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Star Trek Generations had a lot of hype to live up to. Not only was it the first time we would see the next generation cast on the big screen, but it would also have the long-anticipated meeting of Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. But, it was also going to be one of those infamous odd-numbered Star Trek movies. So, could it hold up to the hype?
Let's dig back into this movie and see how it holds up.
Welcome to Nerd Heaven
I’m Adam David Collings
The author of Jewel of the Stars
And I am a nerd.
This is episode 23 of the podcast.
Today we’re talking about Star Trek Generations.
Generations had a lot of hype to live up to. Not only was it the first appearance of the next generation crew on the big screen, it features the long-anticipated meeting between captains Picard and Kirk. But, it was going to be one of the infamous odd numbered Star Trek movies.
So could it live up to the hype?
What did you think of this movie when it first came out?
My overall experience with it was a positive one, and yet, I found myself re-writing it in my head, coming up with alternative stories.
Let's see how it stands up.
The description on Memory Alpha reads
"Two captains. One destiny."
In the late 23rd century, the USS Enterprise-B is on her maiden voyage, and Kirk is no longer in the captain's chair. The ship must rescue El-Aurian refugees from a mysterious energy ribbon, but the rescue seemingly costs Kirk his life. Seventy-eight years later, one of the El-Aurian survivors leads the crew of the Enterprise-D into a deadly confrontation with the Duras sisters as he plots to re-enter the paradise of the ribbon that nearly destroyed him years prior.
The Screenplay was written by
Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
The Story was by
Rick Berman & Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
It was Directed by
And it first appeared in cinemas on the 18th of November 1994.
Make it so.
The opening credits were reasonably effective for this movie.
I quite like the musical score that Dennis McCarthy created for Generations. Not as memorable as Goldsmith’s score for First Contact, but better than what he did on the TV show.
I remember watching the names go by. I knew Kirk was going to be in this movie, but I didn’t know if anyone else from TOS would appear, so I was very excited when James Doohan and Walter Keonig’s names appeared.
The bottle of champagne floating through space makes you think of the chateau Picard wine, suggesting that we’re starting in the 24th century. So the reveal of the Enterprise 1701-B was a shock. I nearly wet myself when I saw those original series Wrath of Khan uniforms.
I love how this movie starts in the 24rd century. It feels like it picks up straight after Star Trek 6. And that’s what I really wanted. To start in familiar TOS movie era and then transition to The Next Generation.
It’s not surprising that they got the TOS movie aesthetic spot on, because a lot of the same people who worked on TNG worked on the later TOS movies.
The presence of the news reporters was kinda cool. We’d never seen anything like that in the star trek universe, but it made sense to me that by this point in time, the name Enterprise was famous enough that the media would be present at the launch of a new ship with the name. And the TV style reporters felt like that fit in better in the 23rd century than they did in the 24th.
Still, I cheered when Kirk told the reporter to “turn that damn thing off”
John Harriman gets a lot of flack for being a pathetic captain, but I’ve always maintained that most of the problems were because he was completely un-equipped. Starfleet sent him out without half his crew, and half his equipment non-functional.
I don’t blame Harriman for that. The ship was doing a publicity flight. They weren’t even supposed to leave the solar system.
And yes, he’s a little green, and sometimes hesitates, but he doesn’t have the decades of experience that Kirk has.
And what I really like about him, when the moment comes, he swallows his pride and asks for Kirk’s assistance. He doesn’t have many resources, so of course he should use the one resource he does have. Kirk’s experience.
In my head canon, I’d like to think that Harriman went on to be a great captain, worthy of the legacy of Kirk and Pike.
And I LOVE that they use the TOS movie warp effect and viewscreen sound. Those are the little details that a non fan wouldn’t even notice, but they mean so much to me.
It’s noticeable that these scenes are being written by TNG writers. The dialog is particularly TNG sounding, specifically in relation to the use of technobabble.
The CGI effects for the nexus ribbon look awesome. Even today it stands up as a really cool looking effect.
The use of el aurian refugees fleeing the borg was a pretty cool idea. And the brief appearance of both Soran and Guinan on screen during this part of the movie is important, because it ties it in to the main 24th century section.
I assume that most people listening would be aware that the script was originally written for Spock and McCoy, not Scotty and Checkov, which is why Checkov is suddenly running sickbay. This kinda works for me because I can believe that as a former security chief and first officer, he’d have had some medical training.
But his line “You and you, you just became nurses,” sounds very much like a McCoy line.
