by Curtis Lanclos
In June 1987, via Starlog Issue #119, sci-fi fans worldwide were made aware of a very special Star Trek fan film which began production in 1985 named Yorktown: A Time to Heal. What made this film special, you might ask? It featured an actual actor from the original Star Trek series reprising his role as a Starfleet Officer; George Takei as (now) Lt. Commander Hikaru Sulu.
At the time, Star Trek fan and filmmaker Stan Woo was a California State Business Administration major who happened to be a friend of Takei’s, and therefore was able to add some star-power to his film by having Takei appear in it. Although Yorktown was being shot (on 8mm film!) at the same time as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the film is set between Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and thus:
- Admiral James T. Kirk (not featured in the Yorktown film) is the Chief of Starfleet Operations on Earth.
- USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu has been promoted to Lt. Commander, and is now serving as First Officer (aka Number One) aboard the USS Yorktown.
- Admiral Nogura, a Flag Officer in Starfleet and Kirk’s superior, is active in the events of this film as he is Star Trek: The Motion Picture (although in the latter, he is never shown onscreen, but rather is briefly mentioned on three different occasions by Kirk, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott and Dr. Leonard McCoy).
In addition to Takei, other significant Hollywood professionals contributed to this film. For example, the aforementioned Admiral Nogura is portrayed by a veteran actor; the late, great James Shigeta. In addition to appearing in films like The Crimson Kimono, Die Hard and Mulan, Shigeta also famously portrayed Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo (an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II) in 1976’s Midway. Proving himself as a convincing military leader made him perfect for the role of Nogura in Woo’s film. Additionally, artist Andrew Probert, who designed the Enterprise refit for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Enterprise-D for Star Trek: The Next Generation, also designed ships for Yorktown. Stan Woo himself stars in the film as Lt. Jeffrey Pond, the grandson of Admiral Nogura.
This new Starlog article generated much interest from Trekkies for Yorktown in 1987; including a young Canadian lad named John Atkin. In fact, after many years had passed and there was no trace of a released film referenced in any print or online publication, in September 2010 Atkin decided to go straight to the source and find out what happened. As the T-800 Terminator first did in 1984 when searching for Sarah Conner, Atkin made his way through the phone directory listings for LA. After a failed attempt or two, he found the right Stan Woo, and thus discovered the original 8mm film had (not surprisingly) never been completed.
After some discussion with Woo, Atkin convinced him into allowing him to use his skills to help complete the film. Woo’s original 8mm footage only contained scenes on a Starbase and on a far-away planet; no scenes on board the USS Yorktown were ever shot. Fortunately, with the increase of the production of Star Trek Fan Films over the last few years, Atkin was able to use starship sets already built for other productions to film the missing USS Yorktown scenes and seamlessly weave them in with Woo’s original footage (using some digital technology to “age” the new scenes so they better match the 8mm scenes). Atkin even stars in the film (via the new footage) as Commander Evan Foster.
It’s been a long road since that time, but the film is now finally completed and is also officially released today, April 5, 2022 (First Contact Day) on YouTube and Vimeo! I interviewed John Atkin recently on RetroZest #90, and he spoke about the process in great detail. He was kind enough to give me an advanced screening of the film before we did the interview. It’s a very fascinating discussion. Here is that podcast episode for your convenience:
It should be pointed out that three studios were used by Atkin for the new USS Yorktown footage:
- Starbase Studios (now defunct) – Oklahoma City, OK (Starship Ajax)
- Retro Film Studios – Ticonderoga, New York (Star Trek New Voyages)
- Neutral Zone Studios – Kingsland, GA (Starship Farragut and Star Trek Continues)
New scenes were filmed at the first two of these studios, and footage already shot for Starship Farragut at Neutral Zone Studios (i.e. a corridor shot which involves the ship getting hit and actors falling) was repurposed for Yorktown.
Since I’ve been a Star Trek fan for many years, I knew of all these fan film series, as well as the existence of Neutral Zone Studios in my home state of Georgia. Many times, when making trips to the East coast of Florida, I passed right by the I-95 Kingsland exit which would have led me right to this location, but I never had time to visit the studio.
Alas, not long after I posted the RetroZest interview with John Atkin a few weeks back, it was announced that an official advanced screening of Yorktown: A Time to Heal was scheduled to be shown at Neutral Zone Studios on Saturday, April 2, 2022! Admission was free, and John announced he was going to be attending; so I immediately decided that the 350-mile TREK from Dawsonville, GA to Kingsland, GA would be well worth the journey on many fronts.
I also had the idea that this would be, in the words of Tony Carey, “a fine, fine day… for a reunion.” So I contacted a few other nerdy friends from my alma mater, Pebblebrook High School in Mableton, GA. Mickey Weddington and Derek Leman are a couple of guys with whom I played the famous fantasy RPG Dungeons & Dragons on numerous occasions in the ’80s; and Jeff Smith is another friend with whom I spent all four years of high school in marching and symphonic band. In fact, Jeff was the drum major of the Pride of Pebblebrook Marching Band in the fall of 1983. All three of these guys are huge fans of Star Trek, and very enthusiastically agreed to accompany me for the screening of the film. We made a “guy’s weekend” out of it, and are all so glad we did. We each picked up right where we left off the last times each of us saw one another, and bonded quite a bit in the experience!
Before the screening of the film, we were treated to a tour of Neutral Zone Studios. To call our walkthrough of the sets (engineering, sickbay, Captain’s quarters, corridors and bridge) surreal is putting it mildly. We all felt like we were visiting the insides of our respective television sets during our respective childhoods when we each watched Star Trek on Atlanta’s WTCG Channel 17 (which eventually became WTBS) in the 1970s. Everything was constructed with excruciating detail to ensure it was faithful to the now destroyed sets built in the mid-1960s for the original show!
It was great to meet John face-to-face, but equally as exciting for my friends and I were meeting other very enthusiastic Star Trek fans who attended the premiere. Among these were Joseph and Kory Moore, who live in Jacksonville, FL (about 20 minutes from Kingsland, GA) and actually used the sets of Neutral Zone Studios as the backdrop for their Star Trek themed wedding in 2020!
Here is a slideshow of various photos from the premiere evening (swipe or click on the L/R arrows):
And now, without futher ado, here it is; the now-officially-released Yorktown: A Time to Heal! Enjoy!
Oh, and one last thing (using my best Columbo voice), also released today (in celebration of First Contact Day) is the brand new 4K version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition, EXCLUSIVELY on Paramount Plus! Stan Woo approves!