J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot wasn’t the first time that movie studios toyed with the idea of getting young actors to play the iconic ‘Sixties Star Trek crew of Spock, Kirk, Scotty, et al. In this exclusive excerpt from his book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made author David Hughes tells the story of the Star Trek movie that almost was . . .

By late 1988 the future of the Star Trek franchise was precarious enough that a mischievous Walter Koenig managed to convince fellow cast member George Takei that the sixth Star Trek film would be filmed using animated clay figures. ("Are they going to use our voices?" was Takei's anguished response to the news.)

The studio would almost certainly have abandoned plans for a sixth film if studio head Frank Mancuso had not decided that the show's approaching 25th anniversary afforded them the opportunity to celebrate in style. During this time, Harve Bennett proposed that the Starfleet Academy concept be revived, thereby avoiding the increasing influence and multi-million-dollar pay demands of the ageing Star Trek actors by hiring new ones to portray the youthful adventures of James Tiberius Kirk and his fellow Academy students, including Spock and McCoy.

The project, a kind of "Top Gun in space," was the brainchild of producer Ralph Winter, who originally pitched the idea to Bennett during the development of Star Trek IV. "It's a great story, finding out about this young cocky character on a farm who goes to flight school," Winter explained, "and meets up with the first alien that comes from Vulcan, and how they meet the other characters. It would have been a great gift for the fans on the 25th anniversary." As Winter saw it, the future had to begin somewhere.

"This young cocky character on a farm who goes to flight school and meets up with the first alien from Vulcan!"

The resulting script, written by The Final Frontier screenwriter David Loughery and entitled Star Trek: The Academy Years, begins after the events of the previous film, as Dr Leonard McCoy addresses a group of graduating Starfleet cadets, and is asked about his famous former shipmates, Kirk and Spock. "What were they like?" one asks. "Were they friends?" enquires another. To their surprise, McCoy scoffs at the idea. "I never met two less likely candidates for friendship in my entire life," he says, adding that Kirk and Spock were as different as night and day, or "Vulcan and Iowa." From there, the story flashes back to Iowa, where a young Jim Kirk is scolded by his brother, Sam, for recklessly flying his "futuristic cropduster". With shades of Luke Skywalker, Jim looks fated to remain Earthbound on his small-town farm - until he is accepted as one of a hundred new recruits at Starfleet Academy. Meanwhile, on Vulcan, young Spock is also being dissuaded from accepting a place at Starfleet Academy, where he would be the first and only student with Vulcan blood.

Arriving in San Francisco, where the Academy is based, Jim accepts a speeder bike ride from a young woman, Cassandra Hightower, who will become his love interest; gets into a dust-up with a fellow cadet, Kalibar; meets his new roommate, Leonard McCoy - whom he instantly christens 'Bones'; and a young engineering officer, Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott, who worked on a warp propulsion project with Jim's pilot father, George Kirk, until he was presumed dead after his test ship, the Bonaventure, disappeared during an experimental dilithium-fuelled warp jump.

As the cadets settle in, and Kirk grows closer to Cassandra, it becomes clear that the story takes place before the 'enlightenment' spoken of in several episodes of the original series. Slavery still drives many economies, including the one on Kalibar's homeworld, where Kalibar is next in line for the throne. Racial prejudice is also a powerful force in the universe, as evidenced by a beating Spock suffers at the hands of Kalibar and his cronies, and from which he is rescued by Kirk. Kalibar is expelled for the beating, just as he learns that his father has been killed in a coup d'etat, an event possibly linked to the signing of a new anti-slavery proclamation by Kodaris, an ambassador from Kalibar's homeworld.

But Kirk and Spock have troubles of their own: both are confined to quarters for cheating (Spock helped Kirk on his quantum mechanics exam by using a Vulcan mind-meld), while McCoy and Cassandra report to their first assignment aboard an old starship, described in the script as "a war horse, battered and patched. Its design may not be familiar, but its name is: U.S.S. Enterprise." But before they can complete their mission - returning Ambassador Kodaris to his homeworld Kalibar attacks, disabling the Enterprise, and threatens to destroy the ship unless Kodaris is released to his custody. Hearing of its plight, Kirk, Spock and Scotty steal a prototype warp ship, the Bonaventure II, from the Starfleet museum, arriving too late - the Enterprise is badly damaged, its captain is dead, its crew dying.

Beaming aboard the stricken ship, Kirk, Spock, Scotty and McCoy leap into action, each assuming roles with echoes of their future posts, as they take on Kalibar's ship in a jury-rigged, warp-capable Enterprise of their own devising. With Kalibar defeated and the Enterprise saved, the four (five, counting Nurse Chapel) go their separate ways, fated to meet again. At this point, the script cuts back (or rather, forward) to the present day (i.e., post-Star Trek V), where McCoy finishes his story. His communicator beeps, as Scotty asks if he's ready to beam back aboard the Enterprise. McCoy excuses himself from the group of Starfleet cadets, and takes a last look around. "Beam me up, Scotty," he says.


Next: "Star Trek fans were increasingly antagonistic towards the Starfleet Academy concept"



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