If you look closely enough at most franchises you’ll often find some unexplained gap in the story which can be exploited for another movie or TV show. For the past decads, Hollywood executives have been tasking producers and writers with finding those gaps, spending millions to find the narrative opening which will allow them to squeeze out as much as they can from an intellectual property. It’s what happens in an industry increasingly pre-occupied with remakes, reboots, revivals or, as THR called them “requels.” If a new rumor is to be believed, Star Trek is but the latest example.
According to BirthMoviesDeath, the new Bryan Fuller-produced Star Trek series set up at CBS All Access “won’t be set in the JJ Abrams reboot universe. The new show will be set in the original, classic continuity.” Specifically, it will take place “some time after the events of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, so between the original series and The Next Generation. ”
If true, Star Trek will revisit a timeline Paramount effectively waved away back in 2009. Furthermore, it will do so in such a way that prevents Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager cast members from returning, even if just to cameo. The Original Series characters could theoretically appear, although at this point half of that cast has passed away. William Shatner might be entirely sustained by his conviction to make one last appearance as Kirk after being left out of the J.J. Abrams movies and disliking his character’s death in Generations.
This ultimately looks like Bryan Fuller’s attempt to exploit one of the more obvious gaps in Star Trek lore: what exactly happened in the 71 years between Undiscovered Country and “Encounter at Far Point” (Next Gen‘s pilot)?
We’ve been told bits and pieces here and there, but we’ve never had a film or TV show devote itself exclusively to filling that gap, albeit just partially. The new Star Trek will reportedly follow an anthology format with a new time period and cast each season, but at least for this one season there’s, as BMD said, “a rich vein of stories to be mined between the years of the swashbuckling OG crew and the more reserved TNG crew.”
Where’s the gap in the story we already know? That’s how we got a prequel about Sleeping Beauty‘s villain Maleficent, and a Rocky spin-off finally revealed what became of Apollo Creed’s family after his death in Rocky IV. That’s not necessarily the angle we knew they were going to take with this new Star Trek. Why not make a simple sequel series to Next Gen, or something entirely new in the Abrams universe? However, Fuller has recently proven himself quite adept at filling in the gap of the familiar. His Hannibal not only prequeled Silence of the Lambs but also Manhunter and Red Dragon, showing us what had previously only been told.
That grey area between what we’ve been told to be true and what we’ve actually seen with our eyes is often the only opening needed for franchise-obsessed Hollywood executives. For example, Disney is now spending untold millions on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a feature-length depiction of how exactly Princess Leia got the Death Star plans prior to the start of A New Hope . Once upon a time, that type of story would have only been told in fan fiction and expanded universe novelizations/comic books. Now it can become its own big budget movie.
Of course, Disney can get away with that because in the wake of Force Awakens putting the Star Wars name on anything right now is as good as printing money. Plus, it does fit into LucasFilm’s longer-term devotion to filling in the gaps of the Star Wars story. They’ve just usually done that through animated TV shows. Six seasons of The Clone Wars explained the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenges of the Sith, and Rebels is currently two seasons into its run of explaining what happened between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Thankfully, our first glimpse at Rogue One has everyone excited, and this gap-filling story looks like it has provided the skeleton for a massively engaging movie.
That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the “untold story of a familiar legend” ends up looking like this:
And no one particularly cared to learn about that one time Peter Pan and Captain Hook were best pals before becoming enemies.
Sony struck a similar tone with its 2012 tagline for The Amazing Spider-Man, promising us “the untold story begins,” teasing that they would finally answer the question of what exactly became of Peter Parker’s parents. Because that is the obvious gap in the Peter Parker origin story: Before he ever gets to Aunt May and Uncle Ben, he has to first lose his parents. Marc Webb’s, ahem, spin on the character wasn’t going to look past that the way Sam Raimi had.
Of course, then “nearly everything involving Peter Parker’s family was stripped from ASM 1 at the last minute, perhaps so that the filmmakers could save a little something for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which opens with a flashback action sequence that offs poor Peter’s mom and dad.” As Vulture joked after the release of ASM 2, “No one cares [about Peter Parker’s parents]. Nobody is clamoring to know more about Peter’s dad. The only thing we learned about Peter’s mom is that her hair looks nice when a plane is crashing. Let those characters be and never touch them again, please. These movies’ running times will thank you for it.”
And there’s the rub: In the brave new world of franchise-building where you’re constantly playing with pre-made toys, when you notice a gap in a familiar story which can be exploited for obvious marketing purposes the true question is not “What happened there?” but instead “Does anyone care?” Disney is betting Star Wars fans have been dying to know where those Death Star plans came from. Bryan Fuller might be guessing that we’re super curious to see what really did happen in the Star Trek universe to take us from swashbuckling Kirk to stiff upper lip Picard.
They’re probably right, but with recent examples like Pan and The Amazing Spider-Man 1-2 it’s easy to see where you could go wrong with this kind of thing. For example, should Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale die tomorrow and Universal put a new Back to the Future into production the day after that there’s an obvious gap in the familiar story: how exactly did Doc Brown and Marty McFly become friends? That used to be a question only answered in fan-service books and comics. However, with Hollywood mining every minute detail of old stories for new angles a Doc/Marty origin story would probably be on the table if Zemeckis and Gale didn’t have such firm legal hold on the Back to the Future rights. For properties which aren’t quite so safeguarded, the key creatives in charge have to recognize whether certain questions actually deserve to be answered in film or on TV. I trust Bryan Fuller with Star Trek. What about you?