Star Trek Beyond, the highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew, from screenplay by newcomer Doug Jung (Dark Blue, Banshee) and returning cast member turned co-writer, Simon Pegg.
Special note: On June 19, 2016, the Star Trek family lost one of its own. Anton Yelchin’s unexpected passing has devastated the cast and crew of Beyond. The cast, crew and fans worldwide have come forward to express their love for Anton and his portrayal of Pavel Chekov.
Yelchin will be remembered for his deep, abiding love of film and personal gratitude to be doing the work he was so passionate about. “I’m grateful every day I’m on set. If I ever feel like I’m behaving in a less than grateful way, I’m deeply disappointed in myself, because we are all so wildly fortunate to be doing this beautiful, lunatic thing…the amount of people and effort it takes to craft these images for someone to watch is madness and such a special thing to be a part of.”
In “Beyond,” the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.
“Working on Star Trek was one of the luckiest experiences of my life,” says producer J.J. Abrams, the man responsible for bringing new life to the beloved science fiction franchise, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. “Gene Roddenberry created this incredible world that we’re thrilled to revisit again and again.”
After two films in the director’s chair, 2009’s Star Trek and 2012’s Star Trek: Into Darkness, Abrams and his team selected director Justin Lin, a veteran of the Fast & Furious franchise, to bring Beyond to life.
“Justin has proven himself again and again as an incredibly strong storyteller,” Abrams explains, “but what struck me more than anything was his genuine love of Star Trek. I knew he’d be able to handle the action sequences, but what got me most excited was hearing him talk about these characters if they were people he knew. He’s really the perfect fit.”
Growing up in the 80s, Lin remembers Star Trek reruns becoming a regular part of family time. “The original Star Trek series is incredibly special to me, because watching those old episodes was kind of the only time I got to spend with my parents. The crew of the Enterprise felt like an extension of our family.”
Like Abrams, Lin had experience directing for television before being given the proverbial keys to the franchise. “Star Trek is unique in that it’s crossed a number of mediums,” Lin explains. “Having worked in television, I recognize the challenge J.J. had restarting something episodic and bringing it into the summer tent pole world. We had a lot of conversations about balancing the kind of action you can expect in a big budget action film, while preserving the essence and core of the show.”
“The first film was all about forming the group that would become this family; the second was about galvanizing them in the face of a new threat,” says Abrams. “Both were ultimately Earth bound, so Beyond is the first time we see them on their five-year mission. It’s a chance to see the Enterprise having the kind of adventure you’d associate with the original series, out in the far flung reaches of the galaxy.”
The writers responsible for taking the crew where no man had gone before were franchise newcomer Doug Jung (Dark Blue, Banshee) and returning cast member turned co-writer, Simon Pegg.
“I was working on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in London,” Pegg recalls. “And Bryan Burk (producer of Rogue Nation and Into Darkness) took me aside – I thought he was going to assassinate me – and asked me if I wanted to write it. I completely lost my cool and told him ‘yes, absolutely!’ Then I met Doug, who’s become my absolute wingman and a great friend.”
“Simon and I had never met before,” says Jung. “But I was a huge fan of his work. As we started to throw around ideas, I knew it’d be great having him there, because he’s brilliantly funny, incredibly creative and knows Star Trek so well.”
“I had grown up watching Star Trek,” Jung continues, “but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I was older. Simon’s lifetime of knowledge was a huge burden off because he could say ‘I think Kirk would say this’ or ‘Spock might use this word instead.’ Sometimes he’d play Scotty in the room, very convincingly, and sometimes he’d be Bones or Spock. It was kind of hilarious.”
“When we started, I was still working on Mission: Impossible, getting in late and hopping on a conference call with Doug until god knows when, formulating ideas,” recalls Pegg. “I went to LA and we locked ourselves in a room at Bad Robot and covered white boards with our ideas. Then Doug would come to the UK and stay at my place for a week, just writing and watching original series Star Trek episodes in the evening, picking out details and names of redshirts and various personnel that could also exist in this new timeline. Somehow, we got a first draft together.”
