"It's a celebration of him as much as it is the movie tonight," John Cho tells PEOPLE

By Stephanie Petit and Scott Huver
Updated July 21, 2016 10:15 AM
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Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty

Although the late Anton Yelchin‘s absence was deeply felt at the San Diego Comic-Con premiere of Star Trek Beyond, his cast members made sure he was there in spirit.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and others honored the late actor, who portrays Pavel Chekov in the rebooted franchise, by wearing black Starfleet pins on Wednesday night.

“We wanted to show that we loved him and we’re remembering him,” actor John Cho tells PEOPLE. “It’s a celebration of him as much as it is the movie tonight.”

Producer J.J. Abrams told the crowd that despite the excitement of the premiere and the celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, “There is something wrong tonight, and there is something missing tonight, and there is someone missing tonight: Anton Yelchin should be here. And his parents are here tonight, Irina and Victor. And we loved their son.”

Abrams led the crowd in a moment of silence to remember Yelchin.

Yelchin died June 19 of “blunt traumatic asphyxia” after his Jeep rolled backward down his driveway and pinned the actor to his front gate. He was 27.

Abrams recently revealed that they in upcoming Star Trek films.

“It’s a bittersweet moment for all of us. Losing a cast member, losing an amazing bright star as Anton Yelchin,” Zoë Saldana tells PEOPLE. “So knowing that I was very fortunate to know him as a person and to know how special he was, and how much he loved what he did and Star Trek makes me feel that, it’s so good that we honor friendship.”

Quinto also remembered Leonard Nimoy, who originated the role of Commander Spock and appeared with Quinto at Comic-Con previously for a big announcement.

“Obviously it’s bittersweet, this celebration of the film, because coming back to Comic-Con is like a full circle moment for me,” Quinto told reporters. “The last time I was here for Star Trek was in 2007 when Leonard and I announced that I’d be taking over the role. So to come now without him feels really sad, but also I feel like I know he’d really love this film, and I think he’d be really proud of what we accomplished with it.”

The son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Rod Roddenberry, also paid tribute to his father’s legacy, even if he didn’t fully understand the Star Trek craze growing up.

Roddenberry tells PEOPLE that his appreciation for the franchise didn’t come until his father’s memorial service.

“There were people that went on stage and they talked about how Star Trek inspired them,” he recalls. “The stories were really compelling, and for me, mindblowing at the age of 17. I was very raw and tender at the time, and I was willing to hear those sorts of things. When I heard them, I didn’t really understand how a TV show could do this, because the kinds of shows that I watched were a little bit more one-dimensional. So I became inspired by that moment to pay a bit more attention, and when I had time to engage with fans to ask them why and how, and I did, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

VIDEO: Costars and Other Celebs Remember Star Trek Actor Anton Yelchin

Cho, who calls the original Hikaru Sulu, George Takei, “a friend,” was excited to show a more personal side to his character. Cho was recently swept up in a lively debate on the character after it was revealed that Sulu would be gay in Star Trek Beyond. When that moment was revealed at Wednesday night’s premiere, loud cheers erupted from the Comic-Con crowd.

Cho says, “I felt like it was in line with Roddenberry’s motto of infinite diversity and infinite combinations and sort of taking that ethos further than was possible in the late ’60s.”