Set phasers to stun! The En­ter­prise crew face their most dan­ger­ous ad­ven­ture ever


FIVE HUN­DRED Star Trek fans are crammed into Stage 31 on the Para­mount lot in Los An­ge­les, a space that’s been gussied up to look like part of the U.S.S. En­ter­prise. They’re vis­i­bly ex­cited, show­ing off tat­toos of ob­scure quotes in a va­ri­ety of lan­guages (both Earthly and alien), com­par­ing vin­tage Trek T-shirts and clutch­ing each other for self­ies. Some have trav­elled more than 5,000 miles to be here. Tonight — 20 May, 2016 — is a big deal. Two months ahead of the re­lease of

Star Trek Be­yond, Para­mount has brought them to­gether to watch a se­lec­tion of footage, meet cast and crew, and hope­fully dis­sem­i­nate hype. The fans are thrilled, but ner­vous. A man next to

Em­pire lists all his dis­ap­point­ments with the last movie, Into Dark­ness — “It was just a messed-up re­tread” — but asked how he’s feel­ing about its fol­low-up he of­fers crossed fin­gers. Their nerves, though, are noth­ing com­pared to those of the man pi­lot­ing Be­yond.

A few hours be­fore the event, Em­pire is sit­ting with Justin Lin, Be­yond’s di­rec­tor, in an edit­ing suite in Pasadena, where he’s try­ing to fin­ish his movie. His of­fice is scat­tered with para­pher­na­lia: an equal mix of Star Trek and his other pas­sion, bas­ket­ball. An enor­mous, size 16 pair of Adidas hi-tops signed by Ka­reem Ab­dul-jab­bar sit on a shelf above Lin’s head. A ma­que­tte of a Star Trek alien stares benev­o­lently at Em­pire from a cof­fee ta­ble. His first love and his new love, both rep­re­sented. Lin shows us a 20-minute se­quence from

Be­yond, in which the En­ter­prise is de­stroyed by a lo­cust-like swarm of alien ships, led by mys­te­ri­ous alien bad­die Krall (Idris Elba), who is af­ter some glow­ing green artefact and rips the En­ter­prise apart to get it. Dur­ing the fi­nal sec­onds, what’s left of the En­ter­prise crashes into a planet, some of the crew es­cap­ing, oth­ers snatched as pris­on­ers by Krall. It’s a spec­tac­u­lar set-piece, a trun­cated ver­sion of which will be shown that night. Lin paces skit­tishly be­hind us as it plays.

“The fans are ex­pect­ing a lot,” Lin sighs, flop­ping down onto a sofa, “I’ve never had en­gage­ment like this… It’s…” He tries to find the right words to ex­plain. “It’s not sur­pris­ing, and I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the pas­sion, but I hope that tonight will be the start of a re­la­tion­ship be­tween me and [the fans]… They can as­sume I’m just the Fast And Fu­ri­ous guy com­ing in, and I get that, but I hope that we can have a great re­la­tion­ship and they can see that this, Star Trek, is a part of me.” LET’S WARP BACK

three years, a time be­fore Lin. Star Trek is in sta­sis. Into

Dark­ness, the sec­ond in­stal­ment of the re­booted se­ries, while a solid box-of­fice hit with $467 mil­lion world­wide, has not gone down well with the core fans, both lift­ing too much from the orig­i­nal saga and tak­ing too many re­vi­sion­ist lib­er­ties. At a Las Ve­gas Star Trek con­ven­tion it has been named the worst Star

Trek movie ever (they should prob­a­bly re-watch some of the Next Gen­er­a­tion en­tries). J.J. Abrams, di­rec­tor of both of the movies in the re­boot se­ries, has an­nounced he will not be re­turn­ing for a third. He’s set­ting course for an­other movie: Star Wars.

Ini­tially all seems sorted when, in May 2014, Roberto Orci, the screen­writer of Abrams’ two movies, is pro­moted to the di­rec­tor’s seat. He barely gets a chance to warm it. By De­cem­ber, Orci is of­fi­cially off the project, due to that

great Hol­ly­wood va­guery “cre­ative dif­fer­ences”, tak­ing his script with him. The next Trek can­not move its date, be­cause fail­ing to re­lease a film in 2016, Star Trek’s 50th an­niver­sary year, is un­think­able. It will still come out in July 2016, but no­body knows who is go­ing to ac­tu­ally make it, or what story they’ll tell. It’s an odd time for the En­ter­prise crew, who have no idea if or when they’ll be re­form­ing.

