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If you have not yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness, walk away this very instant. Given the chance to talk to the film's co-writer Damon Lindelof and the producer Bryan Burk, we weren't going to mess around with questions that avoided digging into the many mysteries inside the latest Trek adventures. If you're going to talk to the guys who made the story possible, and who have been carefully maintaining that mystery box you're going to ask them about everything-- and that means SPOILERS ABOUND in the conversation that follows.
Want to know how they chose the film's villain? Want to know just how much they think about Trek fans and what they've been demanding of the sequel ever since the first one came out? (Spoiler: they care a lot). Want to hear about the decision-making that went into one of the film's biggest scenes, which directly references what's probably the most iconic Star Trek moment of all time? Read on! We've got it all here for you!
With the first Star Trek movie, you worked really hard to kind of set the new series off on its own path and break away and do whatever you want. And then you make this movie, which is crammed full of callbacks to the original series. I’m wondering why you guys would end up doing that after you put all that time travel in so you wouldn’t have to.
Damon Lindelof: Well, I think that the big challenge of doing these movies is how much you’re making them for audiences who haven’t been following Star Trek for the last four and a half decades or even maybe just the last decade and how much you make it for the hardcore fans. What we’ve all decided is that we make up a broad range of fandom ourselves, the five of us who are coming up with these stories, and if we can find the story idea that gets all five of us excited, that’s the one we’re going to go down. As you might imagine, over the course of working on the story for the first one and certainly in the space after the first one, before the second one, there was really only one question that we were asked repeatedly over and over and over again.
I remember that question. Everyone was asking you if you were going to do Wrath of Khan.
Damon Lindelof: Right. So, that was the question we really had to contend with, and I think there was a little bit of the damned if you do, damned if you don’t quotient to it. If we didn’t do it, the people who were hardcore fans of Trek or even just casual fans of Trek, they all have love for that movie in common. You can’t just do that movie again. We all know what it is and you don’t want to just play a cover song. So, is there an interpretation of that movie that seems cool and a little bit outside of the box and unexpected? Ultimately what we knew was coming into this film is we didn’t want the audience to know if we had done it. There had to be that, “Did they do it or didn’t they do it? We’re not entirely sure.” I think that if we had decided not to do it, there would have been a certain level of fundamental disappointment, you know, not just from the hardcore fan base but also the casual fan base. What I keep saying is, you know, you can do Batman Begins without the Joker, but at the end of Batman Begins, Commissioner Gordon turns over a playing card and shows it to Batman and says, “There’s this new psychopath in town. Calls himself the Joker.” So, you know it’s coming, because the gravity of that character is just so intense that it can not be avoided. We fit that into account as we were deciding what we were going to do with the second movie.
Bryan Burk: - I’ll take it a step further and say that when I saw Batman Begins in the theater, I loved it, but I can’t tell you who the villain was.
Damon Lindelof: It was Ra’s Al Ghul.
Bryan Burk: Which has no meaning to me.
Damon Lindelof: And the Scarecrow.
Bryan Burk: But I could tell you who the villain was in the second one, because he was such an iconic villain, so when you think of the Star Trek universe, there are not as many iconic villains.
Damon Lindelof: In the first movie, our bad guy was a new character of our own invention. He was a Romulan, obviously, a creature which exists in Trek, but I do think that idea of creating an entirely new force of opposition that you’ve never seen before, it’s a risk in and of itself. In the first movie, we created Nero in some ways that was successful and in other ways it was unsuccessful because you have a lot of explaining to do when you’re introducing an entirely new construct to the audience. In the second movie, we may or may not have taken the same path.
You have a very famous line from Wrath of Khan said by somebody else this time. Will you guys talk about what went into deciding to include that line?
Damon Lindelof: A big challenge of this was not doing it the same way that it had been done before. But the promise of the first movie in terms of the way that this would work in our new universe is that there are certain kind of tent poles that can’t be avoided. So, it’s sort of like the idea that the Enterprise is going to be severely damaged by this guy and it’s going to require the sacrifice of a member of its crew, but this time around, it was in a different iteration. When Spock yells out what he yells out, it’s in an entirely different context than when Kirk yells it out in Wrath of Khan. He’s not yelling it out because anyone’s been killed. It’s because he’s down there stranded on the Genesis testing ground, et cetera, et cetera.
So, when we talked about this movie, we said, look, there are going to be moments that are just so powerful in Trek lore, but particularly in that movie, and that to avoid them, would require more energy than to lean into them. If we choose to lean into them, how can we have them come out in a new and surprising context that feels like we’ve earned it and it’s not just being different for different’s sake. That one was just like, for a guy who’s been sitting on his emotions for the entire movie and Kirk’s been prodding him and wondering why it is, he’s able to make this decision to not feel, for him to explode at a certain point, what’s the one word that should be coming out of his mouth when that happens, there didn’t seem like there was any other way to go.