“I really enjoyed the process,” says Jung. “So often as a writer you sit in a room by yourself in the dark and think of something you think is great, but you don’t really know if it works until you run it by someone else. Simon was incredibly collaborative and there’d be these moments where we’d written something and asked ‘can we do this?’ and Justin would tell us ‘go even bigger!’ Left to my own devices, I may not have gotten there.”
One of the bigger plot points that dramatically changes the course of the film is the destruction of the Starship Enterprise, which strands the crew on an unexplored alien planet.
“The stakes are as big as they get,” says Abrams. “After they see the Enterprise ripped to shreds and torn asunder, the crew is thrown all these different directions and forced to survive and reconnect with the rest of the crew. It’s wonderful because we get to see how well these separate pairs work together towards a common goal.”
The destruction of the Enterprise maroons the crew on Altamid, a dangerous alien world. The writers enjoyed pairing characters who had previously shared little screen time, to see what made each character tick.
For example, a newly introspective Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself stranded with youthful optimist Chekov (Anton Yelchin).
“Chekov has heroic moments,” Yelchin once explained. “But what really makes him fun to play is his silliness and optimism. The joyful quality that Walter Koenig (the original Chekov) so beautifully brought to the character, I feel extremely fortunate to get to play with.”
“I loved working with Anton,” recalls J.J. Abrams. “He was a deeply good soul. I can’t believe or stand that he is gone.”
Co-writer Jung explains, “Kirk (Chris Pine) is an alpha male who has had all the answers and lived by the seat of his pants with his hair on fire. He’s proven himself and moved out of his father’s shadow, but now he’s faced with the existential question ‘What now? We liked the idea of putting the more jaded, cynical Kirk with Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who’s young and eager, and much less cynical.”
Chris Pine agrees, stating “The first two films were very Spock and Kirk-centric, but I think Doug and Simon were very smart to break everybody up to see how they all work together, and how they play off of each other. Being the captain of the Enterprise is the most defining thing in Kirk’s life. His father was also the captain of a ship that was destroyed, so the destruction of the Enterprise brings up a complex set of emotions tied to who he is, and I think Kirk sees a lot of himself in Chekov.”
“Where Kirk starts the film unsure of the future, Chekov comes from a place of absolute confidence in the mission,” said Yelchin. “When the Enterprise is destroyed, it really takes away everything they thought was important. They don’t even know if the rest of the crew is alive, so that forces them to relearn the value of love and the respect they have for their crewmates.”
When it came to finding a dramatic and comedic foil for the pragmatic half-Vulcan Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), the writers immediately knew they wanted to pair him with the ever cantankerous Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). As Kirk’s two closest friends, they reliably fail to see eye to eye when making decisions.
“The relationship between Spock and Bones has always been ‘fascinating’, to coin a phrase, and very funny, as they are diametrically opposed to each other in so many ways,” Pegg explains. “Yet somewhere beneath that is a great friendship we wanted to explore.”
“Historically, Bones and Spock are about as different as you can be,” says Quinto. “Whereas Kirk and Spock are two sides of the same coin, Bones and Spock just have completely opposite modes of operation.”
“You get to see the relationship with Bones and Spock develop like you’ve never seen before,” says Urban. “Both of our characters are at a crossroads and dealing with their own internal dilemmas, and being stranded on an alien planet forces us to confront these things together.”
“Spock is much more human and vulnerable in this film,” Quinto explains. “I appreciate the times where the action dials back to give Spock some quieter moments, which are some of the most fun and interesting to play.”
With the real life passing of Leonard Nimoy, filmmakers wanted to memorialize the death of “Spock Prime” and show the impact of his loss on the younger Spock.
“Leonard Nimoy was a profoundly talented actor who became a good friend,” says Abrams. “We wanted to honor his legacy by referencing his passing in the film. I think it would have felt wrong to do otherwise.”
“It was a difficult thing for me in particular,” says Quinto. “Because we were very close and were friends to the end. I believe Simon and Doug did a really fantastic job honoring him in the story, and I think he would have been really proud, grateful and a little embarrassed. It’s a fitting tribute and I’m glad it’s addressed and gracefully so.”
