The pros and cons of a fourth Kelvin timeline film

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the three Kelvin timeline films and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

A couple of weeks ago it was reported that a fourth Kelvin timeline film, which has supposedly been worked on since at least 2019, was “paused”. That’s usually Hollywood-speak for “cancelled” and “never going to happen”, but there are other potential Star Trek film projects in the works, so the Kelvin timeline may yet be granted a reprieve. While rumours can be all over the place when looking at the production side of Star Trek, two things came up often in discussions around the potential film: the return of Chris Hemsworth’s character of George Kirk being a story point, and the salaries of some of the main cast – including Kirk actor Chris Pine – being a stumbling block. I have no idea whether there’s even a grain of truth to any of these rumours, but the potential for a fourth Kelvin timeline film got me thinking.

What would be the pros and cons of a new film in the alternate reality – especially now that we have prime timeline Star Trek back on the small screen? It’s a big question, and I’ve broken it down into a short list of points for and against making a new film in this series. Let’s look at them in turn.

Pro: Star Trek Beyond clearly teased a sequel.

The Enterprise-A was seen at the end of Star Trek Beyond.

The Kelvin timeline story hasn’t ended. The crew are back together, and despite the loss of the original USS Enterprise, at the end of Beyond we saw the christening of a new Enterprise-A – the clear implication being that Kirk would assume command and bring his crew with him.

Something similar happened in the prime timeline at the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In 1986, when that film premiered, Star Trek: The Next Generation was in early production, and some may have argued that Star Trek was moving on and didn’t need another Kirk-led film. While the next film in the series, The Final Frontier, was hardly a great success, The Undiscovered Country was – and it was a far better send-off for the original crew. If the Star Trek films had ended with The Voyage Home we’d have missed out on a great story and a more fitting end to Kirk and the crew’s adventures.

If the film series were to end now, it would arguably feel incomplete. The tease at the end of Beyond would still be there, taunting fans with a never-realised continuation to the story.

Con: And which fans are those?

Look, it’s all of the Kelvin timeline’s hardcore fans.

Despite their popularity with a wider audience – something which we’ll look at in a moment – I’ve never really found that the Kelvin timeline films had much of a following of their own. They’re summer blockbusters in the vein of something like the Transformers series; popcorn flicks that people will happily watch – and then immediately forget about.

Within the Star Trek fan community, the Kelvin timeline films haven’t picked up a following of their own. I’m not even counting the many Trekkies who didn’t see the films because they didn’t like the premise; the Kelvin timeline just doesn’t have its own fandom. People have other iterations of the franchise that they prefer – the Kelvin timeline films are, at best, someone’s second choice.

There are sub-groups of Trekkies – some may like The Original Series, others favour The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, etc. And the new Star Trek shows since 2017 have fans of their own too. But the Kelvin timeline films don’t seem to have that kind of following; there’s no group of dedicated Trekkies who favour them above everything else in the franchise. People I’ve spoken with are in two camps: they either detest the Kelvin timeline films or they think they’re just okay.

With all that in mind – who would a fourth film even be made for?

Pro: The films brought in huge numbers of non-Trekkies.

The Kelvin timeline films appealed to a wider audience than any prior Star Trek production.

Though they may lack a hardcore following, the Kelvin timeline films succeeded beyond any other Star Trek project at bringing in huge audiences. 2009’s Star Trek was an overwhelming box office success, bringing in more than double the money of any other film in the series – and Into Darkness did even better, becoming the high-water mark of the entire Star Trek film franchise’s financial success. Beyond was considered a “disappointment” – but it still raked in over $340 million on a $180 million budget, making it hugely profitable for Paramount Pictures. 2009’s Star Trek also won an Academy Award – the only Star Trek film to ever achieve that feat.

So there’s clearly an audience for another film set in the Kelvin timeline, and any such project should be a guaranteed money-maker for Paramount and ViacomCBS. Bringing the crew back together and putting a seasoned director in charge – as they did in 2009 – would generate plenty of buzz, and the aforementioned wider audience that saw and enjoyed the first three films will surely show up for the next entry.

Star Trek isn’t made for Trekkies. That may sound odd, but it’s true. Hardcore fans will only ever be a small portion of any franchise’s audience, and I’ve said countless times that the Star Trek franchise needs to reach out far beyond this small pond if it’s to survive long-term. The new animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks has potential to help in that regard, but so does a new Kelvin timeline film.

