Captain of the Enterprise, huh?
Close to retirement?
I’m not planning on it.
Let me tell you something: Don’t. Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.
Released on November 18th, 1994, just six months after Star Trek: The Next Generation completed its seven-year television run and proved to naysayers lightning could be captured twice–albeit in a slicker and shinier bottle–Star Trek Generations launched Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of his starship Enterprise to the silver screen. With the cast of the original series having taken their final bow three years earlier in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the time had come to pass the baton so another crew might boldly go on to successful cinematic adventures.
However, and perhaps due to concerns Picard and company might not entice enough viewers to follow them from their televisions to theaters and while also hoping to attract that larger mainstream audience films need to thrive, the decision was made to stack the deck, so to speak. Therefore, this “next generation” of Star Trek films (see what I did there?) would be given a sendoff by none other than the legendary James T. Kirk himself.
It actually wasn’t a bad idea, in and of itself. Besides, the idea of a character from a previous series helping to launch a new one had already been done twice before (McCoy appears in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and Picard himself appears in the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Emissary”) and had become something of a Star Trek tradition that would later be observed in the first episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, to say nothing of “original Spock” being on hand for the 2009 reboot film.
Generations opens in the 23rd century, nearly 80 years prior to the events of TNG, with Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov on hand to celebrate the launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-B, the successor to the starship said to be retired after the events of Star Trek VI. When “Stuff Happens” as it always does, the trusty trio is on hand to help save the day and the lives of a number of refugees from a disabled spaceship that’s been caught in a mysterious “energy ribbon.” However, that comes at a steep price: the death of Captain Kirk…or so we’re led to believe.
Flash forward 78 years to Picard’s Enterprise (NCC-1701-D on your scorecards), where they encounter Dr. Tolian Soran, a dude who’s hellbent on finding his way back to that aforementioned energy ribbon. Oh, and did we mention he was one of those refugees Kirk and the gang saved all those years ago? Oh, and did we also mention Guinan, the Enterprise‘s enigmatic bartender, is also a refugee? Remember this…it’ll be on the test later.
Hijinks ensue, eventually leading to a confrontation between Picard and Soran on the surface of an uninhabited planet, where Soran has developed a means of changing the ribbon’s course through space. This is done by blowing up key stars and sending gravimetric shockwaves that alter its trajectory, and he’s been hop-scotching through the quadrant in order to move the ribbon close enough for him to get into it. Why? Because when he and Guinan and the others were transported from their doomed ship decades earlier, they were in the ribbon’s grip; phasing in and out of our space-time continuum, and part of each of them is still in there, somewhere, so they feel a constant yearning to return to “that place.” It’s sort of like longing for Taco Bell even though you get there too late for FourthMeal.
Of course, this whole “blowing up stars” bit also has the effect of destroying any nearby planets, including inhabited ones. As that’s pretty much a huge buzzkill for anyone living on said worlds, Picard has to stop Soran before he can blow up this planet’s sun and wipe out the civilization living on an adjacent world. That doesn’t work out so well for Picard, who’s helpless to watch as Soran launches a rocket into the star, destroying it and bringing the ribbon to him. As the Enterprise, in orbit above the planet and getting its ass kicked by a Klingon ship, crashes on the surface, the planet is destroyed by the shock wave from the exploding star just as Soran and Picard are swept up in the ribbon’s effects.
And that’s when shit gets weird. Why? Well, let’s just say once he’s in the ribbon, Picard should probably have a sit down with astronauts Bowman and Cooper and discuss bizarre trips through spatial phenomena, amirite? And that’s before he runs into the aforementioned James T. Kirk chopping wood outside a remote mountain cabin.
1994 was a fantastic time for Star Trek. Two successful television series were in first-run syndication and the original series cast had bid their fond farewells. Star Trek: The Next Generation had wrapped, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had just started its third season and Star Trek: Voyager was waiting in the wings, and the TNG crew of course was now transitioning to the big screen. Merchandising was cooking with gas, and Star Trek was even embracing the still-minty fresh World Wide Web. Did you know that Star Trek Generations was the first film to get its own promotional website?
Though not a perfect film and not my favorite of the bunch, I still have a soft spot for Generations. In many ways, it really was the “passing of the torch” so far as Star Trek in the mainstream went. After saying goodbye (so we thought) to Kirk and his crew in the previous film, the events in Generations serve to cement the transition, figuratively and literally, and tell old-school Trekkies our Star Trek, the one we’d grown up with, was over. All good things, and all that, right?
Meanwhile, the TNG cast does get a bit of a short-shrift here, with so much time given over to Picard’s “Brave and the Bold”-esque team-up with Kirk. It wouldn’t be until their next outing, Star Trek: First Contact in 1996, that they’d get the screen all to themselves…sorta.
The story takes a bit of heat for a few logic problems, and the more vocal critics maintain that screenwriters Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga actually did a better job with their script for the TNG series finale episode, written in two weeks, than the film, which was the result of months of work. I tend to forgive Moore and Braga on this point, as the story they were asked to write was saddled with various studio requests and directives in order for the film to be the “baton pass” from Kirk’s era to Picard’s.
The scene where Kirk tells Picard not to retire is perhaps my favorite of the film. Until that point, Picard had largely been portrayed as the leader who manages situations while sending others to the front, which of course was a completely different (and arguably more proper) approach than what we’d seen Captain Kirk do every week on the original show, when he beams down and gets into trouble episode after episode. For me, this scene is a turning point for the character not just for actor Patrick Stewart, who would see Picard’s action quotient increase in the subsequent films, but also those of us who ended up writing the character in different media. I always look to this moment between Kirk and Picard to explain or justify why Picard continues to eschew retirement or promotion in the novels set after the TNG movies.
That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.
Generations also has special meaning for me because I used the film’s climax as a point of departure for “Reflections,” the story I submitted to the very first Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contest back in 1997. You know how things went down after that.
So, Happy 25th Anniversary, Star Trek Generations. That predator time seems to have been pretty good to you.