A look back on the development of the seventh Star Trek film is less a study in creativity than an example of a film made by a committee. The strong team assembled by Rick Berman, with their years of experience on The Next Generation, enabled the movie to rise above the constraints of its creation and become as good as it turned out to be.
Paramount made one demand: the film needed to be accessible to the general movie audience. That meant characters and situations had to be fully understandable to someone who had never seen a Star Trek episode.
Also, Rick Berman was determined that the film in some way involved a “passing of the torch” from the original crew to The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart was equally convinced that the first Star Trek crew had to share the spotlight with their successors.
These two requirements alone raised the specter of a film script with fourteen main characters, each of whom would have to be introduced to an audience before the story could even get started.
Considering that none of the previous six films had ever been able to highlight more than just the three main characters of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, it seemed an impossible set of demands.
Berman commissioned the writing of two different scripts with two different approaches to a transgenerational story.
The first was written by Maurice Hurley, a seasoned producer from the series’ first two seasons; the other by first-time feature writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga, who had been two of the most influential writers on The Next Generation.
The second story was ultimately preferred by both the studio and Berman. As it underwent revision, it became apparent that both sets of crews could not be handled in the same script. A draft with only Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was prepared and, drawing on a lesson from the past, Berman approached Leonard Nimoy to direct.
However, Nimoy’s role as Spock was little more than a walk-on: a brief appearance in the first few minutes of the film. As an actor, Nimoy felt that since any of Spock’s lines could easily be said by other characters without changing the nature of the scenes Spock was in, there was no dramatic reason for the character to be there. As a director, Nimoy also wanted to have more input.
Nimoy declined to be involved. DeForest Kelly also declined his cameo role as McCoy, feeling that he had made an effective farewell to the character in Star Trek VI. James Doohan and Walter Koenig agreed reprise their roles as Scotty and Chekov, providing the sense that the torch was being passed from one crew to another as Berman had desired.
William Shatner’s involvement as Kirk was never in contention. He had been involved from the start and given the project his blessing; a blessing that turned out to be Kirk’s death warrant.
Text adapted from Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Continuing Mission (1998)