The 2023 Star Trek movie killed Quentin Tarantino's gangster film — or did it?
Here’s why Star Trek space mobsters can still happen.
Captain Kirk with an old-timey machine gun, battling alien mobsters might sound wild — but only if you’ve never really watched the 1960s Star Trek.
Since 2017, there have been rumors that Quentin Tarantino would direct a hard-edged Star Trek film featuring some anachronistic space mobsters in the style of the classic episode, “A Piece of the Action.” But now that the 2023 Matt Shakman-directed Trek movie is bringing back the reboot cast, several have pointed out that means that this edgy Tarantino film is now never going to happen.
Here’s why this is mostly true, what this analysis leaves out, and why the idea of a gangster movie for Trek is still theoretically, viable.
Limbo Star Trek movies 2016-2020
On the heels of the bombshell announcement that J.J. Abrams is getting the band back together for the new Trek movie, Variety ran an article pointing out that this development seems to mean the long-discussed Tarantino Trek film was almost certainly dead. It’s a great piece by writer Zack Sharf, and, if you want a breakdown of the entire timeline of the Tarantino Trek pitch, it’s an essential read.
However, if you’re a casual fan, you may be a bit confused. Did the announcement of the new Matt Shakman-directed Trek film deliver the final phaser blast that permanently vaporized the Tarantino project? Well, maybe, but also, maybe not. And that’s because, in addition to the never-greenlit Tarantino Trek, there have been several other possible sequels to Star Trek Beyond, and the most recently canceled Trek film wasn’t even the Tarantino one.
Just days before Star Trek Beyond hit theaters in summer 2016, journalists got a press release in their inboxes with the following news: Chris Hemsworth would return as George Kirk, Jim Kirk’s father from the 2009 Star Trek. This wasn’t a rumor. This was an actual announcement from Paramount. I remember because I wrote about it on the day it happened.
After 2016, this father-and-son Captain Kirk movie wasn’t mentioned much. At all. Then, in 2017, we got the Tarantino rumor, which, as we now know, wasn’t really a rumor at all. Jonathan Frakes was even texting J.J. Abrams about it back then. In 2018, it was announced that S.J. Clarkson would become the first woman to direct a Star Trek movie and that movie would be the next one for real this time.
By 2019, we were deep into Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1 was on the way. Aspects of the Tarantino movie were still being discussed, and for a while, it seemed like there were two movies in development at the same time. (Whether this was actually the case remains unclear.)
That’s because, in 2019, news broke that Legion director Noah Hawley would be writing and directing the next Star Trek film, and that movie was supposedly the real deal. (The S.J. Clarkson movie was quickly forgotten.) A year later, in 2020, the Hawley film — which was “very close to production” — was put in “stasis” by Paramount, for somewhat unclear reasons. Hawley refers to this late-game cancelation as a “wound.” Finally, in 2021, Deadline reported that Discovery writer Kalinda Vazquez would be writing an original Star Trek film.
Counting the Tarantino project, there have been at least five different Star Trek feature films in development between 2016 and now. By all accounts, it seems like this Matt Shakman-directed project is real, but in no way was the Tarantino Trek film killed because the Shakman movie is happening. If anything, the real victim of the Skakman movie was the Noah Hawley movie, which was axed very recently. And, as far as we know, the Kalinda Vazquez movie might still materialize.
Star Trek space mobsters could still happen
Okay, so the Tarantino thing isn't going to happen. However, let’s get one thing straight: Tarantino (or scriptwriter Mark L. Smith) did not invent the idea of a 1920s “Mobster Planet.” That credit goes to David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon, who wrote the classic Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action.”
The premise was fairly straightforward. An Earth ship accidentally leaves behind a history book called Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, and an alien culture models their entire society on what’s in that book. Fast-forward a century later, and the USS Enterprise has to fix the corruption on the mobster planet. In TOS this is mostly played for laughs, but the potential for something with more of an edge is obviously there.
There is nothing preventing the next Trek film from dipping into his idea at all. It’s not owned by Tarantino and that’s because he was riffing on The Original Series in the first place. Star Trek famously likes to rip itself off (in a good way) which means the notion of a crime movie that is also a Star Trek movie is right there,for the taking.
In the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard busted out a Tommy gun to mow down some Borg drones. To be fair, Picard was disguised as the fictional hardboiled detective “Dixon Hill,” a creation from The Next Generation. But Picard with a Tommy gun kind of scanned like an homage to “A Piece of the Action” at the same time. Discovery even referenced “A Piece of the Action” with a specific piece of tech in the Season 3 episode, “Far From Home.”
The point? Star Trek can do sci-fi mobsters anytime it wants, no matter how many movies get canceled. In “A Piece of the Action,” Kirk tells the mobsters of planet Sigma Iotia II that “the Federation is taking over the whole ball of wax.” In our universe, this is still true, and Kirk, Picard, Burnham, or Pike could slip on a pinstripe suit at the drop of a hat.
The next Star Trek film is expected in late 2023.