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The Star Trek universe has been a busy place of late, with announcements of new TV series and multiple potential new film projects on the horizon. However, over the weekend one of those film projects, the follow-up to Star Trek Beyond, seemed to come to a crashing halt as both Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth, who were expected to star in the film, walked away from negotiations after the studio reportedly asked both stars to take a pay cut. While that would seemingly kill any chance this new movie had of getting off the ground (my colleague, Adam Holmes, says Pine's departure should be a dealbreaker), the fact is that the next Star Trek movie doesn't actually need Captain Kirk.
To be clear, the next Star Trek movie had been reported to have a plot that revolved around time travel and would have seen George Kirk, played by Chris Hemsworth in the original Star Trek reboot film, return in some capacity. Clearly, making that particular story without the two Chrises would be likely impossible, but there's no reason you can't make a new Star Trek movie without James T. Kirk.
While the box office may not show it, I actually think Star Trek Beyond is the best of the reboot universe Trek films. A big part of the reason for that is because it doesn't rely as heavily on Captain Kirk as the hero of the movie. The crew of the Enterprise gets split up for a large portion of the film, and each small group is given some time in the spotlight. Sure, Kirk still gets to play action hero as the guy racing around on a motorcycle, but he's still one member of an entire crew, and the entire crew is made up of great actors who can easily carry a movie.
As Star Trek: The Next Generation showed us on television, Star Trek is great when it focuses on the people, and uses the science fiction setting simply as a backdrop for these character interactions. While the Captain is an obviously important character on a starship, he doesn't have to be an important character in the story.
For that reason, Star Trek simply doesn't need Kirk, and so it doesn't need Chris Pine. A Star Trek movie doesn't need to be a Kirk story. It can be a Spock story or a Bones story or an Uhura story. It doesn't need to focus on any one character at all, actually. If Kirk isn't there, then a story about why he's not there, and how the crew as a whole reacts to that, feels like an obvious place for a story to go.
After all, the last time a Star Trek movie was missing a major character, the plot focused on finding him again, and the reboot films love to make reference to the original series films, so it's an obvious place to go.
Of course, the next Star Trek movie doesn't need to even feel like a direct sequel to Star Trek Beyond. You could treat it as a spinoff, and only focus on a couple of characters, say Spock and Uhura. You could leave the entire rest of the cast out of it, and still make a Star Trek movie. Just because the movie might take place concurrently with Enterprise crew we know and love doesn't mean it has to be about that.
Odds are that, one way or another, this issue will be dealt with and Star Trek 4 will get back on track, but if it doesn't, it's simply not the end of the world. James T. Kirk is an important part of Star Trek, but he's not the only part. Star Trek doesn't need to be a star vehicle for anybody. If the story is strong enough, the other actors are more than capable of making a Star Trek movie that's worth seeing and worthy of being called Star Trek.