In September 1966, a new science fiction television series by Gene Roddenberry premiered call Star Trek, and fifty years later the franchise is still going strong.
Re-introduced by JJ Abrams in 2009, the movies spotlights the early years of the crew of the USS Enterprise on their mission to explore the furthest regions of space.
In the new film Star Trek Beyond, which is written by cast member Simon Pegg along with Doug Jung, the crew of the Enterprise, led by Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine), is attacked by a hostile alien named Krall (Idris Elba), who destroys the Enterprise, scattering its crew on Krall’s planet, Altamid. But Krall has other destinations and evil intentions, the destruction of Yorktown, the 23rd century metropolis where the Federation resides.
The movie is directed by Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) and opens on July 22nd 2016. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), John Cho (Sulu) and Simon Pegg (Scotty) were at the press conference to discuss the new movie, and remember their cast member and friend Anton Yelchin (Chekov,) who tragically died last month in a bizarre accident.
This is a very big year, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Simon, what was the challenge of honoring the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and also making it a great action movie for people who have never even seen a Star Trek movie?
Simon: That was very important to us. Going in Doug and I just wanted to try and create a hybrid of an episode of the original series with a spectacular cinematic event. The Star Trek movies have always been event films.
With the TV series you get time to spend with the characters, it’s a longer game, with the film you have to hit it, it has to be self-contained, it has to be memorable.
So the thing was to try and make sure everybody that’s been here for 50 years gets what they deserve in terms of a good Star Trek film, for the people who’ve never seen it before, who aren’t as familiar with Star Trek, they’re welcomed too; this is an inclusive universe in every way, not only fictionally but factually.
I heard Justin Lin say that the main reason he wanted to do this project was because his childhood dream was to blow up the Enterprise and then bring it back together. Was that idea a collaborative effort or was it his idea that he presented to you and Doug?
Simon: I hated the idea at first. I swear we had rows about it. I was shouting, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t destroy the Enterprise.’ My problem was that if you think it’s something new, we’ve seen it before, it happened in The Search for Spock, it happened in Generations.
But Justin was very determined and as we spoke about it I realized what he was doing brilliantly was he was not only taking out a main character, but he was removing the physical connective tissue between the crew to see what happens when you take away the thing that physically bonds them together. Do they dissipate or do them come back together, and that was the genius of it.
The McCoy/Spock dynamic is explored in this movie – how was it for you to spend more time together to explore their relationship?
Karl: For me, I feel like this is probably the most fun that I’ve had making a Star Trek film. I think what Simon and Doug were able to do was present the most well-defined, well-rounded version of my character, and it certainly gave me a lot of material to work with.
I had an amazing time working with Zach. I had a huge amount of respect for him and his approach, and it was just great to have those two characters, that are so diametrically opposed to each other, be forced into a situation where they have to depend on each other to survive, and through the process come to a deeper understanding of who they both are.
Zachary: I couldn’t agree more, you took all the words out of my mouth. In a movie franchise where you are used to spending so much time together, all of us on the bridge of the Enterprise, it was really nice to have so many days where it was only Karl and me together. I think we got to know each other and appreciate each other more than we did, which was already a significant amount.
I think for a character standpoint, I really echo the idea that these two characters, historically in this franchise, come at things from entirely different perspectives and points-of-view. I think there’s nothing more fun for fans of the original show to see that dynamic, unmitigated by Kirk who usually manages to get between them.
Bones really saves Spock’s life in this film and I think there’s a deep appreciation for that, and they end this film in a much better place as a duo than they began.
Where is Kirk three years into this mission? He’s not super excited about being a Starship Captain.
Chris: I talked a lot with Simon about how to nuance what particularly was Kirk’s trip in this, and once we landed on the idea of him moving out of his father’s shadow that made a lot of sense.
I always have the most fun on these films either when we’re laughing or talking, and usually then the ship blows up and we have to do the ‘ship blowing up acting’ where I think I spend the majority of the film going, ‘Let’s go,’ ‘Can we do it?’ and breathing heavily.
The movie has such a lovely tribute to Leonard Nimoy, was there an initial expectation earlier on in the process that he would be part of the film before his passing?
Simon: When did Leonard die, it was during the writing process, wasn’t it?
Zachary: Yeah, he died on February 27th. I think if Leonard was well enough to be a part of this film I’m sure he would have been. I know that there were early conversations with him about that possibility. He knew himself well enough to know that wouldn’t be possible at a certain point. Then I think it became important to all of us to figure a way to honor his legacy. I thought Simon and Doug did a beautiful job of incorporating (him) into the narrative of the film.
