Star Trek Beyond hasn't even been released yet, but Paramount have already announced the continuation of the movies — it's official, Star Trek 4 is a go, and it has the potential to reinvent the franchise once again. This is thanks to the revelation that Chris Hemsworth will be returning to play Kirk's father in Star Trek 4, via what we can only imagine to be some kind of fun time travel shenanigans.
George Kirk's appearance in the movie could signal a radical shift in the franchise, as he was (briefly) captain of the USS Kelvin, the ship for which the entire new timeline is named after. It was his battle with the Romulan captain Nero that splintered the continuity, starting off a chain of events that deviate drastically from The Original Series we know and love.
So could George's appearance in Star Trek 4 mean that the crew of the Enterprise are about to revisit this game-changing event? And what does this mean for the entire franchise, including the new TV show? Well, we would be doing our jobs if we didn't take this small piece of information as an invitation to speculate wildly, so here goes.
Boldly Going Back To Prime
When JJ Abrams took the helm of the 2009 Star Trek movie, this signalled an interesting shakeup for one of Hollywood's most beloved and enduring franchises. After Nemesis was dubbed the worst film in Star Trek history in 2002, the golden era of Trek TV shows finally ended with Enterprise's cancellation in 2005. By 2009, Paramount were looking for a way to reinvigorate the franchise, and they chose the reboot route, taking the story right back to Kirk's younger years and sending him off in a new direction.
This caused shockwaves to ripple out through the Trek fandom, producing a divide that is still prominent today. Abrams' Star Trek was a glossy and exciting affair, establishing an alternate timeline for any subsequent movies to play in. This had the effect of preserving all that had come before, but many fans didn't see it that way. While the new movies had the fantastic effect of introducing the next generation of audiences to Star Trek, they also sparked some of the biggest arguments to rock the Trek fandom (and for a fanbase that has argued over the smallest of syntax mistakes in Klingon dialects, that's saying something).
Suffice it say that many fans would love to see the Prime Timeline reinstated, which is why the announcement of Bryan Fuller's new Star Trek TV show was met with such excitement — the press release didn't reveal whether this series would take place in the Prime Timeline, but it did categorically state that the show has nothing to do with Star Trek: Beyond.
So far so good — the two franchise seemed to be moving along nicely, on parallel but separate tracks. But what if the movies do go back to the Prime Timeline in Star Trek 4?
The Trouble With Timelines
Obviously, we don't know anything about how, or why, George Kirk is returning for Star Trek 4. When we last saw him the the 2009 film, he was piloting the USS Kelvin on a collision course with Nero's ship, allowing his crew to escape unharmed. There doesn't seem to be any way for Kirk senior to have survived the crash, but as we all know, in scifi no-one ever truly dies.
However, it seems unlikely that George miraculously survived, as that way we would be seeing an older version of George, and why bother signing Chris Hemsworth if you're just going to cover him in age make up? What a travesty that would be.
The other obvious option is that Jim Kirk will travel back in time somehow and meet the father he never knew. In light of this Star Trek 4 announcement, all those comments about Kirk's father in the second Star Trek: Beyond trailer have gone from poignant to foreshadowing. Nicely done, Paramount.
So, say the crew do travel back in time. This would hardly be the first time a Trek movie has taken this task on — two of the best Trek films, The Voyage Home and First Contact tackled time travel head on, with fantastic results.
But this could be another massive game changer — whatever actions the crew takes in the past could herald the creation of yet another alternate timeline, or a redirection into the Prime Timeline again. If Kirk decides to do a Barry Allen and save his father, then we'd be right back to a version of events in which James Tiberius Kirk grows up with his good old dad to guide him — in the Prime Timeline, George had a huge influence on Jim's life, teaching him moral values, instilling in him a love of literature, and inspiring him to greatness.
Seeking Out A New Future
What this could mean for the future of the franchise really makes the mind boggle. Long before the MCU was a twinkle in Kevin Feige's eye, Star Trek was pioneering an era of the empire of franchises, those that stretch beyond movies into TV shows too. Except, for Trek, the TV series were what started things off, and for many people that's always been what Trek is really about.
Trek's heyday saw movies featuring the TOS cast in cinemas while The Next Generation played on small screens, and when that show ended we got the same thing as the TNG cast made their cinematic debut while Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and finally Enterprise dominated TV. These stories were all interwoven into one narrative, although each part of the franchise followed a different thread.
That was back when Paramount and CBS were more closely connected, of course. It's unlikely that we'll ever see a combined Trek cinematic universe again, though who knows — if Star Trek 4 really does take the movies back to the Prime Timeline, and Fuller's show is also set in that continuity, the option is always there for the two halves of the franchise to unite once more... especially in light of the revelation that Netflix will play the Trek TV shows on screens across the world.
But we'll just have to wait and see to find out. Until then, we can always catch Beyond in cinemas, and continue counting down the days until the new Trek TV show finally premieres. It's a good time to be a Trekkie.
Do you want the movies to return to the Prime Timeline?