When Harriman gives Kirk the bridge, I like how he hesitates just for a minute, savouring the chance to sit in the captain’s chair, before realising that’s not his place.
It also makes sense that Harriman was going to go. He feels pretty useless on the bridge of his ship right now, especially with Kirk there. But Kirk sees potential, maybe even some familiarity in the young man, telling him that his place is on the bridge of HIS ship.
And then the ribbon hits, blowing kirk out into space. And just like prophesied in Star Trek 5, he died alone. Ok, maybe prophesied is too strong a word.
I knew this couldn’t be the last we’d see of Kirk. I knew he shared screen time with Picard in the trailer. Still, as Scotty and Checkov race to deck fifteen, I held my breath. No. It couldn’t be.
They couldn’t let Kirk die!
I still felt that loss.
OF course, we have a continuity problem here, because when Scotty beamed aboard the Enterprise D in the episode relics, he said “I bet Captain Kirk has come out of retirement.”
It’s hard to know how to fix that.
And then we jump forward 78 years into the future. And this is a little jarring because it starts off on a sailing ship on the holodeck. If you weren’t familiar with the Next Generation you’d be really confused by this.
Worf is definitely due toe promotion having served on the Enterprise D for 7 years, over 6 as security chief.
And I like that they would celebrate an event like this on the holodeck.
This is the kind of sequence we’d never have had on the TV show. And it looks great in it’s widescreen high definition glory.
I found the attitudes of the crew quite hypocritical in this scene. When Riker removes the plank, plunging Work into the cold water, everyone laughs. Crusher says it’s all in good fun. But when Data pushes Crusher in, everyone is horrified. And Crusher, who advised him to live in the moment and have some fun is angry at him.
Maybe I’m too much an android myself, but I don’t see the difference.
We don’t know what’s in the message Picard gets, but Patrick Stewart sells it very well with his acting. We know something terrible has happened.
This movie has a very different visual look to it than the TV show. They’re very close to a star, so there’s an orange tint to everything, including the exterior shots of the enterprise, and the inside of the ship, that orange light coming through the windows.
And I REALLY like this. IT looks fantastic, and reminds us that this isn’t a TV show anymore. It gave the whole thing a more cinematic look that I really appreciated.
Also, I love the new com badges. Keeping the old uniforms helped give us something familiar to hold onto, but changing the com badges showed that we have moved into a new era.
Picard is already showing clear signs of some kind of emotional trauma. Troi is sending it, not that she really needs empathic abilities for that! But I love the look on her face. Nice non-verbal acting from Marina Sirtis.
The transporter beam has been changed for the movie. Similar enough that it’s not too jarring, but different enough that it feels more ….. movie-ish.
And as we see Soran’s face peeking through the rubble, we see our first connection between these otherwise very disparate stories.
They do a great job with the dead romulan, of making it realistically gory but with green blood instead of red. Green blood is something that could easily come across as cheesy. But it doesn’t.
So given his failure to understand humour, and Crusher’s reaction to his attempt (Which I don’t blame him for, because I don’t understand it either), Data has decided to install the emotion chip that Doctor Soong created for him, which he got from Lore at the end of Descent.
The chip suddenly looks a lot bigger than last we saw it.
In Descent, Data didn’t install the chip because he was worried that emotion might lead him to harm others. His friendship with Geordi was too important to him.
In this movie, his reason for not having used it until now is a fear that it might overload his neural net.
I understand the need to not ask too much of the audience in a movie. They want to sell as many tickets as possible. They don’t want to rely on people having seen every episode of the TV show. I make this work in my head by saying that there were two reasons Data didn’t use the chip. Geordi mentions the technological one because he is an engineer, responsible for Data’s maintenance, and because honestly, he had more faith in Data’s humanity than even Data does.
So this is one of the controversial elements of the movie. Some people didn’t like the addition of emotions to Data. Some just found his behaviour after installation to be extremely annoying. Michael Piller lamented the chip when he came to write Insurrection. He liked the pinocchio aspect of Data’s character and thought it a shame that movie audiences never got to see that side of Data.
To me, personally, I’m a fan of character development. I hate it when writers chain themselves to the status quo. I like the worlds in my stories to change, and the people that inhabit those worlds to change even moreso.
So, in my opinion, this was a good time for Data to install the chip, to take his character to the next level.
Picard’s ready room and ten forward both look awesome with the new lighting. I love it!
