For the last year or so, I’ve been at various conventions and one of the recurring panel themes has been “Star Trek at 40 – What Next?” All along I held to the conventional wisdom that the franchise got beat into the ground through Voyager and Enterprise and it was time for fresh blood. I then theorized that Paramount would be content to count revenues from the original series’ 40th anniversary and its licensing in 2006 and then the 20th anniversary hoopla in 2007 for Star Trek: The Next Generation and finally in 2008, with the money flow drying up they’d finally figure out what to do with either a film or TV series in Fall 2008 or early 2009.Silly me.Today’s Variety breaks the news that J.J. Abrams will produce and direct the eleventh Star Trek film. Abrams will be joined as co-producers by Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk. Abrams will write the script with his Mission: Impossible 3 writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. The story will deal with the early days of James T. Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy.The good news is that Paramount is finally getting past the Rick Berman years, which clearly didn’t work. Okay, they did in the beginning but clearly Berman failed with the last two franchises and certainly the last film so the studio is best with fresh blood.Further, Abrams and team have done remarkably good work with Lost and Alias and the material seen to date on M:I3 looks great. Abrams, starting with Felicity, has shown an understanding of character and story structure, plus great pacing. I can easily see these guys producing a compelling Star Trek that will actually bring people back to the franchise.But then what?Is Paramount intending this as a one-shot to reinvigorate the franchise or the beginning of a new cycle of Kirk and Spock stories with a fresh cast? The article doesn’t address this point and that’s where the concern comes in. Star Trek is a rich universe with characters, races, technology and a timeline ripe with raw material for new stories. Going backwards, though, seems irresistible for Hollywood. First there was Harve Bennett’s attempt at a Starfleet Academy story with Kirk, Spock and McCoy which had a horrible script (I know, I read it) then there was Berman’s last gasp attempt at an eleventh film, also looking back to the time before Jonathan Archer.To me, Gene Roddenberry got it right when he co-created TNG by moving everything a chunk of years forward. And that’s what’s needed for the franchise now. Come up with some status quo changing event, drop in a new crew with some new forward-thinking technology and let a talented crew of writers and producers go. I’ve suggested all along such an event could be the culmination of Spock’s goal: the reunification of Vulcan and Romulus, which changes the galactic balance of power. It honors the past and moves things forward.I’ll be buying popcorn and awaiting the Abrams production but still worry about the franchise’s long-term health.