William Shatner Wasn’t In The Star Trek Reboot For A Wild Reason

J.J. Abrams has a reason why William Shatner did not show up in his reboot of Star Trek, and it is pretty much classic Shatner.

By Nathan Kamal | Updated

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For many fans, William Shatner is the heart of the Star Trek franchise. After all, fans just very recently proclaimed him the best of all the Star Trek captains (even better than Scott Bakula, even) and he basically set the template for the optimistic, adventurous vibe of The Original Series. It was thus a bit surprising to many that he did not appear in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek that began in 2009, and still has not appeared in either of the sequels. His longtime co-star, Leonard Nimoy appeared in the first Star Trek movie, reprising his role of Commander Spock as a way to both explain the new timeline and symbolically pass the torch, but William Shatner was notably missing. So what happened there?

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According to an AMCtv.com interview with director/producer/glasses-wearer J.J. Abrams, they did try to work out a way for William Shatner to return to his role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk in Star Trek. Apparently, he was to appear in a recording held by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, presumably acting as both a reminder of the world that the Vulcan science officer had left behind and a reinforcement of the transition from one cast to the next. As Abrams puts it, Shatner was simply not interested in doing a Star Trek movie if it was not all about Captain Kirk. And to be fair, Abrams does not argue the point or pretend that Kirk is not the linchpin of the original incarnation of the franchise. Here is what Abrams had to say:

We actually had written a scene with him in it that was a flashback kind of thing, but the truth is, it didn’t quite feel right. The bigger thing was that he was very vocal that he didn’t want to do a cameo. We tried desperately to put him in the movie, but he was making it very clear that he wanted the movie to focus on him significantly, which, frankly, he deserves.

For the record, William Shatner as James T. Kirk canonically died in the 1994 film Star Trek Generations, beating Malcolm McDowell to a pulp after Patrick Stewart turned out not to be up to the task. While the element of time travel introduced in the 2009 Star Trek would not preclude the possibility of Kirk still being brought back in some form (plus, it’s all fictional so they can really do whatever they want), it seems that Shatner does not want to be brought back into the franchise unless he is the central character as he is used to being. If you don’t want William Shatner up front and center, you don’t get any William Shatner at all. 

Regardless of the presence of William Shatner as the most famous and freewheeling of Star Trek captains, the franchise is going strong. There are currently approximately several hundred Star Trek shows on the air right now, mostly on the Paramount+ streaming platform. While the critically acclaimed Star Trek: Picard is set to wrap up after its third season (even without Wesley Crusher), there is still Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek Prodigy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and probably a boatload more being developed right now. And while William Shatner might have some strict narrative requirements for his cooperation, we still do have Chris Pine as the Kelvin-variant Captain James T. Kirk and an upcoming movie. But maybe we will still get Shatner.