We all carried him with us through this production for sure, and it was definitely a different kind of feeling to make this movie without him, for me in particular. But he was very much a part of it in spirit and certainly will be a part of anything we do moving forward.
Simon: We wanted to make it part of Spock’s arc, and what we did eventually was to dedicate the film to him. But we wanted to have his passing be something which inspired our Spock to move on as well, so it became an integral part of the story.
Zoe, can you talk a little about the evolution of Uhura and her feelings for Spock in this movie?
Zoe: She’s tired. I think she’s homesick. The one thing I appreciated the most about what Simon and Doug did for this installment is that they made us human. Just homesick and sad and how being overly-worked and being away from home. All the things that keep you grounded, can put a strain not just on the intimate relationships that you may have, but also the professional ones.
I thought I would never see the day where I would walk into the Enterprise and (Spock and I weren’t) rolling our eyes at each other, but we’re not that excited to see each other.
I thought, ‘This is a great place to start, because I can only imagine where we’re going to end up.’ And we literally end up in the opposite direction, we’re dying to be close to each other and get back together. I thought, ‘That’s brilliant.’
Zachary: I think it ends on a really hopeful note. Yeah, let’s give it hope.
John: On the tour in either Sydney or London someone asked, which timeline would you choose to be in, the original series or (now) if you had the choice? I did say ours, if I was forced to choose.
Roddenberry did set up a world that was incredibly progressive, but it was tempered by the social mores of the era, and I feel we can go further in 2016 than he was able to do at the time. Our version is able to give more to the women or the people of color in the cast than Roddenberry was originally able to, I think.
Simon: Not because he didn’t want to either. He absolutely wanted to.
The character of Sulu has evolved too. When did the come up to give more background into his character and to reveal that he is gay?
John: I believe Simon pitched it, and then I was told of it through Justin pretty early on. I thought it was a beautiful idea. I had concerns about how it would be received by George (Takei, who played the original role). But the handling of it was the most important to me. Having seen the film I think its nonchalant posture toward it is the best thing about it, the fact that it’s normalized.
It’s news now, but if you re-watch the movie in ten years you won’t think anything of it. It will just go right by you. That’s the best thing about it.
Zoe: It wasn’t just that we reveal that he’s gay; we reveal that he’s a father. None of our characters have a family that we’ve ever talked about, so I actually feel quite puzzled that in 2016 we’re having a bit of a fit over who he fathered a baby with.
Simon: What we wanted to do was put somebody we care about in Yorktown, so when Yorktown was under threat that made the threat tangible. We knew that Sulu’s family was there, so it wasn’t just a bunch of faceless federation people. There was someone there that we cared about too, because we care about Sulu.
By the way, the whole thing with George – people like to make things into a spat, George and I email all the time and we have big, long lovely discussions about it and we’re on great terms, we were never shouting at each other.
It’s a great discussion to have, so I’m really happy with the way it has been talked about and responded to, and I’m still a huge fan of GT [George Takei].
In the sixties Star Trek contained so much social commentary. What can the message be now?
Zachary: I think the message is the same as it was when it began. It’s just that we have more room to explore and express it than they did at the time.
It’s shocking to me how divisive our culture has become and I feel like Star Trek maintains a position of inclusivity and unity that is as resonate today as it was in the late sixties. This film in particular explores that idea. One side of that being about the unity and the inclusivity and the other being about breaking that apart. I think that’s in a way reflective of this society we live in today.
It’s troubling to me on such deep levels that we’ve gotten to this point of unwillingness to see varied points-of-view. Feelings, opinions or perspectives. I think that Star Trek remains in a landscape of popular culture entertainment, something that is a beckon of inclusivity and progressive thinking. I just think it takes on different forms now than it did 50 years ago.
Simon: The message of this is we are better together, that’s what it’s about, it’s about collectivism. In this era of Brexit and talking about building walls in certain places, now more than ever we should be thinking about the value of collectivism, cooperation and unity. That can be and is our strength. The more fractured we become the less secure we’ll feel.
We could have called the villain in Star Trek Brexit – it’s quite a science fiction name, isn’t it?
Star Trek Beyond Videobyte
The cast was asked about the unexpected passing of Anton Yelchin, play the videos here to listen to Karl’s, Chris’ and Simon’s heartfelt replies