In perhaps the funniest episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (sorry “Trouble With Tribbles”!) Captain Kirk boldly strides on a pool table, decked out in a blue pinstripe suit, and says, in a tortured faux Al Capone-accent, “the Federation is taking over the whole ball of wax.” He’s talking about the planet Sigma Iotia II, better known to Trekkies as “the mobster planet.” “A Piece of the Action” imagines a planet entirely run by ‘20s and ‘30s style mobsters, and now, it seems this slightly obscure Trek concept is about to make a big comeback. According to Deadline, the long discussed Quentin Tarantino Star Trek movie: “is based on an episode of the classic Star Trek series that takes place largely earthbound in a ‘30s gangster setting.”
So, Tarantino’s Trek sounds like a remake/reboot of “A Piece of the Action.” If this happens (which unfortunately doesn’t sound terribly likely at the moment), this is great news. Done properly, this could be the most creative and nostalgia-filled move for the Trek franchise in a long time.
How did the mobster planet from “A Piece of the Action” become the mobster planet? The backstory is explained by Kirk in the opening moments of the episode. A Federation ship stopped by the planet a century prior and exposed the “highly imitative” culture to all sorts of values from the outside world. Randomly, somebody from this ship (the USS Horizon) left behind a history book called Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. A century later, this culture took this book almost as their Bible, reverently called it “the Book.”
Anyone who is a fan of Tarantino knows he’s pretty good with navigating counterfactual versions of history. He did it in Inglourious Basterds, and more recently, in Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. So, there’s no reason to think Tarantino couldn’t hit up a slightly twisted version of Trek history, too. A Tarantino reboot of “A Piece of the Action” in a new Trek movie could easily take a similar approach. He wouldn’t even have to get into the canon weeds that much. Either the movie revolves around the same planet, Sigma Iotia II, or it simply reuses the concept but in a new context.
There’s precedent for setting a Star Trek movie mostly on a single planet (or in an “earthbound” setting). In fact, it worked fantastically in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which, for at least part of the movie, dealt with people with 23rd-century values trying to disguise themselves in the 20th century. A Tarantino reboot of “A Piece of the Action,” could combine the humor of the original premise, but give it a little more danger. The gangsters in the episode are a little bit of a joke, but what if they were more hardcore?
In some ways, Tarantino taking on this concept would be like a feature-length version of Picard on the holodeck in First Contact. Even though Picard is firing holographic bullets in that scene, there’s more tension at that moment than perhaps any other in the movie. Mixing the high-tech future of Trek with the aesthetic of a hardboiled crime story almost always works. Whether its “A Piece of the Action,” or any of the Picard Dixon Hill stories (and to a lesser extent, Julian Bashir’s secret agent episodes of Deep Space Nine) putting Star Trek characters in anachronistic settings is compelling because it puts the so-called “utopia” of Trek’s future to the test.
In “A Piece of the Action,” Kirk has to basically act exactly like a crime boss in order to get the Iotians to accept a peaceful solution. Gene Roddenberry famously discouraged conflict and violence among Starfleet members and those affiliated with the Federation, but the mobsters on Sigma Iotia II are immune to that rule simply because their genesis predates the enlightened rules of the Federation. Basically, Kirk becoming a crime-boss (but for good) is a loophole both in-universe, and also metafictionally, because it allows Kirk to act against Starfleet rules in order to uphold them in the long run. If you want a Trek movie with a bunch of conflicts that also doesn’t “violate” one of the old-school approaches to writing Trek, “A Piece of the Action” sits pretty perfectly on the fence. And some of that is because the episode tackles basic questions like: “do Federation utopia needs, justify space mobsters means?”
Best of all, if we got a big-screen version of this, it could be one of the most philosophical Trek movies in years. The story of “A Piece of the Action,” is much more layered and interesting than just “space mobsters.” The existence of this mobster culture is a direct result of dogma and information being twisted over time. But, it’s also the fault of the Federation in the first place and a huge argument for why the Prime Directive exists later. Kirk (and Picard and Sisko and Janeway) all struggled with the non-interference directive, but the Iotians in “A Piece of the Action,” are the poster-children for why the Prime Directive is so important.
If we got a whole movie about this, then you’ve potentially got a movie where people are arguing about the Prime Directive the whole time. And it doesn’t get any more legit Star Trek than that. This leads to the inevitable question: Which timeline does this work best in?
If this were a direct sequel to Star Trek Beyond, then we’d be dealing with the Kelvin Universe crew meeting the Iotians. Canonically, this would mean Sigma Iotia II would be mostly the same as it was in TOS. And that’s because the original backstory of the USS Horizon from the original episode would remain unchanged. That said, because the politics of the galaxy at large are very different in the Kelvin Timeline, you could also have a version of the mobster planet where the Federation isn’t the only government that has interfered. For example, what if the Klingons of the Kelvin timeline infiltrated themselves into this culture? Could Sigma Iotia II suddenly have some strategic value?
If that was the case, you could combine the premises of “A Piece of the Action” with “A Private Little War,” and the Enterprise crew could be battling the Klingons through the context of the mobster planet. Again, this would work really well with the Kelvin crew, but it could also work in the Prime Timeline, too. It feels unlikely that Patrick Stewart would cross back over to play Picard in a feature film, but then again, what if he had to become Dixon Hill in order to infiltrate the mobster planet? Of all the famous Starfleet captains, Picard is actually more qualified to infiltrate it than someone like Kirk (or Janeway). And who wouldn’t want to see Patrick Stewart spouting gloriously profane Tarantino dialogue?
Then again, the mobster inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II exist in all timelines outside of the context of the Enterprise. At the end of “A Piece of the Action,” Kirk jokes that the Iotians might use Federation tech to “demand a piece of our action!” So, with that in mind, the return of the space mobsters works in nearly all Trek contexts. Whichever Starfleet crew has to deal with the wrath of the mobsters might not matter as much as we think. The point is, the space gangsters themselves are interesting on their own; meaning whichever crew boldly goes to deals with them is simply a bonus.