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In the Star Trek franchise, there have been many “lost” or scrapped episode/movie ideas. Many of them were either absorbed into other projects while others were discarded outright. One of the more interesting ones was Star Trek: The Beginning, a 2005 movie pitch that would have explored the “Romulan War” and the founding of the United Federation of Planets (major historical events within the Star Trek mythos between the events in Enterprise and the original series). This project got as far as a first draft before it was ultimately shelved and replaced with JJ Abrams’s Star Trek feature.
But what was the story behind it? How was this going to revitalize the Star Trek franchise? And what caused Paramount to look the other way?
In 2005, Enterprise was canceled, but Paramount still wanted to do something with Star Trek. Then-Star Trek overseer Rick Berman came up with the concept of Star Trek: The Beginning with scriptwriter Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers). It was said to have featured the beginnings of the Romulan War and centers on Tiberius Chase, a brash young pilot who hatches a daring plan to thwart a Romulan plot to invade the planet Earth. Jendresen also claims that Chase was to be a “progenitor” of Captain Kirk (whatever that actually means).
According to script reviews, The Beginning had an epic tone and had the feel of a World War II film (including voice-over letters by Chase to his love interest back home). If produced, the movie would have been much darker and militaristic than what was typical for most Star Trek movies (but still keeping within the Star Trek themes). Unlike the Abrams’s Star Trek, this film would have been in continuity with the then-current canon with references to the crew of NX-01 (from Enterprise) and an appearance from the fan-favorite character Shran (Jeffery Combs). If successful, it would have been the first entry of a trilogy of Star Trek films.
I, personally, never read a script, but I have read a few detailed summaries online over the years. I am not sure how much of what I read was actually true to the first draft, but I was intrigued by this project. I think there was a lot of potential there. While it is steeped in Star Trek lore, there was enough of a fresh starting point to bring in new movie-goers. Plus, it might have given the franchise a fresh perspective.
On the other hand, with World War II movies being a heavy reference point, it could have come off clichéd with nothing overly original. Old-school Trekkies might be put off with the more militaristic aspect of the film and it could have marginalized movie-goers even further with Star Trek by not seeming like Star Trek at face value. I guess it would have depended on who they got to direct the movie.
So, what happened with it? According to Jendresen, there was a regime change at Paramount and the folks who were excited about the project were replaced with people who likely wanted to do their own thing. Interviews with Rick Berman at the time seemed to suggest that Paramount was always uninterested in the film pitch and even Berman seemed unenthusiastic with it. If my reading of his tone is right, then I wouldn’t be surprised. He was at the end of his contract with Paramount and was likely just doing something to fill his remaining time (a later interview with Jendresen claims that Berman was involved with this project “in name only”). The only person who seemed to be genuinely excited and disappointed with The Beginning not going through was Jendresen.
Other reports seemed to suggest that Paramount was uncertain about the film not having any established Star Trek characters in the film and that it was so different from anything else Star Trek. They were afraid that audiences will reject it because of that (which is honestly a really valid point). Having such a radically different take on the material is always a risk and gamble. In 2005, the Star Trek franchise was in a fragile place, and Paramount decided that they couldn’t afford to really rock the boat that much and shelved it by the end of that year.
In the end, it was probably best that Star Trek: The Beginning didn’t go through. I think there was a lot of potential there, but from a studio perspective, it would not have had that wider appeal Star Trek needed to have in order to be successful. If The Beginning was a comic or novel series targeted at the fan base, it would likely succeed. In its place, we got JJ Abrams’s fun, bright, and energetic Star Trek. The rest is history.