'Star Trek' to 'Star Wars': J.J. Abrams across the universes

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The specifics of Into Darkness‘ plot have been guarded by Abrams, who is the 21st-century version of the Romulan cloaking device — or, as Pine calls him, the “benevolent dictator.” But there is a true brain trust at the heart of the movie: Bad Robot cofounder Bryan Burk; Prometheus writer and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof; and Fringe and Transformers co-creators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. (That list, by the way, may well include the name of the next Trek director.) The son of a television producer — and a brand-name small-screen mogul himself with shows like Alias, Felicity, Lost, and Revolution — Abrams brought TV’s writers’ room model to feature-film creation, and Bad Robot is a hive of activity on all manner of projects.

It can be thrilling, and nerve-racking, for an actor. “The exciting thing is there’s a possibility for change at any moment,” Pine says. “Because of that background in TV, there’s a possibility of changing story, dialogue, character points, action beats — these are all up for review at all times. Nothing is sacrosanct, no one is safe. You have to walk in and be really nimble.” Pine remembers days when scenes were reworked in huddles as the tag team of Abrams and Lindelof tried to get their arms around some elusive piece of screen magic. “It was superscary,” Pine says, “but it’s a lot of fun. It’s test-pilot stuff.”

We do know that Into Darkness depicts spirit-crushing attacks on London and San Francisco: Abrams says he was eager to have more scenes in general where the audience “gets out and about” in a city setting on Earth. And we know that Uhura has a cooler part. One of Team Abrams’ sharp departures from Trek history is the romance between Uhura and Spock. Both Quinto and Saldana say they were glad to see the relationship tested in new ways and pointed to the novelty of an onscreen couple who struggle with the fact that they are, well, not the same species. Saldana, true to Abrams’ remark about actors making their voices heard, had one more message for the writing team: “I told them to make sure that Uhura kicks more ass. And she does!”

Quinto is proud of Spock’s arc, too, though he’s either tortuously or tantalizingly vague on details, depending on your point of view. “I think we tapped into something in the first film that a lot of people weren’t expecting, which is the emotional undercurrent and how powerfully it runs through him,” he says. “That continues in this film. There are things that happen to him — and things that he’s part of — that are incredibly personal…. That was really exciting for me both physically and emotionally.” So for Spock, you can expect…things!

And then there’s the arrival of Cumberbatch’s mysterious character, John Harrison. In the trailer for Into Darkness, the actor appears to display superhuman abilities, which would fit with the Khan suspicion. The actor, of course, is sworn to secrecy. “People care,” he says. “They really, really care, and they’re engaged by this — and as long as I don’t say something by accident, then it’s all to the good.”

Pine knows the pressure Cumberbatch is under, particularly as a newcomer to the franchise: “When you get on the train of a tentpole movie like this, there is so much expected of you when it comes to promoting the film. There’s a huge learning curve, and it’s not easy. There’s the excitement, the questions asked, the fact that this is Star Trek — and the fact that J.J. keeps secrets like no one else.”

Ah, yes, J.J. and his secrets. For the record, everyone expects Abrams to serve as a producer on upcoming Star Trek films. But even folks close to him were jolted by the announcement that he was taking on Star Wars next. Orci, the most devoted fan of classic Trek within the inner circle at Bad Robot, is of two minds. “For J.J. this is achieving a childhood dream — Star Wars is what got him in the business,” he says. “So watching him go to his Super Bowl like this? It’s genuinely joyful for me. [But] as a guy who is in love with Star Trek and in love with this version of it? It puts a scared lump in my throat. It’s like hearing one of the band members is going to do a solo album. I know Star Wars is going to be better for it. And I suspect Star Trek will be fine with the rest of us still here.”

Despite the turmoil, there are two big winners in the new scenario. One, obviously, is Abrams himself: He becomes the first earthling with an active dual citizenship in two of the coolest deep-space mythologies in entertainment history. The other is all of us. One of our great storytellers is breathing life into two far-flung galaxies — and we get to live in both.

Read more:
‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ motion poster features Cumberbatch voiceover
14 different ways of looking at J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Wars’
‘Fanboys’ director Kyle Newman on J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Wars’ takeover

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