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Meet the Cast of the New Star Trek

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Startraks; Wireimage; Landov

A brand-new cast is beaming into the iconic roles of the crew of the starship Enterprise as the revamped Star Trek lands in theaters May 8. PEOPLE has your guide to the Starfleet’s finest and their first forays into the enduring sci-fi phenomenon:

NAME: Chris Pine
CHARACTER: Capt. James T. Kirk
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE: 2004’s The Princess Diaries 2; 2006’s Smokin’ Aces
NEXT UP: The indie drama Small Town Saturday Night.

“As an actor you search for great roles,” says Pine, 28. “This one just happened to be named James Kirk.” While figuring out ways to make the part his own, he also watched William Shatner in the original series looking for “things that I felt that I could use without hitting people over the head with a bad impersonation,” Pine says. “He’s got a very theatrical quality that just made me smile every time.” He admits donning Kirk’s familiar gold uniform “was a fun day … [but] as for the part being mine, I think people will always and forever connect Mr. Shatner to that role.”

NAME: Zachary Quinto
CHARACTER: Lt. Commander Spock
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE: As the evil Sylar on NBC’s Heroes; season three of 24.
NEXT UP: Back bedeviling the heroes for season four.

“I was sporting a Spock bowl cut when I was 12,” confesses Quinto, 31. “I have pictures to prove it.” He didn’t think re-adopting the Vulcan’s signature hairstyle for six months “would alienate me from myself as much as it did, but that alienation is exactly what the character is experiencing. It actually deepened my character and was certainly a sacrifice well worth making” Even more helpful? Having original Spock Leonard Nimoy, “as a resource and such a generous available support system made it much easier for me to step into the experience.”

Zoe Saldana
Kevin Winter/Getty
NAME: Zoe Saldana
CHARACTER: Lt. Nyota Uhura
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HER BEFORE: Crossroads; Drumline; Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.
NEXT UP: James Cameron’s highly anticipated sci-fi thriller Avatar.

At first, Saldana, 30, wasn’t sure why “for some reason every man on set noticed when I was working. It was like ‘God, I don’t know. Was it my line?'” Then she realized: It was Uhura’s trademark short skirt. “Oh – okay.” Her first fan encounter was with a hired driver who was once a stand-in on a Trek sequel series. “He had his entire memorabilia in his trunk,” she remembers. “This could have been really freaky, but he was so respectful. But to this day I’m wondering whether he knew he was picking me up and that I was doing Star Trek, or that he happens to [always] drive his town car filled with memorabilia.”

NAME: Karl Urban
CHARACTER: Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE: In The Lord of the Rings trilogy; The Bourne Supremacy.
NEXT UP: The crime drama Black Water Transit opposite Laurence Fishburne.

The New Zealand-born actor, 36, playing the ship’s irascible doctor, proclaims himself a genuine Trekkie. “I am definitely the resident geek,” says Urban, who toted a childhood Trek toy along on the cast’s international press tour. “I watched it as a boy, religiously, every Saturday morning.” Two days after being cast, he was at a Santa Monica stoplight when “a gentleman in a Star Trek outfit walked across the road. And I think it was just on a random day! It struck me at that point, the effect of this wonderful series has had in our popular culture.”

NAME: Simon Pegg
CHARACTER: Lt. Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE: As the star and co-writer of the BBC sit-com Spaced and the films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
NEXT UP: Voicing the one-eyed weasel Buck in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

Pegg insists he’s an even more avid Trek fan than Urban and is willing to challenge him in a duel, name-checking references from the original series. “We can sort of fight in an ‘Arena’-style battle where I’m wearing the Gorn mask – which makes me the bigger Trekkie!” he laughs. The 39-year-old Brit, best known for comedic roles, says he understands why die-hards might be worried about his take on the chief engineer, but explains, “Scotty is definitely a lively character, and his humor is his own – it’s not at the expense of him or the film. So I hope I’ve done them proud.”

NAME: John Cho
CHARACTER: Lt. Hikaru Sulu
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE: The American Pie trilogy; Harold in the Harold & Kumar films.
NEXT UP: The comedy St. John of Las Vegas opposite Steve Buscemi and Sarah Silverman.

“My primary connection to the show was just being excited about George Takei being on television, and yelling across the house: ‘There’s an Asian guy on TV! Come quick! He may disappear!'” laughs Cho, 36, who was born in South Korea and raised in Los Angeles. He calls the role of the swashbuckling helmsman “a dream come true for me. What I did in this movie – flying a spaceship and having a sword fight – is exactly what my young brother and I would do for hours and hours as children, so it’s weird to get paid to do that. We received no payment, oddly enough, as children to do that.”

NAME: Anton Yelchin
CHARACTER: Ensign Pavel Chekov
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE: 2007’s Charlie Bartlett; Showtime’s Huff.
NEXT UP: As young Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation.

Yelchin, 20, was actually born in Leningrad, giving him Russian roots like his character, known for his slightly exaggerated accent. “You have to stay true to the accent,” says Yelchin. “It’s more of a stereotype of a Russian accent than it is a Russian accent. It was fun playing around with that.” Born 20 years after the original series went off the air, he didn’t grow up watching Star Trek but admits, “I’m a fan now. There’s just something so great about it that you can’t help but really love it.”

From left: Simon Pegg; John Cho and Anton Yelchin
Getty; Alph/Landov; Wireimage