Maybe a TNG film IS what we need...
I'm kidding. During Strange New Pod's New York Comic Con wrap-up, we talked about how the idea of another Next Generation film is troublesome. Especially when there are newer Trek shows on Paramount Plus like Discovery and Lower Decks and shows from the TNG era like Deep Space Nine and Voyager that never had the opportunity to make a film. Sorry Enterprise, it ain't gonna happen.
New details have emerged during an interview with Esquire with writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, who now famously are the head writers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power over on Prime Video about the direction Star Trek 4 would have gone.
A quick note. The Star Trek 4 discussed in this article is a different script and project than the one that Paramount just canceled. Although Chris Hemsworth was rumored to be returning for that project, this script could have still been adapted in one form or another.
In that interview, McKay detailed how their Star Trek 4 script was a "father-son space adventure - think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We had an original villain and a really cool 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque sci-fi idea."
Both Payne and McKay would continue to detail how they would bring George Kirk back into the fold via transporter pattern buffers and space magic. Kirk and the Enterprise would find the Kelvin's wreckage (we'll talk about that in a minute), and as Payne put it, "beam him out and he has no idea that no time has passed at all, and that's he's looking at his son."
I was on yellow alert when I heard they would try and bring George Kirk back. I have never been in love with the idea, whether it was time travel or some other mechanism. But reading these new details has me on full red alert. It just doesn't work for a variety of reasons. Allow me to go full nerd for a second.
For one thing, there's no wreckage to find. In Star Trek, the Kelvin's auto-pilot was fatally damaged during Narada's attack on the ship. George Kirk heroically sets the Kelvin on a collision course with the Narada to buy time for the escape shuttlecrafts, one carrying his wife and newborn son Jim, enough time to get out of weapons range. When that ship hits, George goes flying, and the Kelvin explodes, severely damaging the Narada in the process. There's no way for George to put himself in the buffer because there's no ship left. Period.
All the technical mumbo jumbo aside, Jim Kirk's journey throughout the Kelvin Trilogy is intertwined with his father's noble sacrifice. Without it, he's the James T. Kirk we know from The Original Series. Let's look at all the moments spanning all three films that would not have the same impact if George Kirk suddenly returned from the dead, and maybe a couple where it could work.
George Kirk's Sacrifice and the Birth of Jim:
In my opinion, this is one of the best openings of any film genre in motion picture history. It has action, drama, a freaking birth, and ultimate sacrifice packed into just over eleven minutes. George's heroic death means he's not there for Jim. In the film, Spock tells this version of Kirk that in his universe, his father was one of the main reasons he pursued joining Starfleet.
While Geroge's passing has more of a negative effect on young Jim, his story inspires others like Christopher Pike, who wrote his Academy dissertation on the Kelvin's encounter with the Narada. If George suddenly comes back, some of the emotional weight of these eleven beautiful minutes is taken away. Speaking of Christopher Pike...
"Your Father was Captain of a Starship for Twelve Minutes..."
While the sanctity of this scene between Captain Pike and a badly beaten Jim Kirk wouldn't necessarily be tainted by the return of George Kirk, one of our collective members said it perfectly on our Discord server: "nothing should ever happen that undermines this line or adds an asterisk to it."
The quick way to take away everything this scene meant for Star Trek would be to use the massively overused time travel trope. What's the holy grail in Payne and McKay's vision? Is it a way to reverse the course of events that created the Kelvin verse, saving Vulcan and restoring the prime timeline?
In no way am I saying that's the direction the film would have gone in, but if perhaps it was, it would render the entire Kelvin Trilogy meaningless. As my friend Emcee put it, "the destruction of the Kelvin and George's [Kirk] death need to be a fixed point."
"A Year Older Than He Ever Got To Be..."
Jim's entire journey through three films is his attempt to live up to the name of George Kirk. As Bones says to him, "You've spent all this time trying to be George Kirk, now your wondering just what it means to be Jim...why you're out here."
And that's why he doesn't know it's what he wants at this point in his career. George joined Starfleet because of a belief in the system, while Jim joined on Pike's dare to do better.
George's death also creates a beautiful, if not somber connection to Jim's prime universe counterpart. In that universe, Kirk hates birthdays because it's one step closer to retirement, one step closer to not flying starships. For Jim of the Kelvin verse, he hates birthdays because it's also the day his dad gave his life to save him. As our headline for this section quotes, "A year older than he ever got to be."
It would be a shame to take away this connection and grief Kirk holds for his father despite never meeting him. That connection, I think, also helps Jim realize that just like his father and prime counterpart, he loves flying starships. George's return would rob Jim of something that makes Pine's version of Kirk special and unique.
Is George Kirk returning to the Kelvin verse entirely out of the picture? No, I don't think so. Here is one way I think bringing Chris Hemsworth back into the fold could work out.
Bring Back Jennifer Morrison as Winona Kirk
Imagine. Star Trek 4 opens in Iowa on the Kirk family ranch. Even all these decades later, Winona Kirk is feeling the pain of George's sacrifice. She walks up to the attic and starts going through his personal belongings. While going through them, Winona comes across a PADD with a log entry that she had never heard before. She plays it. George's voice comes through the device, and Winona listens as the scene slowly fades from Winona's point of view to being front and center with George on an alien world. The log continues...
"We've found something down here. We're not entirely sure; a set of coordinates? Our translators are making it out to be something important, the kind of important that will change the galaxy forever. We're being called away though. Something unusual has shown up on Kelvin's sensors and we're going to investigate." In the distance, you hear the voice of Captain Robau calling for George to get moving. The shot pulls away as massive arches can be seen with the most beautiful glyphs. They are so massive they almost reach the atmosphere.
The arches fade back to Winona, with a shocked look on her face. As she continues to go through the logs franticly, Winona looks up, holds her communicator, flips it, and says, "Jim." Roll Giacchino's score and opening credits. The film would go on to be a Last Crusade style adventure on the Enterprise with Winona onboard, utilizing flashbacks from George's time on the planet.
In my humble opinion, that is the one way you get George Kirk back on screen. But for the most part, it seems like Star Trek 4 was better left on the shelf than actually put into production. What do you think? Would you have watched J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay's Star Trek film? How would you have brought back George Kirk? Let us know in the comments.