Con: The unique premise of the films no longer exists.

Cadet Kirk.

In 2008-09, during the buildup to the release of Star Trek, one angle that was really interesting was the idea that the films would show “young” Kirk and Spock in their Starfleet Academy years. We’d get to see how all of the characters came to meet one another, and although the films would be recasting the classic characters, we’d see them in their younger days, before Kirk assumed command of the Enterprise and set out on his five-year mission.

That premise no longer exists. The end of Star Trek saw the characters graduate from the Academy, and Beyond explained that Kirk and his crew were engaged in their five-year mission of exploration. That premise is exactly the same as The Original Series, and the unique aspect of the films is gone, replaced by a copy of what came before.

With Strange New Worlds looking to pick up the exploration angle of Star Trek, do we really need a Kelvin timeline film to do the same thing? It’s certainly arguable that we don’t.

Pro: There’s the possibility for crossovers.

A Pike-Pike story? Heck yes, sign me up!

I mentioned this as one concept that could be fun to see in Strange New Worlds – but how about a crossover? Pike and Spock from the Kelvin timeline and Pike and Spock from the prime timeline working together to achieve some goal or defeat a nefarious villain could be a fascinating story and a great piece of cinema or television.

This concept doesn’t just have to be limited to Pike and Spock either; we could see crossovers with literally any group of characters. The idea of a ship and crew from one side of the divide between parallel realities having to work with others to make it home again is something that could be really fun to watch.

Con: The Kelvin timeline will be retreading too much ground.

Spock, Kirk, and McCoy during their five-year mission.

Pike and Spock are the leads in their own upcoming series – Strange New Worlds. Do we really need two “young Spocks” in Star Trek? There’s a risk that the two productions will trip over one another, and that the Kelvin timeline film will do nothing for Spock’s character in particular that hasn’t been done in Discovery or Strange New Worlds.

That’s in addition to the point mentioned above – that we’ll be seeing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew undertaking the same five-year mission that was depicted in The Original Series. Some fans have argued for a return to Star Trek’s spirit of exploration, but with at least one television show focusing on precisely that, where would a Kelvin timeline film fit in?

Fundamentally this comes down to a couple of characters – most notably Spock. Ethan Peck’s version of the character has gone down very well with fans of Discovery, and I’m just not convinced the franchise has room for two identical characters. If I had to choose only one… I’m sorry to Zachary Quinto but I’d rather keep Ethan Peck’s take on the character.

Pro: Quentin Tarantino may be working on a script.

Renowned director Quentin Tarantino has supposedly pitched a Star Trek film.
Photo credit: Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons

Quentin Tarantino has written and directed some of cinema’s recent classics. Titles like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill duology, Inglorious Basterds, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood are all hailed as phenomenal works of cinema. His violent style can be controversial – and some may argue a bad fit for Star Trek – but he’s an incredibly talented filmmaker, one that any franchise would love to bring on board.

It’s worth pointing out that there’s no guarantee his pitch – if it even exists and is still being considered – would involve the Kelvin timeline crew. But the timing of the rumour coincided with the Kelvin timeline’s production, so it’s at least a possibility.

I know some people dislike Tarantino’s style. But even they would have to admit that he does what he does very well, and any film that has his name attached draws a lot of attention – which translates into big numbers at the box office.

An R-rated Star Trek film just for the sake of it wouldn’t be my first choice. But if the story works well, I’m not opposed to it either. Recent Star Trek projects have not been shy about trying new things, so Tarantino could be a good fit for an expanded franchise.

Con: Anton Yelchin’s tragic death means that a major character will be absent.

Anton Yelchin in 2015.
Photo credit: GabboT on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons
Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Anton Yelchin died tragically in 2016, shortly before the premiere of Star Trek Beyond. This is a sensitive topic, and I thought long and hard about including it here, but I think it’s important because it’s hard to imagine another film without him.

Yelchin had taken over the role of Pavel Chekov in 2009’s Star Trek, and while Chekov is arguably less of a “main” character than Kirk, Spock, or McCoy, he was still a big part of all three of the Kelvin timeline films. In 2016, the producers of Star Trek Beyond stated that the role would not be recast for any future films, and it would be very difficult for a new creative team to go back on that promise without the support of Yelchin’s family, the other cast members, and the wider fan community.

