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While the lukewarm reception to Star Trek Into Darkness has left the future of the franchise uncertain, with even director J.J Abrams recently describing the movie as ‘a little bit lightweight,’ a group of independent filmmakers set out to make their own crowd-funded picture that celebrated all the things that they loved growing up as fans of the series.
Set two decades before the pilot episode, first broadcast in 1966, Star Trek Axanar follows the story of Garth of Izar, a decorated war hero and Starfleet captain whose adventures would later serve as inspiration for cadets at the academy, one being future Starship Enterprise leader James T. Kirk. The character of Garth had made an official appearance during the original run of Star Trek, with the late Steve Ihnat taking on the role in the 1969 episode Whom Gods Destroy.
The story encountered some controversy in the United Kingdom due to the themes writers Lee Erwin and Jerry Sohl explored. ‘Three episodes from the third year of production, namely The Empath, Plato’s Stepchildren and Whom Gods Destroy, did not pass the censorship standards of the time and were not aired on British TV,’ explained critic Larry Kreitzer in Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion and American Culture. ‘Given that all three deal with the suffering of beings at the hands of capricious ‘gods,’ one wonders whether they were all considered by the censor to be too theologically controversial for the British public.’
The fan-made feature was financed through popular crowdfunding website Indiegogo and was pitched as ‘the first fully-professional, independent Star Trek film,’ revealing that the project had not been sanctioned by CBS. The producers of the film raised almost twice the target sum earlier this year, with the final total through the site being $568,884. For a non-canon production such as Axanar, the filmmakers managed to secure the talents of several notable film and television veterans, such as Candyman‘s Tony Todd, Gary Graham (TV’s Alien Nation) and Richard Hatch, forever known to fans of science fiction as Captain Apollo in the original 1970s show Battlestar Galactica.
‘You never know what you’re going to get until you show up,’ admitted Hatch during the raising of the budget. ‘I mean, I thought maybe they’d have a little green-screen thrown up against a wall, we would come and talk a little bit, and that would be it.’ In the role of Captain Garth is co-writer Alec Peters who, according to the project’s website, first devised the story twenty years ago. Prior to Axanar, however, Peters had previously played Garth when he participated in the 2012 fan series Star Trek: New Voyages.
As a teaser of sorts for the feature, the producers developed a twenty-minute short entitled Prelude to Axanar co-written by Peters and director Christian Gossett, with Peters once again in the role of Garth, Hatch portraying Klingon Commander Kharn and Todd as Admiral Ramirez. While Gossett had overseen the shoot of Prelude, for its feature adaptation Robert Meyer Burnett was brought onboard as director, whose own unofficial connection to the Star Trek universe dates back to his 1998 short film Free Enterprise, which featured an appearance from Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner.Despite the hard work that the makers of Axanar have thrown into their project and the interest generated among fans of the series, the producers now face a lawsuit from Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios for ‘copyright infringement.’ According to Deadline; ‘The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks monetary damages and an injunction restraining the producers from distributing, marketing and selling the film…The suit notes that the two films are ‘substantially similar to the Star Trek copyrighted works,’ with Vulcans, Klingons and many of the original franchise’s characters portrayed throughout.’
The filmmakers have since responded to the suit via their Facebook page; ‘Well, it appears CBS knows that Axanar is exactly what fans want, because they are trying to shut us down! While Team Axanar will have a response shortly, know this DOES NOT deter us from what we are doing! Delivering to fans exactly what you want…Goliath, meet David (and his thousands of screaming fans)!’