Here's Why William Shatner Returning for Star Trek 3 Makes Sense

As is to be expected, the Internet is all a-buzz with the latest rumors concerning Star Trek 3. It’s been a crazy week for the third installment in the rebooted franchise – we’ve learned it will probably start shooting in February, that the story will most likely take place in deep space during the crew’s five year mission, and that the characters should hew more closely to their TV counterparts. That’s a lot of info – but the real bombshell was the revelation that William Shatner might re-don his Starfleet tunic and appear in the new film. Naturally, like all things Star Trek, this news provoked two distinct and opposite reactions: fan jubilation and fan derision. I think bringing Shatner in for a part in the new film is actually a good idea, and here are a few reasons why.

The most obvious rationale for bringing Shatner back into the fold is plain old fan service. I know some of the Star Trek fanbase is really tired of seeing the new films (which went out of their way to try to divorce themselves from original canon, then take every opportunity they can find to tie back into it…) present updated riffs on classic Star Trek. I can even sympathize with that viewpoint at times, if only because it doesn’t feel fair to the new crew to constantly have them playing second fiddle to fan nostalgia.

That being said, having Shatner return as Kirk is a bit more interesting than working Khan into the second film, or any of the other nods littered throughout Star Trek ’09 or Into Darkness. This is Captain Kirk – without him and Leonard Nimoy, we don’t have a Star Trek to reboot. We haven’t seen Kirk and Spock together since 1991. It’s time for this to happen, even if it’s just a tiny cameo. In fact, maybe it’s best served by being a tiny cameo where we can all have a minute to remember what made us love this franchise in the first place and then move on.

Abrams and company had an opportunity to do this with 2009 film, which gave Nimoy’s Spock a pretty prominent role, but excised Shatner completely. Had Abrams’ worked both characters into Trek ’09, we could have had our moment to acknowledge two beloved characters, then gotten on with getting to know the new crew. Instead, the Shatner omission has made it feel like there’s unfinished business to be addressed – business that should have been dealt with two films ago.

There’s an issue of fairness and respect here, too. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are both irreplaceable parts of what made Star Trek into a cultural phenomenon. Life – and filmmaking – aren’t always fair. But bringing Nimoy back for both films (although, really, they shouldn’t have bothered with Into Darkness), while leaving Kirk dead in the older continuity was a horrible decision at the time – and has grown even worse in retrospect. Shatner made his displeasure with being cut out of the 2009 entry well known, and I can understand why he was stung by it. Star Trek is, and always will be, the thing we identify him with as an actor. Captain Kirk was his career-defining role. Including his friend/nemesis Nimoy in both of the reboots while keeping Shatner on the sidelines was a lousy thing to do, no matter how much of a jerk the man can be at times.

This is to say nothing of the fact that Paramount has already made a big deal about the new film opening in 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original series. How can you have a 50th anniversary celebration without Shatner being part of it in some fashion? You really can’t.

If that doesn’t convince you, then maybe this will – William Shatner is 83 years old. He’s in relatively good health, but once you cross into your eighth decade, you’ve entered the latter stages of your life. There aren’t going to be a lot of opportunities left for Shatner to appear on the screen as Captain Kirk. Same goes for Leonard Nimoy, who’s also 83. If Nimoy were to be done, at least we could look back at the first reboot and happily acknowledge that we got to see Spock again. To see Kirk, we have to go back to 1994’s Star Trek Generations. That’s two whole decades ago. It’s time to change that, before time runs out once and for all. Let’s not have that happen, and give Shatner the sendoff he deserves should this be the last time he appears as Kirk.

What do you guys think? Are you onboard with a Shatner cameo in the new Star Trek, or would you rather move forward with the new crew and leave the past in the past?