When Paramount held the first screening for "Star Trek Into Darkness," Robert Orci was one of the people who showed up to introduce the film, and during the Q&A afterwards, it was immediately clear that Orci wanted to be the director of the next film in the series. He treated it as a joke, but it didn't matter. The desire on his part was palpable, and I'm not remotely shocked to see that he's now been confirmed as the director.
So what does this mean? What is an all-Orci "Star Trek" going to look like?
To be honest, I'm not sure anyone can answer that question yet. The series itself is at a very strange place. While very few people seemed to be satisfied with the last film, it did leave things in a great place for a sequel because the crew has finally been sent away from Earth on their "five-year-mission," meaning pretty much anything is on the table for where they can go and what they can do. And Orci inherits a tremendous ensemble cast. I'm willing to admit that the reason I went easy on "Into Darkness" the first time around is because I just plain enjoy watching these people together.
So now Orci's got a great cast and a completely blank slate, story-wise. He's also got no writing partner at this point, and he's calling the shots. One of the reasons for the success of Orci and Kurtzman as a team is because they are exceptionally good at satisfying executive notes, and while that might sound like faint praise, let me be clear. Satisfying executive notes is the single most difficult thing any Hollywood studio writer has to do. It's one of the reasons I don't think I've been particularly good at maintaining any momentum as a screenwriter. From my very first experience on, I have bristled at what I have considered stupid comments. I've gotten amazing notes from people on a number of things, and when it's obvious someone is genuinely trying to improve something, I will happily go back in and rework something as many times as it takes. But when you're writing a Clive Barker movie and an executive begins a meeting by saying, "I don't like horror films, and I don't like the people who make them, and here's what I think of your story," then I find I have no poker face at all, and I am perfectly willing to tell someone that they're wrong.
Orci and Kurtzman have, for the vast majority of their studio movies, been at the beck and call of someone else. Producers. Directors. Studio executives. And what I've noticed is that they seem to be the masters of movies that work in five minute segments but that rarely work as a coherent whole. To me, that suggests that they're good at the basics of writing a scene or writing characters, but that they are so willing to incorporate every whim and fancy from anyone working above them in the production food chain that they lose sight of the big picture.
I would hate for them to burn this franchise down with this next film, but for this to continue, they really need to focus on telling a great story. Not good. Not passable. Not fun but inconsequential. If they want to prove that "Star Trek" is a viable ongoing storytelling concern, then it's time to tell a truly great story. And for Orci, there will never be a better chance for him to prove that he can both direct a big-canvass studio movie and also that he can write a movie that works in a cohesive way.
Paramount's definitely gambling here, and as with any gambling, there are huge dangers involved, but if they win, they'll win big, and Orci will most likely become the King of All Things Star Trek for the foreseeable future.
One thing's for sure… the scrutiny that Orci and his film will be under when it finally comes out will be unlike anything he's ever experienced. Good or bad, people will be waiting for him, and I hope he comes out swinging, with something to prove.
"Star Trek 3" will be aiming for a 2016 release, most likely, but no official date has been set.