With new rumors claiming that Quentin Tarantino might be about to start work on a Star Trek movie, it’s time for fans of the beloved sci-fi franchise to finally admit a dark truth that they’ve avoided for years now: Paramount Pictures doesn’t know what to do with Star Trek anymore.
The signs have been there for a while—really, even the title of 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness is pretty much a cry for help—but the franchise has clearly lost its way since the box-office heights of the 1990s.
Sure, part of this is down to some pretty terrible movies (2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, we’re looking at you specifically). But for all the fun of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot and 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, it feels fundamentally wrong to now go back to the starting point for a do-over of a property that’s supposed to be all about “New life, new civilizations” and boldly going “where no one has gone before.“ (Abrams, who directed the 2009 and 2013 Star Trek films before pivoting to helm 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is said to be planning to produce Taratino’s version.)
The same argument could be made for Star Trek as a television entity; this year’s Star Trek: Discovery is also a prequel for no immediately discernible reason, simultaneously relying on fan nostalgia for characters like Sarek and Harry Mudd while disregarding pieces of the property’s larger mythology when they conflict with the story waiting to be told. It’s a needlessly complicated direction to take, instead of simply telling the audience, “Oh, this is set after all the other stuff.” But I digress.
In a sense, it’s understandable that the studio might be scared of doing something new with Star Trek; the risk of fan backlash is great, especially in a social media age where every speculation provokes days’ worth of outrage and anger. And yet, with Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe breaking box-office records with seemingly ever release, it’s also understandable why the studio can’t quite leave Star Trek alone, either.
In theory, it’s as much of a moneymaker as anything else out there: a genuine pop-culture icon that fits current trends, yet offers an alternate take that could possibly fill a void for smart, intellectual sci-fi that isn’t just visual effects and quips. By all means, Star Trek not only could, but should, be massive… if done right. But who knows what “right” is these days?
(To make matters worse, the obvious suggestion of “Why not just ask the guys who did Star Wars and Marvel?” stings, keeping in mind that Abrams abandoned Paramount and the Trek franchise to go and make Star Wars for Disney.)
An alternative solution is personified by this Tarantino news: If you can’t do it right, at least do the unexpected. And the very prospect of a Tarantino Trek is certainly unexpected. For all its flexibility throughout the decades, Star Trek has remained enjoyably square and nerdy, which feels at odds with… well, everything Tarantino has ever worked on, with its studied, needy “cool” permeating every frame. The idea of Tarantino coming up with his own Star Trek movie feels incongruous enough to make it a must-see, if only for the car-crash potential alone. And must-see movies make bank, right? Problem solved!
Well, except it also comes across as a little desperate for both parties. Tarantino’s star has dimmed in recent years, despite critically acclaimed releases like The Hateful 8 and Django Unchained, and Star Trek feels like a franchise that’s stalled despite itself. There’s an element of the potential partnership that feels like an unnecessary guest appearance by a fading celebrity on a TV show as it heads into its final season. Plus, the stunt-casting dissonance between filmmaker and material has a promise of the ill-fated Tim Burton Planet of the Apes remake more than anything else, and nobody wants to see that happen again.
Does this mean that Tarantino’s Star Trek is necessarily going to be bad? Not at all; he’s certainly talked enough about his love of the franchise to establish his bona fides, and it’s very possible that he’s come up with a way to stay true to what other fans love about the series while doing something new and unexpected with it. Until audiences know more about what he’s planning, however, it’s hard to read his involvement with Star Trek as anything more than a Hail Mary pass for the studio—and an admission that, as much as fans would wish otherwise, Paramount really doesn’t appear to know what to do with Star Trek.