“You feel like a child caught be­tween two par­ents who are try­ing to fig­ure some shit out and you’re just like, ‘Call me when you’re ready. Let me know what’s up,’” says Zoe Sal­dana, who plays Uhura. “I think that’s the most re­spect­ful thing we could do be­cause what was go­ing on re­ally had noth­ing to do with us.” Not all of the crew were, at the time, even set on re­turn­ing, feel­ing as stung by Star Trek Into Dark­ness as some of the fans. “I was ac­tu­ally on the fence about com­mit­ting to this movie,” says Karl Ur­ban, aka Bones. “Un­less I had a func­tion and pur­pose in this film, what’s the point of me be­ing there? Mccoy’s re­la­tion­ship with Kirk was com­pletely in­ferred in Into Dark­ness. There wasn’t any­thing for me to do.”

Pro­ducer Bryan Burke did the only thing that re­ally made sense. He looked for help within the ex­ist­ing Star Trek fam­ily.

IN AU­GUST 2015,

on the Van­cou­ver set of Be­yond, Simon Pegg is dash­ing about a lot, be­cause he has two jobs now: be­ing Scotty, the En­ter­prise’s chief en­gi­neer, and writ­ing the script. If he’s not in front of the cam­era, he’s be­hind it with a lap­top. “I was work­ing on

Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble [— Rogue Na­tion] with Bryan Burke, who was the pro­ducer on the first two Star Trek films [and Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble; he also

re­mains a named pro­ducer on Be­yond],” Pegg says, briefly lib­er­ated from his com­puter. “Just be­fore Christ­mas, Bryan started talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of go­ing in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion with the script [for Be­yond]. We were chat­ting 

about it in a hy­po­thet­i­cal way and I think one day he just said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I said yes, be­cause it seemed like a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity.” Pegg has al­ways been the one true Trekker of the cast, the one who could be re­lied upon to know any de­tail the oth­ers don’t. John Cho, who plays Sulu, says, “You can go to him with pretty much any­thing — ‘Ex­actly how fast is warp?’ — and he’ll tell you.” As co-screen­writer of Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead, among oth­ers, Pegg also came with im­pec­ca­ble broader geek cre­den­tials.

Pegg was paired up with Doug Jung, whose writ­ing cred­its were pre­vi­ously all for TV (Big

Love, Ban­shee, Dark Blue), and tasked with giv­ing the se­ries a new di­rec­tion. “I’ve never seen Bob Orci’s script and I don’t know much about it. They kept it from us so we could have a clear run,” says Pegg. “We were sent off to Bad Ro­bot

[Abrams’ pro­duc­tion com­pany] and sur­rounded by empty white­boards.”

Pegg and Jung had prob­lems to solve, but they couldn’t fix them un­til they knew ex­actly what the puz­zle was. They needed a di­rec­tor. The man Para­mount brought in was a sur­prise to ev­ery­one. If you know the name Justin Lin at all, it will be for di­rect­ing four films in the Fast And Fu­ri­ous fran­chise. Start­ing with

Tokyo Drift (num­ber three), then Fast And Fu­ri­ous (num­ber four), Fast Five and fi­nally Fast

& Fu­ri­ous 6, he turned Uni­ver­sal’s sec­ond-tier cash cow into a golden goose. Tokyo Drift made $158 mil­lion world­wide; Fast & Fu­ri­ous 6 made $788 mil­lion. Fu­ri­ous 7, di­rected by James Wan but cruis­ing in Lin’s slip­stream, made $1.5 bil­lion. It’s easy to see why a stu­dio would want him. But the fans were thrown. Com­ments on the an­nounce­ment story on Dead­ in­cluded “RIP Star Trek” and, also, “Ter­ri­ble news that Jonathan Frakes [Com­man­der Riker

from The Next Gen­er­a­tion] won’t be di­rect­ing.” How would this guy, whose pri­mary skill was

mak­ing cars out­race the laws of physics, make a Star Trek movie that re­flected the cere­bral, utopian na­ture of Gene Rod­den­berry’s se­ries?

In fact, it’s not Star Trek that’s the un­usual fit for Lin, so much as Fast And Fu­ri­ous. LIN DID NOT

start out in ac­tion cinema. He comes from cheapo indies, what he calls “credit card movies” be­cause he maxed out his plas­tic to make them. He made his de­but co-di­rect­ing Shop­ping For Fangs, a tale of sex­ual con­fu­sion and ly­can­thropy, then went solo for the first time with the well-re­ceived crime movie Bet­ter Luck To­mor­row.

“I ac­tu­ally had ex­actly the same thing [as now] when I started mak­ing the Fast movies,” laughs Lin on set, “ex­cept then peo­ple were like, ‘What’s he do­ing mak­ing this? He’s the in­die guy.’ Then I make a few Fast movies and I’m the Fast guy.” Truth is, he knows a lot more about Star Trek than he does about cars. 

