We caught up with STAR TREK BEYOND co-writer Doug Jung ahead of the July 22 premiere, and now that a little time has passed with the film in theaters, we thought it was safe to now share our spoiler-heavy interview – talking about everything from Jaylah and Krall’s backstory to the writer’s surprising on-screen debut as Sulu’s husband.

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TREKCORE: I want to hear about how you and Simon collaborated. You didn’t know each other, right?

JUNG: We didn’t know each other, but obviously I was a fan of Simon, and knew him from his work. I work with Bad Robot, and he and J.J. Abrams are close, and they were just saying, you know, “Listen – he’s great. Simon might be a movie star or celebrity or whatever, but he’s great; a really creative guy.”

We just met and we sort of got on. He’s great. He’s cool. He’s as smart and funny and nice as you’d imagine.

jung-lin
Jung on set with director Justin Lin.

We started off with a blank page. The creative team of this movie had never met each other before – and had nothing. [Laughs] I give Bad Robot, J.J., and [producer] Lindsey Weber a lot of credit to be able to wrangle that and to get something out of us.

TREKCORE: In terms of your process, how did you come up with some of the deep-dive Trek references?

JUNG: A lot of them kind of came from like, we remembered something or we knew kind of what we wanted, and we’d think, “Oh, it would be great if we could find something that fit that.”

A lot of those line references are us just sort of having fun, like when Simon says “the big green hand” or we took some names of some red shirts that had been killed. So a lot of those were us just sort of having fun – but there were other things that were built into the mythology that helped us.

mourns
A big green hand grabs the Enterprise. (TOS: “Who Mourns for Adonais?”

For example, we had the idea with [Krall]. We knew what we wanted him to go through. We knew we wanted him to have this sort of idealistic, philosophical difference with Starfleet, but we didn’t quite have why – so we were like, “Maybe he came from this world that was taken over by the Federation,” but then we were sort of like, “Well, why don’t we wrap it back around in the mythology?” and we got to, “Why don’t we make him a former member of M.A.C.O.?”

We get to shine a light on what I imagine would have been a very turbulent time, right before the Federation is created. And for him to be in that sort of precipice of change and to be a guy who is being asked to make a big change, and is unable to do it, that sort of just fit in thematically with everything we were sort of saying. So it was a gift of fifty years of Trek lore rising to the surface when we need it.

macos
Two M.A.C.O. marines posted to the Enterprise NX-01. (ENT: “North Star”)

TREKCORE: That’s such a great reference. I never would have thought the M.A.C.O. forces would have been disbanded because of that kind of thing.

JUNG: I thought it’d be kind of interesting, too. You can make some modern analogies in terms of like the CIA, which is – you’re asking these people, you’re training them their whole lives to see the world one way, and then you say, “Oh, by the way, you’re now obsolete, but we’d like you to do [this other thing].” It’s tough.

TREKCORE: Did you feel any responsibility to include these types of deep Trek things?

JUNG: I don’t think we felt like we had to do it, but we wanted to do it – and also, there was some kind of sneaky fun in it. But for sure, we wanted fans to feel like we weren’t taking too pedestrian of a view of this.

grunberg
Greg Grunberg appears as Commander Finnegan. (“Star Trek Beyond”)

TREKCORE: I have to ask you, Greg Grunberg’s character, in the credits, is Finnegan – from “Shore Leave,” right?

JUNG: Yeah, that’s right! [Laughs] I totally forgot that. That was a Simon thing. And some of the dates we used were references; we talked about the ship a lot, the Franklin. But that was all fun, too, you know – like back then, they didn’t actually have human transporters, you couldn’t beam a human up.

So we had to put a line in where Scotty says, “I made these recalibrations.”

TREKCORE: So, in terms of the script – tell me about the evolution of Jaylah.

JUNG: We wanted to have a strong female character; I think Simon’s talked about this, like Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone.” We just kept referring to her as ‘Jennifer Lawrence’ for a long time, then somebody, joking, was like J-Law? [Laughs]

jaylah
Jennifer Lawrence in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” and Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah.

