Will Chekov be recast in the Star Trek films? JJ Abrams responds

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Jul 20, 2016, 2:33 PM EDT

Now that Star Trek 4 has been confirmed, the filmmakers must face a difficult and heartbreaking question.

The question is what to do about the character of Ensign Pavel Chekov in the wake of the tragic, untimely death of Anton Yelchin, who was killed last month in a freak accident at his Los Angeles home. The 27-year-old Yelchin has played Chekov in all three movies made since the Trek franchise was rebooted (the so-called Kelvin timeline), including the new Star Trek Beyond, which opens Friday (July 22) and is dedicated to his memory.

With the loss of Yelchin, the Star Trek brain trust faces two distinct choices: They can recast the role with a new actor and no comment, or they can write Chekov out of the franchise and come up with an explanation for the character's absence. When asked about what might happen, here's what producer J.J. Abrams told the Toronto Sun:

"I would say there's no replacing him. There's no recasting. I can't possibly imagine that, and I think Anton deserves better. ... I have thought about (how he'll be replaced), we're working on it, and it's too early to talk about it."

Abrams makes it seem pretty certain that Chekov will not be recast and the franchise will continue on without the character. This wouldn't be completely unprecedented: Spock was almost replaced by another Vulcan, Xon, in the aborted late-'70s TV revival Star Trek: Phase Two when Leonard Nimoy refused to come back, and of course Spock himself died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (although he did come back). Characters have also exited shows like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

This feels like a more difficult example, however, because probably no one on the Star Trek team was expecting to have to deal with the death of such a young actor. The question then is how to handle Chekov's departure: Is he transferred to another ship? Does the character meet an untimely death as well, or would that be deemed inappropriate?

Here's another suggestion, courtesy of Cinemablend: With time travel a possible part of the story for Star Trek 4 -- possible, but not official -- could the course of history or the Kelvin timeline itself be altered in a way that affects Chekov? No doubt the filmmakers and the studio will reveal their intentions at some point, but what do you think is the best and most respectful way to move forward without Anton Yelchin?