Robert Meyer Burnett called it the “best Star Trek script ever,” at least according to one of its credited writers, Alec Peters.
No, we’re not talking about the upcoming “Star Trek: Beyond” or the pilot episode of Star Trek: Series VI. Instead, Burnett was talking about the script for “Star Trek: Axanar,” what the crew itself calls an “independent” fan-film in the Star Trek universe. And one that is currently part of a high-profile copyright infringement suit filed by Star Trek intellectual property owners CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures.
But what is “Axanar”? If you ask Burnett or Peters, it’s a production that requires at least $2 million, its own dedicated studio in Valencia, California, and is set just before the timeline of the original “Star Trek” television series. The production’s official website describes the story as centering on Garth of Izar, a character first introduced in the Trek episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”
“Kirk called Garth the role model for all future Starfleet officers,” the site said. “Garth charted more planets than any other captain, and was the hero of the Battle of Axanar, the story of which is required reading at the academy. This is that story.”
The story, according to an early draft of the script obtained by 1701News, starts with children playing with a ball outside of their home. Nearby, a family is having a picnic. Then in what was probably intended as a very dramatic camera-pullout, we the viewers climb up above the children, the street, the town, and up over the clouds.
“We pull back higher and higher,” the “Axanar” script begins. “Land masses become continents and oceans. The whole planet looms, then begins to shrink smaller and smaller as we pull away. Sounds of children playing continues, but fades as …
“A ship comes into view moving towards the planet. We see the familiar shape of a Klingon vessel and the Klingon trefoil. Slowly, another Klingon ship comes into view, and another and another, until we see an armada approaching the planet.
“The laughter of children is gone. An invasion remains.”
The script shared with 1701News is missing identifying information, like a cover page, as well as dates and other information. However, an anonymous source who has had access to “Axanar” scripts verified these details are from a version of “Axanar” before what is described as “the Vulcan scene” was filmed, but while the Axanar Productions team was raising money to produce the film through crowdfunding.
Mike Bawden, a spokesman for Axanar Productions, told 1701News in an email response that while he is “not clear as to the journalistic value of reviewing and discussing an early draft of the ‘Axanar’ script, we only want to point out that the project is, and will continue to be, going through revisions as we work towards a mutual understanding with CBS and Paramount that addresses the concerns raised in their copyright infringement lawsuit and, hopefully, allows us to proceed with telling a Star Trek story that thousands of fans have supported with their generous donations.”
Before issuing that statement, Bawden posted in a Facebook group dedicated to “Axanar” fans that claimed the 1701News reporting on the case is a result of a “personal vendetta” against Peters, without elaborating on what that vendetta might be.
“Axanar Productions remains committed to finding a way to respect the concerns and rights of the IP owners, and still find a way to tell a great story that over 10,000 backers support,” Bawden said in the Facebook post. “We view Mr. Hinman’s effort to drive a wedge between our production and its backers as nothing more than another step in his personal vendetta against Alec Peters, the executive producer of ‘Axanar.'”
Following the invasion opening, the Garth character — who until recently was going to be played by Peters himself — jumps into a voiceover leading into a rotating “Axanar” title screen.
“After 80 years of peace with the Klingons, the bad blood that had been simmering since the earliest days of the Federation boiled over into an all-out war,” Garth would say, according to the script. “Now, the alliance that had united space-faring races was being ripped apart by galactic conflict. It would all come to a head at one historic battle.”
In its lawsuit filed last December, both CBS and Paramount say Peters and his Axanar Productions company infringe on their Star Trek intellectual property by “using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species and themes.” In fact, the studios said, the Axanar films are “intended to be professional quality productions that, by defendants’ own admission, unabashedly take Paramount’s and CBS’ intellectual property and aim to ‘look and feel like a true Star Trek movie.'”
Axanar answered the suit last week with a motion to dismiss the case. Winston & Strawn attorney Erin Ranahan, who represents Peters and Axanar, said the suit against the main film were premature because the film has yet to be made.
“To determine whether there is substantial similarity between the Star Trek works and the allegedly infringing potential fan film, this court must be able to compare the relevant works,” Ranahan said.
In fact, she cites a previous case where a judge ruled that a court “may compare the two works for similarities in ‘the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters and sequence of events.'” Without a finished film, Ranahan said, such a determination cannot be made by the court.
Then again, that does bring up the question of how much a script — especially one that may have been an active work during times of fundraising — can meet the thresholds Ranahan claims are required in a case such as this.
CBS and Paramount have said in their suit that “Axanar” uses characters and other protected creations in the Star Trek universe owned by the two studios. They include Capt. Robert April (canonized as the first captain of the USS Enterprise), Vulcan ambassador Soval from “Star Trek: Enterprise,” Sarek from the original “Star Trek” series, as well as several of the feature films including 2009’s “Star Trek,” and even USS Kelvin captain Richard Robau, who also was featured in the 2009 film.
Those characters, for the most part, are indeed featured in the 1701News-obtained “Axanar” script. April first pops up when Garth and his ship arrive at dry dock, hailing what is described as a Constitution-class starship, the same class as the USS Enterprise in the original “Star Trek.” Soval and Sarek show up together, in what appears to be an early version of the already-produced “Vulcan scene,” that is instead at Starfleet Headquarters.
Robau is there as well, except his name is misspelled “Rabau.” Just as the CBS/Paramount lawsuit says, “Rabau” is a squadron commander.
“We’ll deploy Connor’s squadron in a patrol stance half a million kilometers out from Axanar,” Garth says, according to the script. “Rabau’s will be hiding behind Axanar’s moon.”
“I prefer to think of us as strategically placed, not hiding,” the “Rabau” character says. That prompts all of them to “smile or chuckle” while Garth “nods in ascent.”
Those aren’t the only established characters who show up in this script. Also making appearances are Chang from “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” Capt. Pike from the original series episode “The Cage,” as well as the later Star Trek movies, and even an appearance near the end from James T. Kirk himself.
The studios also have an issue with the use of Klingons, Vulcans, Andorians, the United Federation of Planets. The word “Klingon” appears more than 160 times in the script reviewed by 1701News. “Vulcan” is mentioned 15 times while “Federation” just less than 35 times.
Even the look of the Ares bridge is very similar, if not the same, as those used in the original “Trek” series, in the “Axanar” script reviewed by 1701News. When the starship Ares is introduced, it’s being chased by Klingon ships through space. The script then describes the interior bridge as “an instantly recognizable setting as a Starfleet ship of the TOS (the original series) era, though somewhat different: a more muted color palette; a different command well.”
The early script also seemed more than eager to actually take from already-produced Star Trek episodes when needed. A scene with Garth and Capt. April takes place at the 602 Club, which was featured in the “Enterprise” episodes “Shuttlepod One” and “First Flight.” In fact, instead of creating their own exterior of the club, the “Axanar” script calls for “stock footage from ‘Enterprise.'”
CBS and Paramount elected not to directly challenge Axanar’s dismissal motion, and instead opted to file an amended complaint after a judge refused the studios’ request for a two-week extension. The studios are expected to file that amended complaint with the U.S. District Court ahead of the scheduled March 21 hearing.
CBS and Paramount have asked the judge to stop the production from moving forward, and to award the studios $150,000 for each infringement violation, or actual damages caused by the alleged infringement.
Although Axanar has closed its Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the production, the group still offers visitors a chance to make donations through the main Axanar website.
Independent filmmaker Jody Wheeler reviews the early “Star Trek: Axanar” script here.