TREKCORE: Well, no one picked up on it until you guys talked about it!

JUNG: Well how would you? [Laughs] It’s so esoteric. But phonetically, it sounded good – ‘Jaylah.’ It sounded a little foreign.

We wanted her character to be someone who was outside of the understanding of the Federation and what it means, and really, to really be a blank slate in the sense that she has no real understanding even of her own people, in a way.

Again, it’s a little bit obvious, but she’s basically a survivor who is all about herself. Even the initial deal she makes to help the crew, she doesn’t do it out of the kindness of her heart. We thought it would be nice to have a character who can feel the full effect of what it means to be a part of this Federation and this group of people. To adopt their sort of unifying way in which they look at who they are.

She was kind of great, and Sofia was amazing. As soon as we saw the makeup effects they were going to use, we knew it was going to be great.

TREKCORE: Okay, same thing for Krall – what was your goal with his character?

JUNG: That was one of the first conversations we had. Again, we were trying to find something that felt it was worthy of the fifty-year anniversary – so a character who could challenge the Roddenberry universe.

Justin had an interesting take on it. He’s a Taiwanese-born guy who’s interested in politics, and I am, too, and we had this talk, with Simon, too, saying “Could that utopian kind of universe actually exist? What does that mean? Is it even necessarily good – and without a sort of Darwinist drive, do people evolve or will they just not? And what is the Federation?” If you look at it one way, it feels like it’s sort of colonization.

krall-weapon
Krall aims his weapon. (“Star Trek Beyond”)

These are themes that have sort of been addressed in Star Trek. We thought it would be an interesting thing to bring up and also parallel with Kirk’s personal journey of realizing his initial purpose for joining Starfleet – or, at least one of them – has been accomplished. He’s eclipsed his father. Now what? Now what do you do?

It sort of felt like they were all kind of dancing around the same idea of “How do you find purpose? What does it mean that we’re trying to create this ideal as a society?” That’s how Krall came out of it.

TREKCORE: What about the challenges in conveying the whole ‘DNA vampire’ aspect – about how Krall was sustaining himself on the lives of other people?

JUNG: Well, here’s the thing – it was really easy to talk about, but once we got there it was pretty challenging. There were ways we could have done it to demonstrate that he has this technology, but again, if you get to into it you start to cast light on some of the things that might not be quite as believable – or, you just tip your hat too much that he’s not who he is.

We had a lot of different versions. We hinted at it a lot more at one point. We talked about it more at one point. And then ultimately we just sort of decided that we needed it to be part of the whole reveal package. It’s a complex idea, if you really think about what he had to do and how he had to get there.

edison-krall
Captain Balthazar Edison… and his later appearance as Krall. (“Star Trek Beyond”)

TREKCORE: The lynchpin of the movie is the reveal of Krall’s true history – I loved it, but as I was watching I knew some people would say, “Oh, it’s just another bad guy in heavy makeup.”

JUNG: Well, there was actually another phase [of makeup] that we took out, where Krall became too human-looking, and you would have connected the dots a little more. But one thing that surprised me is that no one was saying “Oh, there’s Idris Elba in a lot of makeup; there’s an NX ship that seems like it shouldn’t be there. He’s going to end up being the [captain.]”

NOTE: This interview was was conducted before the ‘Krall is Edison’ TV spot was released.

TREKCORE: No, there wasn’t even a word of that.

JUNG: But that was a tough one; that was one of the big balancing acts. How do we portray this guy without giving away too much, to kind of make him interesting and try to make him seem like he’s not just another dude with a beef. At some level you can’t avoid that. You have to preserve the things to come.

But because we were preserving that surprise, there was no other way to do it than to basically have him talk about it. And to have him talk about it in the past was much better than to have him talk about it in the future.

There was one version where he was talking about in the future, and he explained it all, and it leaves [the audience] wondering, “Why are you explaining this to us? No one cares. We just want you dead.”

attack4
Krall’s drone soldiers overpower the Enterprise crew. (“Star Trek Beyond”)

TREKCORE: Justin Lin talked a bit in our interview about backstory to the drone soldiers that didn’t make it into the film – can you expand a bit on that?