After Spock suffers an injury, Bones finds himself stretched beyond his comfort zone. “He’s a compassionate doctor with a heart of gold who is forced into a situation where he may have to take a life instead of preserving it,” Urban says. “He’s been thrown into the deep end and sort of becomes a curmudgeonly action hero out of necessity.”
“Bones is a character who people really love, and I never quite feel like he gets his due,” laments Pegg. “This was our time to rectify that. As easy as it might be to give Scotty all the cool lines, it felt a bit strange, so a conscious effort was made to share the wealth.”
In addition to losing the Enterprise, the end of Spock and Uhura’s (Zoe Saldana) relationship provides the film with an additional metaphoric casualty.
Says Saldana, “They work together, so it’s a very professional, mature breakup. They’ve been on a five-year mission, and even though they’re tired and extremely homesick they decide to put the mission first and not put stress on their crewmates.”
Before either is able to properly process the split, the ship is torn apart and Uhura finds herself on Altamid with Sulu (John Cho).
Like Pegg, Cho had a visceral reaction to the loss of the Enterprise. “My heart breaks every time we hurt the Enterprise a little bit. It’s tough. I’m the helmsman, so I feel some responsibility for its well-being, and it’s gone through so much more than it deserves. This iteration is particularly violent,” says Cho.
“Without the ship, there’s a natural sense of imbalance, which creates some great narrative tension,” Cho continues. “When I first read the script, I loved how much it tonally reminded me of the original show – there’s humor and strangeness, and a sense of familiarity amongst the crew. I had a lot of fun being in smaller scenes with Zoe.
“I’ve known John for years and I love his sense of humor and commitment to his characters,” says Saldana. “I realized on this film that Uhura and Sulu are very similar in their commitment to their duty and their faith in their crew. They’re counting on the crew as much as the crew is counting on them. It’s a lot like the faith John and I have in each other and the whole creative team.”
“John and I go way back,” recounts Lin. “John was in my first film, Better Luck Tomorrow. I was still financing the film with credit cards, but John had already made it as the “MILF Guy” in American Pie. We’ve both come a long way in our careers since then, but it was pretty incredible to get the chance to work with him again after twelve years.”
Co-writer Simon Pegg returns as chief engineer Montgomery Scott, better known to popular culture as “Scotty.”
“Of the crew, Scotty is probably the most satisfied with his life at the start of the film,” Pegg explains. “He’s doing his thing in the guts of the ship, keeping things moving and obviously, that’s all quickly taken away from him.”
Scotty finds himself depending on Jaylah (franchise newcomer Sofia Boutella) a strong willed, technologically adept alien ally, after she saves his life on the surface of Altamid.
“Jaylah has been alone on Altamid for some time” says Boutella. “She’s had to fend for herself for so long that when Scotty arrives, she sees the potential to make a friend. Even though she’s defensive and guarded, Jaylah and Scotty develop a sort of brother and sister dynamic that Simon and I have off-set.”
“Sofia charmed the socks off of all of us,” Pegg recalls. “She inhabits the character in such a way that made it a real joy to be her foil in the film. She’s super-resourceful and tough. I love that she has this strange, syntactical way of speaking, which makes her feel very alien, and yet she’s unbelievably sympathetic.”
Due to the extensive make-up required for Jaylah, some of Boutella’s days on set began before other’s had ended.
“There were days where I’d wake up at 12:30am to get make-up before a morning shoot,” Boutella recalls. “It’s a long but fun process. When you’re in the chair for so long, you go into a meditative state that really helps you get into character.”
“We wanted to make Jaylah standout,” explains make-up designer and make-up effects supervisor Joel Harlow. “I think the white and black lines of her make-up, combined with the ribbing on her hair gives her a completely unforgettable look.”
“I think Jaylah is my favorite new character,” says Abrams. “She is this unbelievably spirited, sweet, funny, and tough as hell character that becomes a very important ally to the crew, and Sofia did an incredible job of bringing her to life.”