks up the mission that forms the bulk of the story.”
That backdrop allowed Pegg and Jung to explore the main characters, giving them the opportunity to develop relationships more closely to those of The Original Series. “One of the things that we were afforded, which we hadn’t seen before, is the idea that they had spent a lot of time with one another, and had time to develop these relationships.” Jung points out that “you never actually saw some of these characters speak to one-on-one with each other…so let’s assume that they did and cut into the middle of those relationships.”
“We were really excited about breaking [the characters] out into relationships that you don’t normally see,” explains Jung, “Just by doing that, you get a greater understanding of who those characters are, because they have time to talk. That was really like a breath of fresh air to write. A lot of times in Star Trek the primary crew tends to move as a group – there might be discussion or debate within the group, but they are essentially moving in a group, and we went against that.”
For the full interview, which also includes details on the allegorical theme which forms the central question of the film, the motivation of Idris Elba’s Krall, the Spock-McCoy relationship, and Kirk’s state of mind in the film, check out the June edition of the official Star Trek magazine.