JUNG: We had loftier ambitions about that planet from early on. Justin’s idea was that [the soldiers] were sort of like drones in a way, and that they don’t actually have a lot conscious thought of their own. That sort of answers how Krall would be able to come in and take all this stuff.

But they weren’t a society that had weaponized anything. He took this energy source and perverted it in a particular way, and took over what was essentially a mining colony out there. It was one of those things were we felt that he didn’t have an invading force, but he was taking his skills as an ex-soldier and applying them in a way that he probably never thought he would have to do.

ykt-civ
Ben (Doug Jung) runs for safety as he carries his – and Sulu’s – daughter. (“Star Trek Beyond”)

TREKCORE: What about your role in the film as Ben, Sulu’s partner? Had you ever acted before?

JUNG: No, I’d never done it before, and it sort of came up as a last minute thing. There was an actor they had cast in Dubai – and it is really hard to cast in Dubai, because there are not a lot of local actors – and he fell out for whatever reason and Justin and Lindsey kind of said, “Listen, if you’d be up for it, it would be great. Cho’s up for it.”

I was self-conscious about just being up on the screen. I’m not an actor. But Cho’s amazing just in the way we talked about it, and how Justin wanted to it, and how everyone wanted to portray it.

It was great to do and I was really proud to be able to do it, because it’s not often you get to put your money where your mouth is and it’s something we all believed in so strongly.

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  • James

    I enjoyed the film, but not as much as ST09 or Into Darkness (6/10 for me). Krall was too much like Khan, a baddie, abandoned on a planet, festering a hatred for the Federation. Kralls plan made no sense to me. He was stuck on that planet, sucking out the life of passers by in the hopes of one day acquiring the super weapon. Why was he stuck on the planet? he could have left any time he liked? Also, did he just forget about his old rust-bucket? Did he hate the Federation? did he want to save it, reshape it – what? What was his motivation for killing all the people on the Yorktown.

    Finally – I wish that he had helped Kirk at the end, realised that he was wrong. It would have been good if he’d been shown a kindness, maybe Kirk passes up a chance to kill him and he helps to save the day.

    I found Beyond to be much like Ghostbusters, kinda fun, but with a really shallow plot, a silly McGuffin and a weak villain. I know some didn’t ‘get’ Into Darkness, but that film was about something. It was about America in a post 9-11 world, it touched on drone strikes and was relevant.

    • David James

      I enjoyed the movie more than you, but have to agree the plot was a lot more simple and barebones than I would have preferred. And it just never gave you much to really sink your teeth into.

      The Krall reveal was a decent one, but came way too late to make much of a difference.

      • Fred

        “Hey, we just crashed in Yorktown and oh, look, Krall’s background.”

        Yeah, seemed wierdly paced. Might have made more sense to see this reveal done while the Franklin was being prepped for launch.

    • Pedro Ferreira

      Any film is better than the new Ghostbusters.

    • bbock

      He also was too much like the Son’a who were really Ba’ku who were physically altered and rendered nearly unrecognizable by their parent race. They ripped off Star Trek Insurrection. A mutated and embittered outcast returns to destroy the society he feels rejected him.

    • Jan Schreiber

      affirmative

    • anakinbrego

      Exactly James, Krall was such an unwritten character.

  • Sykes

    I loved Beyond, and was really appreciate of Jung and Pegg’s efforts.

  • CoolGeek

    Loved the movie.Its one of my favourites now for sure.

  • Pedro Ferreira

    I think like most people I thought Krall would redeem himself in the end. Not sure if him not doing this was the right way to go to be honest.

    • scotchyscotchscotch

      Yeah there is a moment when he looks into the shard of glass when I thought that might happen too. The music leading up to that moment when he is flying through the compartments to reach Kirk hinted at it. I think that was intentional

      • Pedro Ferreira

        I found it frustrating they just had him try to kill Kirk.

