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Star Trek's Walter Koenig Spells Out The 'Madness' Of The First Film

The retroactively renamed "Star Trek: The Original Series" would go on to become one of the definitive pieces of science-fiction media in the decades after its original run from 1966 to 1969, and deservedly so. The show relentlessly broke boundaries in storytelling, representation, and our collective vision of the future. However, under the warm glow of history, the behind-the-scenes drama and contentious relationships that developed while filming the series are made hazy and often forgotten. Yet, when it came to the production of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," those issues resurfaced anew.

Indeed, it's easy to overlook the fact that before it spawned a movie franchise and revitalized itself with the spin-off series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "The Original Series" was canceled after three seasons, rendering the declaration of a "five-year mission" in its opening voiceover a broken promise. Nor were things particularly peachy among the cast. Leading man William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk, even made bad blood with his famously likable co-star George Takei.

As if the boat hadn't been rocked enough, there was the exacting oversight of showrunner Gene Roddenberry, a man who did not hesitate to boldly defend his vision for the series. He feuded with writers, even tempting the wrath of studio executives and producers, and was ultimately kicked off his own show before reseizing control for the first feature film.

Predictably, the issues on the set of the historic science-fiction show spilled over into the filming of the first "Star Trek" movie. Pavel Chekov actor Walter Koenig explained just how wild things got.

The third act of Star Trek: The Motion Picture wasn't written until production

As "Star Trek" star Walter Koenig explained in a 2016 interview with TV Insider, there was constant chaos on the set of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." After the initial excitement of finally being able to make the film a reality after so many hurdles to get there had worn off, the problems quickly became apparent. The first day on set featured a triumphant shot of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) surrounded by his crew, Koenig said, but it wasn't long before the larger problems became evident.

In fact, as Koenig tells it, the third act of the film wasn't written until long after the cameras had started rolling. Speaking to TV Insider, Koenig dished on the disarray he and other crew members had experienced, describing long days of languishing on set while "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and other writers hashed out the climax. "We didn't have a third act in the script. They had only written two acts and nobody knew how the story would end. We'd show up for work and they'd tell us to go eat bagels and have coffee, and that would go on for hours and hours because Gene and the writer, Harold Livingston, and the director, Robert Wise, were in conference trying to figure out an ending."

Indeed, Roddenberry's struggle to come up with a script for the film is well documented. At one point, he wanted Captain Kirk to fistfight Jesus Christ. Making things even more frustrating, Koenig noted that both Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed Spock, and William Shatner were given oversight of the script as a clause in their contracts. Said Koenig, "So we had a lot of cooks. It was madness."