Because it served as a reimagining of Captain James T. Kirk’s adventures on the USS Enterprise, the Star Trek Kelvin trilogy mostly referenced the original series and its spin-off movies. In 2009’s Star Trek, Karl Urban’s McCoy says he’s a doctor in the same manner as DeForest Kelly. Chris Pine’s Kirk says there is no unknown, only the temporarily hidden in Star Trek Beyond, paraphrasing William Shatner’s Kirk from the TOS episode “The Corbamite Manuever.” Star Trek Into Darkness builds to the reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is actually Khan, because audiences have heard of Khan.
But for the planned fourth Kelvin movie, writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay drew inspiration from a Next Generation episode, albeit one with TOS connections. Speaking with Esquire, Payne and McKay described their scrapped Star Trek 4 script as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in space,” complete with “an original villain and a really cool 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque sci-fi idea at the core.” The movie would have brought back Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk, the Starfleet officer who briefly assumed command of the USS Kelvin at the start of the 2009 reboot movie. In his final moments, George Kirk communicates with his wife, safe on an escape ship, to help name their son after both of their fathers, christening the lad “James Tiberius Kirk.” George’s sacrifice inspires his son to join Starfleet himself, eventually becoming the legendary captain.
To bring Jim face to face with George, Payne and McKay followed the model set by the episode “Relics,” from the series’ sixth season. In “Relics,” the Enterprise-D finds original Enterprise engineer Scotty alive in a transporter buffer, preserved for 75 years. Released from the buffer, Scotty helps new chief Geordi La Forge solve a problem with a Dyson sphere.
For Payne and McKay, “Relics” offered a simple solution to the problem of George’s death, filmed with a pre-Thor Hemsworth. “Our conceit was, ‘What if right before the Kelvin impacted with that huge mining ship, George Kirk had tried to beam himself over to his wife’s shuttle where his son, Jim Kirk, had just been born?’,” explained Payne. That idea may have big sci-fi logic, but Payne grounds it in a relatable mundane act. “Think about when you send a text message and you’ve typed it out, but you haven’t quite hit send,” he elaborated. “On the other side, they see those three little dots that someone has typed.” The version of George who gets recovered would be like the three little dots finally receiving the message.
The duo promised that the story would lead to a big adventure, one with a new villain at the center. Whether or not that would have paid off remains in question, as the project did not get much further than naming Matt Shakman, previously of WandaVision, as the director. When Shankman returned to the MCU to helm the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, Star Trek 4 ceased production. However, have worked out alright for Payne and McKay, who now serve as showrunners for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And who knows, maybe one day their version of Star Trek 4 will be retrieved from Hollywood’s pattern buffer and be released in theaters.