You’ve said that you guys kind of had this in mind for the second movie, even before you’d finished the first one, but you didn’t really lay any breadcrumbs, kind of like the way Batman Begins lays that breadcrumb for the Joker. Do you feel yourself setting up for something in the third one that we may not be able to see yet? Did you put anything in the movie that when we see the third movie could be like, “Oh wait a second. That actually ties in.”
Damon Lindelof: I would actually not necessarily agree with your premise. I think that in the first movie the destruction of Vulcan, essentially completely and totally set the stage for everything in this movie to happen. If Vulcan had not been destroyed, Marcus never would have come across the Botany Bay and he never would have started Section 31. All of those things happen as a direct result of actions that our crew is directly involved with in the first movie.
There are things that happen in this movie, particularly on Kronos, that will snowball, potentially, into the third movie. Does that mean that the Klingons are going to be the big bad in the third movie? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s certainly one of the things that we’re very cognitive of when you make moves like that, is you don’t get away clean. If everyone is telling him, “This is very bad, what you did down there,” there’s going to be a time to come and pay the piper for it. The third movie owes the ramifications of those story moves that we made in this movie. So, I would say that’s not going to be some completely and totally disconnected new adventure. At the same time, I would say that these new Trek movies should play a little bit like Bond movies, where there’s not a direct serialized thread between them.
Bryan Burk: In doing this film, it was important for this not to be a sequel in the sense that-- it’s the reason why it doesn’t have a number. We wanted to make a film that had you never seen Star Trek or you’ve seen it before and thought it wasn’t for you or you hated it or yada, yada, yada, you could go into this film and be pleasantly surprised that it’s not what you thought it was going to be. If you happened to have seen the last film, let alone been a Star Trek fan for 45 years, you’ll bring something different to the film, but it definitely had to be something that would appeal to as many people as possible.
And is that how you guys plan to go about as many Star Trek films as you’re able to make, that people can jump in on the next one without having to see the first one, on the 7th Star Trek movie or the 20th Star Trek movie?
Bryan Burk: I think we worked differently on different things, like Lost was a show where if you missed an episode, you were screwed, but by the same token as we move forward with Mission: Impossible or Star Trek or whatever it may be, there’s been twenty-something Bond movies and unless you are a diehard Bond fan, I would challenge that most people do not know the order of what came first and all the way through. Hopefully, if we do our job right, there’s a version of watching these Star Trek films in order, let alone, if we’re fortunate enough to make another one or if we keep going and there’s many of them, you’re able to jump in and experience them on their own.
Damon you mentioned that creating a new character out of Nero was successful in some ways and not others on the first Star Trek. I’m wondering if there is anything else from the first Star Trek that you kind of went into this one saying, “I’ve heard the people talking. Here’s what they say. Here’s how we can work around it this time.”
Damon Lindelof: I think that Nero was really--and by the way, I think that was a by-product of so many other things that had nothing to do with Eric Bana or the design of the character--but at the end of the day, Nero was just a walking talking McGuffin. He was the way we were going to break the gap to say, “All of that happened. All of the old Star Trek happened, but we need to be able to go our own way.” So, he was a device, and in fact, there was a lengthy sort of subplot involving him and you can see it on the DVD, that we ended up excising from the film, because the movie was just saying it wanted to be about Kirk and Spock and the rest of the crew coming together. So, I think that’s one of the lessons we learned from the first one, is that the good one isn’t really that important in Trek unless the villain is of critical importance and it would also have been very difficult for the audience to accept a new villain. I think if you look at the Trek films in particular in terms of what are the iconic villains of the Star Trek movies and then you say, “Ok, let’s just widen up the spectrum and say who are the iconic villains of all the Trek series?” You come up pretty short. There’s not a laundry list of amazing villains in Trek..
There is always a conversation of, “What are the fans going to think? Then also, “Is this going to make sense to people who are not fans, with a minimal amount of dialogue?” I always return to when I saw The Wrath of Khan for the first time. Wrath of Khan, I think I saw when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. I’d never seen any Star Trek before. I was aware of Dr. Spock, as I called him at the time, not Mr. Spock, but I didn’t know anything about Star Trek and I went and saw that movie and they get down to Ceti Alpha Five, Chekov and Paul Winfield, and they come across the Botany Bay and they come across this very creepy guy who takes his mask off and then proceeds to monologue for what feels like five minutes and all I got out of that monologue was they’d crossed paths before and this guys really, really hates Captain Kirk. That’s all I really needed to know to movie forward and it’s not like I went rushing home to find "Space Seed." I got it. Ultimately, I think the same challenge is always presented to us in these movies, which is, “Can we make something that is a cool callback for Trek fans, but have to make sense on an initial viewing for people who aren’t as familiar with the universe?”