Before he helped bright the Star Wars franchise back to life with The Force Awakens in 2015, director/producer J.J. Abrams had worked his magic to help infuse new life into the final frontier with 2009’s Star Trek, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. It may be hard to believe given the fact that we’ve got Star Trek: Discovery on the CBS All Access streaming service, with various spin-offs in development, and Quentin Tarantino currently reportedly working on a feature film set in that universe, but back in 2009 Trek was pretty much dead. There were no new series or films in production, and it seemed that the concept had run its course.

But then J.J. and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman came up with the brilliant idea of creating a separate timeline that would preserve what had come before, but allow the creatives freedom to craft any stories they saw fit. What this meant was that the the crew of the original 1960s television series could come together in a whole new way and would provide the opportunity for new actors to take on the roles originally created by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and the rest.

“I was not a huge Trek fan in the beginning,” admits J.J. “I came late to this particular party, but — with all due respect to the films and the TV spin-offs — the original series, to my mind, is what Star Trek was. All of the subsequent series and films felt to me, as they went on, that they were less and less relatable. It felt to me that if you were going to do a version of Star Trek, you would have to do it in such a way that it would bring it to life in a way that never had been done before. What I realized was that in my mind mind, Kirk and Spock were the key, the heart, of Trek. Approaching this movie, we discovered that’s what we wanted to examine and explore: what Kirk and Spock were all about.

“My whole take on it,” he adds, “was that I needed a way in. I was challenged by and excited about giving people who had no idea of what Star Trek was or had seen it and felt a little bit like I did, that it was for them and not for me. To give them a way in. to make Kirk and Spock and the other characters as relatable and as unformed or in process as possible.”

Accomplishing this goal would be dependent on the casting of the characters, and that casting process is exactly what we’re looking back at through an exclusive excerpt from the oral history of Star TrekThe Fifty-Year Mission.

Please scroll down for a look at the casting process behind each of the main characters.

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