‘Please Stand By’ might be the loving tribute to Trek we all deserve.
Image: Magnolia Pictures
Quentin Tarantino has an idea for a Star Trek movie and people are very excited about it. Deadline broke the news that Tarantino had approached Paramount and JJ Abrams with an idea both liked enough that the studio has given the director a team of writers to help him sort it out. It’s interesting news for Trek fans, who’ve languished through a trilogy of mostly terrible movies and the much-debated new television series Star Trek: Discovery.
Tarantino is a man who built his career on homage and there’s reason to believe he’d treat Trek right, but his project—if it even gets made—is years away. But that doesn’t mean the next great Star Trek movie isn’t on the horizon. It’ll be out in a little over a month. It’s called Please Stand By, stars Dakota Fanning, and will be out at the end of January. Watching its trailers filled me with a weird mix of hope and exuberance for the franchise that I haven’t felt since Deep Space Nine ended in 1999.
The film stars Fanning as Wendy, an autistic young woman whose life adheres to a strict routine. She wakes up, walks her dog, goes to work at Cinnabon, then comes home to watch Star Trek before she falls asleep. In her spare time, she churns out scripts for a Trek shows that are long dead.
She learns of a script writing contest for Star Trek fans and decides she must submit a copy of her favorite. She wants to enter the contest, but something stops her and she decides to travel across the country to Los Angeles to hand in the script personally at Paramount Studios. Cue shenanigans as her sister and caregiver try to track her down while Wendy presses forward against all odds to achieve her goal.
“Captain,” Wendy says in a voice over during the trailer. “There’s only one logical way to go—forward.” Her script is titled ‘The Many and the Few’ and includes a scene where Spock cradles a dying Kirk in his arms. It’s a great title for a classic Trek spec script and makes me believe that this movie was written by and for people who care deeply about the 50-year-old science fiction franchise.
Star Trek fandom has long been fodder for cheap laughs and freak watching in the mainstream culture. There’s the painfully unfunny fight scene between Trek and Wars fans from 2009’s mostly forgotten Fanboys, and a parade of documentaries about Trek fans that don’t paint us in a flattering light.
Please Stand By feels different. In the dream sequences shown in the trailer, two figures—presumably Kirk and Spock—crest a sandy dune wearing space suits similar to those they wore in “The Tholian Web.” Patton Oswalt plays a kindly police officer who uses Klingon to lure a frightened Wendy out of a hiding place. The poster shows Fanning throwing the Vulcan salute. The filmmakers seem to know what they’re doing.
Trek has changed since I was a kid. It’s matured and moved on, become a vehicle for conspiracy theory, a place to let diverse voices shine, and a place to tell complicated stories about the current American wars. For a while, it looked like it lost its soul in the bargain. Stories change, they evolve. They have to or they die. I get that. But there will always be a part of me that longs for the simple days of Picard and Data, of Sisko and Garrick, of Kirk and Spock.
Please Stand By looks like a love letter to fans that feel the same. Trek may have moved on, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad now and it doesn’t make the old stories less powerful. Kirk and Spock, and The Next Generation crew, and the people of Deep Space Nine are all waiting for us. The fans keep them alive by watching the shows, writing new scripts, and talking about their favorites online. Now and then, they even get to make a movie about it.