CS Soapbox: Why Gangster Planet Star Trek is Perfect for Tarantino
Star Trek made a dramatic resurgence in popular culture in 2009. J.J. Abrams’ film introduced the Kelvin timeline, rebooting beloved characters and making their particular brand of sci-fi fresh once again. In 2017, CBS and Star Trek: Discovery brought the Federation to the small screen for the first time in 15 years. Enter Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Section 31, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Prodigy, an untitled Section 31 spin-off, yada, yada, yada. As Star Trek shows pop up left and right, all eyes (and ears) are on Paramount Pictures and their upcoming Star Trek film…whenever/whatever that may be.
Star Trek Beyond’s lackluster performance at the box office in 2016 and the resulting contract negotiations have left the franchise’s future lost in space. Last year, it was reported that Legion creator, Noah Hawley, was set to write and direct a new film. Thanks to COVID-19 (among other things), the future of that project is relatively uncertain. Rumor has it that 3 scripts are now in consideration: Hawley’s, a fourth film set in the Kelvin timeline, and one written by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant)—which was originally intended to be directed by Quentin Tarantino.
In 2017, Tarantino revealed that he was attached to an R-rated Star Trek project. As a self-proclaimed “Trekkie,” Tarantino was mused by many to be the perfect person to reinvigorate the franchise. Although, some felt that his affinity for violence and profanity would not live long and prosper. According to Deadline, Tarantino has walked away from the project, yet more details have since emerged regarding Smith’s script.
Smth’s story is reportedly inspired by the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “A Piece of the Action.” First airing in 1968, the episode sees the crew of the USS Enterprise visit Sigma lotia II, a planet modeled off the gangster culture of 1920s Chicago. The loatians worship “The Book” AKA Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, left 100 years prior by the space vessel Horizon. When Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy are transported to the planet they are captured by Okmyx, a mob boss who demands phasers in exchange for their lives. After escaping Okmyx and his men, Krik meets Jojo Krako, a rival gang leader who also requests phasers, but in exchange for a third of “the action.”
To mitigate the gang war and place the planet under the “control” of the Federation, Kirk and Spock embrace the aforementioned culture. They don suits, hats, Runyonesque vernacular, and shoot Tommy Guns. Ultimately, Kirk ordains Okmyx as the planet’s top boss and Krako as his lieutenant under the condition that, once a year, a Federation ship will arrive for a cut of Sigma lotia II’s “action.” In reality, Kirk’s goal is to guide the lotians towards a more ethical society, using their cut to fund this interplanetary movement.
“A Piece of the Action” was the last episode written by original Star Trek showrunner Gene L. Coon. Thanks to its self-awareness and humor, the entry is widely considered to be one of the series’ best. This is why its story is perfect for Tarantino. The writer/director is no stranger to nostalgia. In fact, everything he creates serves as a nod to entertainment of old. His most recent film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an obvious example of this, serving as a love letter to 1960s Hollywood. Tarantino’s Star Trek would pay similar homage to television of the 60s, critique gangster culture, how we interpret violence in entertainment.
When one thinks of Tarantino, they tend to picture blood. The kind that stains and gets everywhere. Sometimes Tarantino is criticized for the graphic nature of his films and other times he’s commended for allowing violence to be commentary in and of itself. For example, when Cliff Booth begins savagely beating hippies at the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we laugh and cheer. Not because we enjoy the bloodshed but because of what the victims would be doing to Shanon Tate and her friends had Booth not existed. At the same time, we’re conflicted. There’s enough evidence to support the claim that Booth killed his wife and his nonchalant actions at the end of the film reinforce this idea. Nevertheless, we like Booth, because his violent actions are in service of a happy ending.
Tarantino has argued that at the end of the day, a film is a film: how you decide to interpret depictions says more about you than it does about a movie. In the wake of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and facing his much-prophesied tenth (and final) film, Tarantino is at his most introspective. “A Piece of the Action” is all about interpretation, both of violence and a very specific glamorized aspect of American culture. Violence aside, if there’s one thing that Tarantino has always excelled at, it’s paying homage to various genres and aspects of American culture.
Tarantino’s Star Trek would honor the franchise’s legacy and mob culture of the 1920s—through the lens of the audience. The Ioatians adapted said culture via a book. Indirectly. It would naturally be flawed and over-the-top. Their society would use violence excessively and drop the F word. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be honest. It might be jarring to hear Kirk say “F*ck,” and it probably should be. Outside of “dammit Jim,” Star Trek has remained pretty tame. That said, a bit of profanity thrown into a 50+ year-old franchise could be just the type of satirical commentary we need right now.
Or maybe Kirk doesn’t curse… at first? Maybe Tarantino’s Star Trek morphs into a genre film when the Enterprise travels to Sigma lotia II. This approach would allow Star Trek to explore the dichotomy between humanity’s peaceful future and its violent past. The franchise has always been an optimistic one: the Federation is, after all, a government of peacekeepers.
A lot of franchises are held back by their key demographics. If Star Trek were to relinquish its traditional PG-13 rating for a specific purpose or creative vision, it could achieve Deadpool-esque success. While risky, it’s just the right kind of daring worthy of Tarantino’s prophesied tenth and final film. None of this means “Gangster Planet Star Trek” would be Pulp Fiction in space. Tarantino respects genre. In the same way that the Kill Bill franchise had The Bride wear Bruce Lee’s iconic yellow jumpsuit or have its characters watch martial arts classics like 1980’s Shogun Assassin, Tarantino’s Star Trek would make William Shatner and Robert De Niro references.
There are already too many traditionally-crafted Star Trek projects in the works on top of the 12 films already released. For Paramount to continue with the franchise, they need to roll the dice. Like Abrams did in 2009, they should reinvigorate Star Trek by appealing to a different audience. An R-rating won’t tarnish the Stark Trek legacy or risking dollar signs if done right. It’ll make history by leaning into a cinematic event that plays to Tarantino’s strengths and interests. It’d be hilarious, violent, retrospective, and exactly what McCoy ordered.
Tarantino may not be attached to direct Smith’s screenplay anymore, but he would presumably still produce. Hopefully, he’ll come back to the project. If he doesn’t, a handful of other directors could still give us “Gangster Planet Star Trek.” Think Bon Joon-ho, fresh off his Oscar-winning film, Parasite (which was praised by Tarantino), or Guy Richie applying Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrel’s hilarity to the proceedings. Seven Psychopaths’ Martin McDonagh would also be a perfect choice or, more obviously, Martin Scorsese. The latter will most likely never happen, but the others are within the realm of possibilities. Regardless, knowing that Tarantino was once on board, it’ll be hard to accept anyone else in the captain’s chair.