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'Rings of Power' writers' unmade 'Star Trek' film would've been 'Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade in space'
Before they worked in Middle-earth, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were telling stories in the final frontier.
Earlier this month, writers and showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay wrapped up the massive rollout of their Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a series that ranks among the largest TV productions ever mounted. As they head into Season 2 of the ambitious Middle-earth series, Payne and McKay have cleared the first major hurdles of their story, with even bigger pieces of the narrative (and higher stakes) to come later.
But this isn't the first time the writers have worked on a beloved property with high stakes and high expectations. Nearly a decade ago, the duo were among the early screenwriters on the film that would become Star Trek Beyond, and after that film was completed, Payne and McKay were drafted to craft a now-scrapped fourth installment in the "Kelvin Timeline" series that launched back in 2009. Speaking to Esquire about the first season of Rings of Power and their time telling stories in the Final Frontier, Payne and McKay explained their approach for that lost adventure, which would have been a true Kirk family affair.
"The one you’re asking about would have been the fourth in the franchise, reuniting Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pine," McKay explained. "The conceit was that through a cosmic quirk in the Star Trek world, they were the same age. It was going to be a grand father-son space adventure—think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in space. We were really thrilled about it. We had an original villain and a really cool 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque sci-fi idea at the core. We worked on it for two and half years with Lindsey Weber, our non-writing executive producer on Rings of Power, and an amazing director, S.J. Clarkson. The movie eventually fell apart and it really was a heartbreak for us."
McKay went on to explain that the failure of this would-be fourth feature in a major franchise was actually a blessing in disguise in its own way, because it led them down the road that finally took them to Middle-earth.
"It’s part of what led us here, because it got us thinking, 'Gosh, with a big IP title, big movie stars, and a story that we all felt had the chance to be terrific, it couldn't come together,'" he said. "We felt the winds were shifting against big movies, which is part of what made us start taking TV seriously. That led us to Rings of Power. But we would have loved to make that movie."
So, we know that McKay and Payne couldn't pull off this film in real life due to various issues, but how would they have pulled off the Kirk family reunion narratively? For that, according to Payne, they turned to a story in another iteration of the franchise.
"There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called 'Relics' where they find Scotty, who's been trapped a transporter for a couple of decades, and they're able to have cool adventure with him," Payne explained. 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? And what if the ship hadn’t completely exploded—what if it left some space junk?'"
McKay added, "So the adventure is that Chris Pine and the crew of the Enterprise have to seek out the wreckage of the ship that his father died on because of a mystery and a new villain. In the ship, they stumble across his father's pattern. They beam him out and he has no idea that no time has passed at all, and that he's looking at his son. Then the adventure goes from there."
Though McKay and Payne's story didn't get out of development, and we ended up with a long lull between Star Trek films, it looks like the warp drive is powering up again. Earlier this year Paramount Pictures confirmed a fourth film starring the Kelvin Timeline cast is on the way, so who knows? Maybe in a few years Payne and McKay could dust off their old script and make that reunion happen after all?