    • bbock

      SPOILERS: I thought that as the biotech that altered him cleared and as Krall got closer to his human form, his conversations with Uhura and Kirk should have set in. And at the last minute, he’d become the hero he was and sacrifice himself. But no. What a lousy end. This character is warped by some alien whatever and just becomes irredeemably evil. That’s not Star Trek or Star Wars. It was lousy, un-Trek ending to what was a reasonably interesting idea.

      • Pedro Ferreira

        I agree. You could argue when he looks into that shard of glass we’re tricked into thinking he’ll redeem himself but I don’t feel the writers should have done that. I told this to my friend who saw the movie with me and he said it would never happen as Krall had killed too many people to be redeemed so he thinks the outcome made sense to him.

    • Eric Cheung

      I was hoping he’d have a change of heart too. Since I’m not fond of them having villains in the first place, I kind of wish they’d at least give the villain a moment of Trekian redemption.

    • allison schoenthal

      There was a moment, when he saw his reflection, where I thought he would realize that he was basically fighting against the peace he helped create and help Jim save the station.

      • Pedro Ferreira

        Yeah, bit of a copout having him not be redeemed.

        • Botany Cameos

          While I also wondered if/hoped that he was about to change his mind in that scene, I feel that if he had, everyone would be saying it’s so predictable and obvious etc… him staying bad was perhaps more interesting because it was unexpected after that scene.

          Or worse, maybe he really did change his mind, grabbed that shard of glass to try and help force the door thingie open, and Jim thought he was about to attack him and kicked him. 😛

          • Pedro Ferreira

            Nah, he wanted to kill him. I think the writers tried to double bluff the audience and it didn’t work right.

  • I loved Beyond; I hope they bring Jung (and Pegg) back to write Reboot #4. I know Abrams says he already has a script for #4, but I don’t trust the man who made Into Darkness; I want the creative team that made Beyond.

    • FSPOK

      I Stand with Lin and Pegg for ST4!!

    • allison schoenthal

      J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay are set as the writers for the next one, which is a shame because I’d love to see Pegg and Jung back.

    • Botany Cameos

      Beyond is good but STID was way better. (And the box office agrees.)

      I’d be very worried for 4 if it wasn’t made by “the man who made Into Darkness”. Besides, you do know he was producer and heavily involved in Beyond as well, right?

  • Locutus

    I wonder if part of the casting difficulty in Dubai had to do with the fact that they were casting for a homosexual character in a country in which the penalty for homosexuality is the death penalty. If I were an actor in Dubai, that might give me pause …

    • Fctiger

      Cho actually mentioned that in another interview. It wasn’t just being gay but also an Asian actor as well. So they could find guys who would probably play gay but the lack of Asian actors was the real issue. I think if they decided to just have the actor any color then they probably wouldve been fine.

  • DIGINON

    Interesting bit about Jung’s “accidental” casting as Sulu’s husband. It’s kind of a shame because the fact that he is not an actor probably doesn’t bode well for a future expansion of the relationship. He did well enough in Beyond but I wonder if he’ll feel comfortable playing a larger role if they decide to bring his character back.

    • madmadia85

      in that case, they’ll have more time to recast him with another asian actor. The problem was finding one in Dubai.

  • FSPOK

    The best of the 3 films in Kelvin’s time line.

  • Fiery Little One

    Of JJ’s Trek, this is the best so far. I would be more than happy to see Doug and Simon’s names on the writers’ credit from here to whenever they decide they’ve had enough of making these movies.

  • Newdivide1701

    IMDb goofed on its trivia:

    The Franklin’s dedication plaque lists it as a Starship class vessel. This was the original class of the Enterprise from the pilot of Star Trek (1966), before it was changed to the canon Constitution class. Some references in Star Trek lore, such as technical manuals and novels, still refer to the original Enterprise as a Starship class. The name Constitution class was only ever mentioned by the characters once, in Star Trek: The Next Generation: Relics (1992) (which guest starred James Doohan, the original Scotty).

    As far as I know it was the first season of Next Generation, specifically the episode The Naked Now when Picard said Kirk’s Enterprise is Constitution class. When I read that, I thought something was wrong, looked back at that episode’s online script, and there we go.