“It’s been a big chunk of my ca­reer, mak­ing

[Fast And Fu­ri­ous] movies, and I’m proud of it and I love it. But I also know that wasn’t why I wanted to make movies. That’s just been part of my jour­ney… I’m re­ally not a car guy. Trek is prob­a­bly the clos­est to me.”

Lin’s re­la­tion­ship with Star Trek be­gan a lit­tle over 35 years ago. His fam­ily moved to Anaheim, Cal­i­for­nia, from Tai­wan when he was eight, and opened a fish and chip shop. He barely spoke English and was in a com­pletely alien cul­ture. He found his way in through two things: bas­ket­ball (which, de­spite be­ing only 5’4”, he proved sur­pris­ingly good at) and Star

Trek. Ev­ery night, when his dad fi­nally closed the shop, the pair would watch re-runs of Star Trek on TV. “All my friends were into Star Wars,” he says, “But I couldn’t af­ford to go to the movies as a kid. I think the only things I’d seen at the movies un­til I was in ju­nior high were E.T. and Rocky III… So it was Star Trek for me.” Though he claims not to be as knowl­edge­able as the fans he’ll meet later that night, or in­deed set-trekker Pegg, as soon as he gets on the sub­ject Lin be­comes ex­cited and, well, a lit­tle geeky. He can dis­cuss his love for the episode

The City On The Edge Of For­ever at length, or his child­hood con­fu­sion at the Kirk-free pilot.

“When I was eight I didn’t un­der­stand a lot of stuff,” he says. “You’re just kind of jump­ing around go­ing, ‘Wow, this is cool! Aliens! Ex­plo­ration! Spock!...’ But it re­peated so much — there are only three sea­sons — that you come to see new things in ev­ery episode, to un­der­stand it more deeply. When my fam­ily em­i­grated here it was just my par­ents and my two brothers. There was no other fam­ily. I think the idea of

Star Trek, of having this non-tra­di­tional struc­ture of a fam­ily, that was kind of a con­nec­tion.” Given this pas­sion, when Abrams called him to of­fer him the gig, it was a no­brainer, but for one thing. They would have to start film­ing, with­out a let­ter of the script yet writ­ten, in six months. SIMON PEGG LAUGHS

darkly when he re­mem­bers his first story meet­ing on

Star Trek Be­yond. “As soon as Justin was on board, me, Doug, Justin and Lindsey We­ber, the pro­ducer, locked our­selves in a room in Soho Ho­tel in Lon­don for 16 hours, to thrash out what the story would be. That was the long­est day of my life.”

That story started with a de­sire to set the new film apart from the pre­vi­ous two, which had taken place be­fore the En­ter­prise mis­sion to dis­cover un­known fron­tiers. All as­sem­bled wanted to go to the heart of the 50 year-old se­ries, to dis­sect the idea of what the Fed­er­a­tion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to dis­cov­ery for dis­cov­ery’s sake, was, and what be­ing in space for five years would do to peo­ple. So they set the story two years into the mis­sion, far from home.

“That was the thing, re­ally, to push them out into the depths of the un­known,” says Pegg.

“That was ex­cit­ing be­cause ev­ery­thing was pos­si­ble. We didn’t have to con­nect it in any way to what had gone be­fore. There wasn’t a des­ig­nated area where they would be in their mis­sion at this point, so it didn’t have to be the Klin­gons or the Ro­mu­lans or any of those. They could all be in an­other cor­ner of the galaxy. It felt like a real blank slate.”

Yes, the Klin­gons are go­ing to have to wait even longer for their mod­ern reign of evil. Asked di­rectly why the Klin­gons, a fan favourite who have so far only made a cameo in Into Dark­ness, aren’t ap­pear­ing, Lin says, “I re­ally wanted to see some­thing new.” Rather than bend an ex­ist­ing vil­lain­ous type to his needs he wanted to cre­ate one which could or­gan­i­cally en­ter his story. Above all, he wanted Krall to have a le­git­i­mate rea­son to hate the Fed­er­a­tion, rather than just be from a race of war­mon­gers. “If we truly want to de­con­struct what the Fed­er­a­tion means,” he says, “we need to have an an­tag­o­nist with a valid point of view. It can’t be just some­one twirling their mous­tache. For the au­di­ence, when they hear [Krall’s rea­sons] they might not agree with them, but they have to ac­cept it’s a valid point of view.”

Lin also wanted to ex­plore sce­nar­ios he’d been mulling over for 35 years. “Watch­ing it on a nightly ba­sis, you go into a kind of fan-fic­tion mode,” he says. “What are these char­ac­ters like [out­side the mis­sions]? Does Sulu hang out with Chekov?... You take the En­ter­prise away from them and you’re rip­ping away the se­cu­rity blan­ket. You just see them as hu­mans.” Once Krall has de­stroyed the ship, the crew is sep­a­rated into un­usual pair­ings: Spock with Bones; Kirk with Chekov; Sulu with Uhura; and Scotty with Jay­lah (Sofia Boutella), who was stranded on Krall’s deadly planet as a child, af­ter an ear­lier at­tack by the vil­lain.

