Prelude To Axanar
This is an episode of a fan-made series whose storyline may be invalidated by later official studio productions.
Stardate 2241.03: Decades of long-simmering tensions between the Klingon Empire and the young United Federation of Planets explode into war when the Klingons attack the colonized Arcanis system, on the border between Federation and Klingon space. With Starfleet spread thin as the Federation expands, Arcanis falls quickly to the Klingons’ might, and the taste of fresh victory spurs to Klingons to continue their advance into Fedeation space. With the promotion of Admiral Ramirez to lead Starfleet, development begins on a new class of Starfleet vessel capable of meeting the Klingons on an equal footing. Captain Kevlar Garth and Captain Sonya Alexander are among the sharp tacticians who begin to turn the tide against the Klingons, handing them their first defeats.
Cast: Richard Hatch (Commander Kharn), Tony Todd (Admiral Ramirez), Kate Vernon (Captain Alexander), J.G. Hertzler (Admiral Travis), Ambassador Soval (Gary Graham), Alec Peters (Captain Garth), Orion Acaba (Narrator), Steven Jepson (Admiral Slater)
Notes: Tony Todd appeared as Worf’s brother, Kurn, in several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Though often remembered as Ellen Tigh in the 21st century reboot of Battlestar Galactica, Kate Vernon has also appeared in Star Trek (namely, the In The Flesh episode of Voyager). J.G. Hertzler was a recurring guest star in Deep Space Nine’s fourth through seventh seasons as the Klingon General Martok, while former Alien Nation star Gary Graham appeared in many episodes of Enterprise as Ambassador Soval. Richard Hatch was Apollo in the original 1970s iteration of Battlestar Galactica, while narrator Orion Acaba is the voice of Clyde in Pac-Man And The Ghostly Adventures.
Garth of Izar was seen in the classic Star Trek episode Whom Gods Destroy, many years after the events of this story, by which point he had gone mad, gone rogue, and has been given shapeshifting ability; his historic feats at the battle of Axanar are briefly mentioned in that episode. This “historical film” is narrated by “John Gill”, a Federation historian who himself went rogue, also encountered by Captain Kirk and company in Patterns Of Force. The Four Years War between the Federation and the Klingons, the Arcanis surprise attack, and Garth’s command of the Marklin-class U.S.S. Xenophon, are lifted directly from the Four Years War expansion module of FASA’s 1980s Star Trek Role Playing Game; other characters, ships and locations are new creations. Co-writer and co-star Alec Peters has worked on Star Trek in an official capacity for CBS, overseeing the auctions of props, models and costumes from all of the television series following the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise; as head of his own company, he was instrumental in recovering the original ’60s Galileo shuttlecraft prop and arranging for its restoration, after which the prop “landed” at the visitor center at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Director and co-writer Christian Gossett is a well-regarded comic writer and artist, known for creating the military-sci-fi-with-magic comic The Red Star. His media credits include work on the 2005 King Kong remake, the screenplay for the video game Pitfall 3-D: Beyond The Jungle, and concept art for Star Wars Episode I and Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.
Review: Brilliantly framed as a documentary recounting years of open warfare between the Federation and the Klingons, Prelude To Axanar features familiar faces in new roles, but since there are virtually no familiar characters to latch onto here, Prelude throws the audience a life preserver in the shape of a familiar format. Prelude To Axanar feels like something that aired three nights ago on the 23rd Century History Channel.
The cast of this fan-made project is a stellar A-list of actors known for past science fiction roles, from Tony Todd to classic Galactica’s Richard Hatch to new Galactica’s Kate Vernon. J.G. Hertzler does a neat role-reversal here, appearing as a human instead of anything resembling his long-running Klingon character from Deep Space Nine. Gary Graham reprises the role of Vulcan Ambassador Soval from Star Trek: Enterprise, evolving his character from an ultra-conservative doubter of the human race to an elder statesman who has come to begrudgingly admire humanity. (Listen close for Soval’s tip-of-the-hat to another beloved Enterprise character.) The lone unknown face here is Axanar co-creator/writer Alec Peters as Captain Garth, a character featured in a single episode of classic Trek. Peters isn’t a dead ringer for Steve Inhat by any means, but he’s playing a younger version of Garth here: a brilliant tactician defending the Federation from an implacable threat. The misguided madness would come in Garth’s later years, and Peters does a credible job of the legendary captain as a younger man.
But arguably the real star of Axanar is its movie-quality effects, delivered in loving hi-def detail by Tobias Richter of The Light Works. Richter’s work has already been seen in such fan productions as Star Trek Phase II and animated intros for FedCon, but here he steps up his game, showing us the technological fork in the road between the “prime” timeline and the timeline of the J.J. Abrams movies, with numerous nods toward Star Trek: Enterprise. From asteroid belt battles to the mostly-intact Klingon ship plunging to its doom on the surface of a Federation world, this is another example of amateur filmmaking putting Hollywood on notice: L.A. doesn’t have a lock on big-screen spectacle.
It also doesn’t have a lock on other effects. The costuming and makeup in Prelude To Axanar withstands close-up scrutiny. The Klingon makeup on Ricard Hatch is the equal of any Klingon that Paramount Pictures has ever subjected to lengthy close-ups, and the richly-textured costuming of the classic series, from Klingon battledress to the Velour, Cage-era look Starfleet uniforms, is replicated very well. Christian Gossett, writer and artist of the cult classic Red Star comic among others, directs the live-action segments with an understated cinema verite style; the “interviews” allow laser-like focus on the performances, and the real fireworks are reserved for the CGI action sequences. The thought of Gossett and Richter collaborating had never occurred to me; now I’m wondering if these two might have a swing at bringing The Red Star to the screen, with or without a major studio involved. (I’d also love to see Gossett’s storyboards – it’s a pity that the fan productions aren’t allowed to make a single dime, because there’s an Incredibly Obvious Product waiting to happen right there.)
If there’s but a single nit to pick with Prelude To Axanar, it’s that it’s a 20-minute teaser for what’s obviously meant to be a much more expansive project. Just when you’re really getting into it, it’s over. That, however, is the nature of the Kickstarted beast; it’s a taster designed to elicit donations from those who wish to see more. Hopefully this top-notch cast and crew get to continue this chronicle into the Four Years War (a conflict which existed within the realm of FASA’s Star Trek RPG and Starship Tactical Combat Simulator game).
It’s no exaggeration at all to say that I’m looking forward to Axanar much more than I’m looking forward to whatever emerges next from the Paramount stable. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and the ball is in the studio’s court. Fandom is demonstrating a better understanding of the heart and soul of Star Trek than does Paramount these days; on the other hand, Paramount has marketing muscle and know-how that could widen the appeal and validity of projects like Axanar and Star Trek Continues.
Maybe the best thing that could possibly happen to the Star Trek franchise would be to meet in the middle.