Chekov’s absence would be hugely significant and very noticeable; a hole at the heart of the crew. While it’s possible to work around that, as other films have done under similar circumstances, I’m not sure how well it would succeed. Chekov filled a unique role in the crew as its youngest member, and without his occasionally comedic presence, there will be a key element missing from any future story.

Pro: The alternate reality setting allows for a huge amount of creative license.

Could we see Kirk face off against the Borg? Maybe… but only in the Kelvin timeline.

Now we come to perhaps the biggest point in favour of the alternate reality: nothing after Enterprise happened. Canon is nonexistent – aside from that established by the first three films – so writers and producers have a blank slate to tell any kind of story they want without worrying about treading on the toes of established canon.

Have you always wanted to know how Kirk would fare against the Borg? The Kelvin timeline could do that, as bringing the Borg into a story doesn’t affect prime canon. How about the Dominion War breaking out more than a century earlier? The Kelvin timeline could do that too. Or what if William Shater finally got his wish to reprise the role of Kirk? He mentioned it as recently as a few weeks ago, and the best way to bring back Shatner’s Kirk – who of course died in the prime timeline – could be in the alternate reality.

When considering 2009’s Star Trek as a reboot, one of the best things it did was use an alternate reality setting, because that has opened up endless possibilities for the film franchise going forward. The examples above are just a few options off the top of my head, but there are so many more, including stories that could never work in the prime timeline.

Con: The Star Trek franchise will be more convoluted than it already is.

The official Star Trek website posted this guide to the franchise’s timeline(s) a few months ago.

It’s only fair to follow the biggest pro with the biggest con, and in my opinion the biggest drawback to continuing the Kelvin timeline films now is that the Star Trek universe is already incredibly complicated. It’s difficult for casual viewers to get the hang of which show is taking place in which time period, but if you throw an alternate reality into the mix as well, the whole thing just becomes convoluted.

Bringing in and retaining new fans is the key challenge for the Star Trek franchise going forward, and one thing that has to be avoided is putting people off. Star Trek has been running for so long and has so many different iterations that it can already feel overwhelming for newcomers; the Kelvin timeline films may draw large crowds, but if those crowds don’t stick around and jump over to other parts of the franchise because it’s too complicated, it’s almost not worth the trouble.

So that’s it. Some of the pros and cons of making a fourth Kelvin timeline film. As always, the caveat applies that this is just my opinion; I don’t know whether a film will be made or is even under consideration.

Kirk and Spock (with John Harrison in the background) in Star Trek Into Darkness.

If it were left up to me, I think what I’d say is that the Kelvin timeline films have run their course. They achieved what they set out to: rebooting a Star Trek franchise which had become stale after decades in production, and set the stage for a resurgence in the franchise’s wider popularity, which culminated in Discovery, Picard, and Star Trek’s return to the small screen.

While there is certainly scope to use the alternate reality setting to tell more stories, I don’t feel that it’s necessary right now. There are so many other Star Trek projects in various stages of production that the franchise is hardly going to be lacking in content at least through the first half of the 2020s. A Kelvin timeline film would be a complete outlier when compared to the rest of the franchise, simply because of its setting. That’s not to say that there’s no place for a new film and never will be, just that it would be superfluous at the moment.

The Enterprise goes to warp.

Hopefully the Star Trek franchise, having found a new home on CBS All Access, will remain in production for a long time to come. Branching out into different genres, and telling stories in a more modern way has certainly helped build a foundation for future success. I’ll always be grateful for what the Kelvin timeline films did. They took Star Trek from a run-down franchise that was losing fans and viewership and turned it around. Not only that, they modernised the franchise and proved that it still had a huge potential audience. Star Trek’s current success is built on the shoulders of what these three films did. But despite that, I don’t think there’s a need to return to the same setting and the same cast to make another film.

One thing we’ve seen Star Trek attempt to do with Short Treks is tell one-off stories. Take a one-off story and make it last two-and-a-half hours and you’ve got a feature film – and there are so many possibilities within the franchise to tell such stories. With CBS All Access being Star Trek’s new home, the franchise could even experiment with direct-to-streaming films (something that may have to happen if this pandemic drags on), and there are countless possibilities for what kind of films could be made and what kind of stories could be told. There’s no reason why a Kelvin timeline film can’t be part of that… but there’s also no compelling reason that I can see why it needs to be either.

The Star Trek film franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS. Photos and stock images courtesy of Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.