“We’ve been very Spock and Kirk-cen­tric for the first two films,” says Kirk him­self,

Chris Pine. “Lest we for­get, this is a true en­sem­ble with a lot of in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters. This one gives ev­ery­one a cen­tral role in fig­ur­ing how to… let’s say, save the day.” For his usual screen buddy, Zachary Quinto, aka Spock, it now meant shar­ing scenes with his ex­act op­po­site, Bones (in­ci­den­tally, it was hear­ing of this pair­ing that made the pre­vi­ously re­luc­tant Ur­ban im­me­di­ately sign on). “I kind of missed Chris a bit!” says Quinto. “But this way you get to see parts of these char­ac­ters you’ve never seen be­fore. Spock and Bones both have a very close re­la­tion­ship with Kirk, so it’s fun to see what hap­pens when you take Kirk away from them.”

If there was one new pair­ing that jolted ev­ery­one a lit­tle, it was that of new di­rec­tor and old cast. The tight sched­ule meant lit­tle time for get­ting to know each other be­fore the hard work be­gan, and the ac­tors were still ad­just­ing to the ab­sence of the man who brought them all to­gether.

“J.J. set this in­cred­i­ble tone among us eight years ago,” says Quinto. “I think it took all of us a few days to re­cal­i­brate for this new en­ergy, but Justin’s en­ergy is also very con­fi­dent. Vis­ually he knows ex­actly what ev­ery­thing needs to be.”

Abrams was, says Pegg, “al­ways one of the big­gest char­ac­ters on set. He would have a mi­cro­phone and a very high en­ergy. Justin is a lot more thought­ful. His notes are more one-on-one.”

Sal­dana ap­proves. “He’s a man of very few words, but they’re pre­cise. Justin gives you one word and you know. I think I speak good Justin.”

Yet there was one among the crew who knew Lin from way back. John Cho, who plays Sulu, ap­peared in both Shop­ping For Fangs and

Bet­ter Luck To­mor­row, so he’s got 20 years’ his­tory with Lin. “He’s the same guy!” says Cho. “He was sweat­ing bul­lets about his bud­get and the amount of time back then and he was sweat­ing bul­lets about his bud­get and time on this one. He’s got more toys now and he’s more con­fi­dent in his abil­ity, but he’s still the same — quiet and con­fi­dent”. BACK IN THE

Pasadena edit room, time is very much on Lin’s mind. “I will never do any­thing as in­tense as this again,” he says of the sched­ule. “I think we’re mak­ing his­tory. That’s not hy­per­bole. To have an idea in Jan­uary and start shoot­ing in June, build­ing worlds, get­ting it cut and ready in 3D IMAX by July… I don’t think any­one’s ever go­ing to do some­thing this big, that fast.”

It’s for this rea­son he gets an­noyed by ru­mours that the de­lay in re­leas­ing a trailer was down to pro­duc­tion prob­lems. Un­til the night of the fan event, only one short teaser had been re­leased. “It just comes down to math,” Lin in­sists, “when you have no time and ev­ery­thing is vis­ual-ef­fects heavy. I’m a stick­ler for re­ally try­ing to get things right… It’s un­ac­cept­able to me to get some­thing out when it’s not ready.” Even when show­ing

footage to Em­pire, Lin keeps re­peat­ing that noth­ing is fin­ished. He wants this to be per­fect as much as, if not more than, any of the fans do.

When the footage is screened for the fans later that night it goes down a storm, to whoops and calls to “PLAY IT AGAIN!” A woman who’s flown in from Lon­don comes bound­ing over to

Em­pire (she no­ticed the match­ing ac­cent) and en­thuses about how the 11-hour flight was “to­tally worth it”. They hope they’re get­ting back the Star Trek they love and Lin hopes he’s giv­ing them the one he’s al­ways loved, with a lit­tle bit of dif­fer­ence. “What I re­ally like about what J.J. did is he started a new canon,” he says. “You have to un­der­stand and hope­fully em­brace who these char­ac­ters have been for the last 50 years, but at the same time know they’re not the same. Hope­fully peo­ple can see that it’s still okay. You want un­knowns for these char­ac­ters to tackle.”

On one of the big­gest nights of his life, Lin has done much to prove to his doubters that he both wants and de­serves to be here. He’s shown the Star Trek fans that even if he’s the new guy on the fran­chise, he’s been one of them for decades.

The En­ter­prise crew on their makeshift ship, two years into their five-year mis­sion.

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