For what should be obvious reasons, Star Trek is a very personal property for J.J. Abrams. The 2009 reboot was only the second feature the filmmaker directed, and his work helped to continue to expand the lifespan of the legendary sci-fi franchise in pop culture -- carrying it to the 50th birthday that is being celebrated this year. The work Abrams did on both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness helped him created a special bond with the crew of the USS Enterprise and their continuing mission in deep space -- which is why it was so hard and bittersweet for him to hand directing duties over to Justin Lin for the upcoming Star Trek Beyond.
With the latest chapter in the Star Trek franchise arriving in theaters on Friday, Paramount Pictures held a Los Angeles press day for the new film last week, and it was during this time that I had the pleasure of sitting down one-on-one with J.J. Abrams to talk about his work on the series. While we touched on many aspects of the making of Star Trek Beyond, one thing that he stressed was the challenge and emotion that came as a result of realizing he wouldn't be able to helm the third installment of the rebooted sci-fi story himself (specifically due to his duties making Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Said Abrams,
It was sort of bittersweet. The bitter part was just mostly that I really love this group, and it's not a casual thing. They're people who, it's hard for me to even remember, but they didn't know each other. Anton [Yelchin] was 18. It was just this incredibly special, fun, exciting time to see Chris [Pine] and Zach [Quinto], John [Cho] and Karl [Urban], Simon [Pegg], Zoe [Saldana], and Anton and everyone just kind of come together in this sort of way that you don't always get to see - you don't always get to have. It was one of the reasons I really wanted to do the second film, because I just thought, 'God, I can't let go of these people.' I had no choice in this one, because we were working on something obviously in The Force Awakens, and the studio was saying they wanted a movie for the 50th anniversary Star Trek.
Because of the work required on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams never allowed himself to think that he could possibly make both that film and Star Trek Beyond - but that's the path that led him to meet with lifelong Star Trek fan Justin Lin about taking on the gig. Working as a producer, Abrams and the others running the production knew that they wanted the next blockbuster to have big action while also having the feel and character development of an original series episode, and they were both surprised and thrilled to find those were both things that the Fast Five filmmaker was able to bring to the table. Said Abrams,
To do both of those things required a very specific kind of person. I knew that Justin had the action chops because of what he'd done prior, but talking to him about Trek, his love of it was so deep, that it was much more sweet than bitter, handing over the directing responsibilities to him. In the abstract, it was a little unnerving, but once it was him, I felt like, 'Oh, we're in really caring, capable hands.'
And in case you haven't heard about the buzz, it's worked out pretty well. With just a few days to go before Star Trek Beyond is released in theaters, the movie is earning a tremendous deal of praise, with critics applauding and deeply appreciating the creative direction taken by the blockbuster. So while it may have been hard for J.J. Abrams to give up his directing duties on the franchise, it does look like things managed to still work out for the best.