Next week, we rediscover our love for Star Trek. The classic space opera has had its ups and downs over the years, but it's always turned death into a fighting chance for life. Still, it's hard not to think about some of the amazing paths Trek could have taken. Here are 10 great missed opportunities from Star Trek's history.
To assemble this list, we did a ton of brainstorming and mind-melding — but we also talked to Anthony Pascale from the indispensible TrekMovie.com and Robert Meyer Burnett, CEO of the Ludovico Technique and producer of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-rays, who gave us a ton of great ideas.
So here are 10 things that Star Trek missed out on, that could have been amazing:
No clue whether Star Trek: Planet of the Titans would have been great or awful, but the thought of Toshiro Mifune as a Klingon is too exhilarating for words. Titans was the Star Trek movie they were trying to make in 1976-1977, and Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff, Unbearable Lightness of Being) was on board to direct. Kaufman, who also wrote one script draft, wanted to make something cerebral and a little trippy — this was the era between 2001 and Star Wars, after all — and he wanted the focus to be on Spock versus a Klingon, played by the Rashomon star. See Planet of the Titans concept art here.
According to Burnett, the original story treatment for Star Trek III was more serious and thought-provoking — and wouldn't have screwed up the Klingons. Producer Harve Bennett's original treatment features Romulans instead of Klingons, who arrive with their cloaking Bird of Prey, to investigate the Genesis Planet, which has appeared out of nowhere. And because the planet is littered with Dilithium crystals, they set up a mining operation — until they start getting picked off, one by one, by a feral Spock, whose aging is tied to the planet's. Meanwhile, Vulcan is so horrified to discover that the Federation created such a terrible weapon as the Genesis Device, the Vulcans want to secede from the Federation. Kirk has to go to Vulcan, with the crew of the Enterprise, to face the angry Vulcans. Burnett feels like this would have been a more serious, "perilous" and above all epic story — and it would have featured a Romulan commander along the lines of the thoughtful antagonist from the original Romulan story, "Balance of Terror." This would have been a much better film, and might have elevated the franchise to a new level — instead of the more pedestrian Star Trek III, which among other things redefines the Klingons as over-the-top cartoons, influencing their portrayal for years afterwards.
Back in the mid-1980s, Eddie Murphy was on top of the world, having just starred in Beverly Hills Cop — and he was very seriously in talks to play a major supporting role in Star Trek IV, the one where Kirk and his crew go back to present-day Earth to look for whales. This was when Eddie Murphy was at the top of his game, and he probably would have added a serious comedic spark to the funniest of the Trek films. This came pretty close to happening, and then fell through at the last minute — so Murphy could go off and do The Golden Child instead, says Pascale. Sigh.
Remember that episode where Riker meets his transporter twin, who's still in love with Deanna Troi and is less of a swaggering smirkface? This was right around the time when Riker (and TNG in general) really needed a change — and they came very close to killing off Will Riker and replacing him permanently with Tom Riker. Data would have become first officer, and Tom Riker would have taken a less senior position on the bridge, because his rank was lower. This would have been a fascinating change, allowing the show to explore its cast's dynamics a whole new way — but without major cast changes or alterations too jarring for casual viewers to roll with. (And they needn't have killed off Will Riker — they could have finally given him a ship to command, which he was overdue for.) But in the end, they skipped this idea.
Star Trek: Generations easily counts as one of the great missed opportunities in the series' history. You already have William Shatner on board to be in your film, along with a few of the other TOS actors — why not make it a proper passing of the torch, and meeting of the captains, in their element? Why not build a story around the differences between the two Enterprise crews and captains? If they had only given us something as good as the TNG episode "Relics," in which Scotty is rescued, Generations would have been a moving film. Not saying that we wanted fanservice, or a sop to those of us who wanted to see Picard battle Kirk — just that we deserved a good story, in which Kirk's return is an important, not incidental, part of the narrative. If you don't have any ideas for how to use Kirk properly, just don't include him at all.
Pretty much from the moment Sulu got his own command in Star Trek VI, actor George Takei and many of the fans were clamoring for a Captain Sulu TV show. Maybe this was never a serious possibility — but dammit, a show about Sulu and the crew of the Excelsior could have been so good. With lots of crazy starship battles and exploration and a proper continuation of the 1980s film series.
For a while, the You've Got Mail star was in talks to play the key role of Zefram Cochrane, inventor of the warp drive, in this time-traveling Borg movie. Hanks might well have brought an extra layer of charm to the role, which was finally played by the most excellent James Cromwell instead. Plus Hanks actually sort of looked like Glenn Corbett, who played the role on television. In any case, if Hanks had joined the First Contact cast, Pascale believes this could have massively increased the film's box office and cemented Trek's status as a pop culture juggernaut.
Star Trek: Voyager had a really simple but fascinating premise: a starship cut off from the rest of the Federation, forced to survive on its own for years or decades... and some of the crewmembers are already people who'd rebelled against the Federation. Sadly, the show's creators didn't want to invest in this premise, including basic things like "running out of photon torpedos" or "being unable to make some repairs," and they were allergic to any real conflict among the characters. Most notably, when Deep Space Nine ended and Ronald D. Moore joined the writing staff, Moore pushed for slightly more realism in the depiction of life on the other side of the galaxy — and wound up having to leave the show after just one episode.
The Star Trek prequel was the first Trek show to get less than seven seasons since the Original Series — and it ended "just when the show was getting good," says Pascale. At long last, Enterprise had stopped getting mired in Temporal Cold War shenanigans and had started exploring the origins of the Federation. New showrunner Manny Coto (Odyssey 5) had tons of great ideas for building on the Trek legacy, which we would have seen if the show had lasted one more year. But it was too late — the show had already lost too many viewers by the time Coto started turning the ship around.
Star Trek needed a long rest after Enterprise went off the air — from 1986 to 2005, the series had constantly been on television and at the movies. Not to mention tons of games. But Trek really needs a new TV show now — especially one that goes further into the future and starts exploring the Big Questions again. And Bryan Singer toyed with the idea of pitching a brand new Trek show during the making of Superman Returns, with input from Burnett and Geoffrey Thorne. You can read tons of details here, but in a nutshell Federation would have taken place in the far future, after the Federation has become "fat and happy," and needs a new Enterprise and a new Kirk to inspire it. And meanwhile, a brand new threat called the Scourge threatens to destroy everything humanity has built. It definitely sounds like the sort of thing that could make Trek exciting and thought-provoking again — and Pascale points out that there are tons of other TV show pitches sitting in drawers, waiting for someone at CBS to be willing to pick up the phone. Maybe after this next movie, we'll finally get to see a new Trek on the small screen?
All photos via TrekCore except for Federation logo, designed by Mike Okuda.