So Data tries a drink offered to him by Guinan. This is the first example of his odd behaviour with the chip. I will admit that Data does get a little annoying in this movie, especially when he’s cracking jokes and laughing maniacally on the station, but this works for me. Data is new to emotions. He has no idea how to deal with them. Can you imagine suddenly, a lifetime of emotions, related to all of your memories, suddenly flooding into your system. I don’t think I’d handle them any better than Data does. Imagine experiencing fear for the very first time. It would be crippling. Yeah, in my opinion, this stuff is all very nicely done.
Data’s jokes here are not supposed to amuse us. They certainly don’t amuse Geordi. We’re seeing the whole thing through Geordi’s eyes.
So we apparently El Aurians have some mild telepathic abilities. Soran is able to see Picard’s pain. He senses it is related to fire and burning. He understands that Picard is struggling with issues of regret and things not done.
This makes it very easy for him to manipulate Picard into allowing him onto the station.
I can buy that El Aurians have these kinds of senses. It’s probably what gives them the reputation for being such good listeners.
You’ll notice that over the course of this movie, the crew slowly transitions from the traditional TNG uniforms to the newer DS9/Voyager uniforms. This makes sense to me because this IS a time of uniform transition.I wonder if there are any rules or guidelines regarding when they should wear particular uniforms.
Now we come to one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.
Picard is looking through his family photo albums and Troi comes to see him. This is a wonderful character scene for both of them. I love this scene because it gives Troi the chance to actually matter. Something that didn’t really happen in any of the other TNG movies. Troi actually gets to be a counsellor.
We learn that Picard’s brother Robert and his nephew Rene have tragically burned to death in a fire.
This is heart-breaking to hear. Doubly so because we met these characters back in the fourth season episode family.
Patrick Stewart’s acting in this scene is absolutely phenomenal.
This scene is the thematic and emotional heart of the movie.
I’ve heard it said that the theme this movie is trying to explain is essentially a copy of the aging theme in Star Trek II. But I see a lot of difference between the two.
In Star Trek II, Kirk was basically having a mid-life crisis. Filled with the regret of the loss of the glory days. Feeling like he could never get those days back again.
Picard’s experience is very different. Picard never lost his glory days. He’s living the dream right now. He’s captain of the Enterprise. Picard’s issue is all about legacy. Yes, Picard is aware that he is aging, that there are “fewer days ahead than there are behind,” as he puts it.
But that doesn’t bother him so much. He takes comfort in his family legacy. The family will go on. And Rene is very much like Jean-Luc. He is the closest thing he has to a child of his own, and to Jean-Luc, that is quite enough. He’s content with that.
But now that legacy has been stolen from him. I’m sure there are other members of the Picard family alive. Cousins, second cousins. Extended family. But the line of Maurice Picard, of Robert and Jean-Luc, that is gone. And there is no longer any hope that this can be changed.
Time has been cruel to Picard. It has taken away his hopes for the future.
I love that this film, with everything else that’s packed into it, still takes the time to explore some weighty emotional issues with it’s characters. Well done, I say. Well done.
And I love the transition from Picard talking, to the sudden implosion seen through the window.
Having spoken with Troi, Picard is able to switch his professionalism back on.
So, a nice touch, Soran is working with the Duras Sisters, rogue Klingons. This is cool because it allows the movie to have a familiar traditional bad guy, the klingons, that fans of the original series and movies would be familiar with, even though in this time, the klingons are our allies.
To fans of TNG, these are familiar popular characters. To other viewers, they’re just Klingons who are clearly meant to be villains. It works on both levels.
The actors that portray Lursa and B’etor do a great job of portraying their characters.
I like the little moment when Soran waves his hand in front of his face, suggesting the Klingons don’t smell so good. Just a little bit of visual story-telling.
Crusher identifies Soran’s past and figures out Guinan likely knows him, since she was on the lakul with him back when Kirk rescued them.
Why is crusher doing biographical research on him?
Anyway, this is handy because Guinan is able to give Picard more information on his enemy.
I like Guinan’s quarters. They look kind of exotic. Lots of candles.
I’ve always liked the character of Guinanan, and in this movie, Whoopi Goldburg shows us a rarely seen vulnerable side of the character.
Strangely, Goldbuerg is not credited in this movie. I wonder why.
The Enterprise D model that flies by is, I believe, the same model used for the TV show. And yet, in this shot, it seems weightier. It feels like a big heavy ship. Is it the camera used to shoot it? The widescreen aspect ratio? I’m not sure.
The new stellar cartography set is really cool, with those massive screens that encircle them. I remember feeling quite impressed by it when I first saw this movie.
This scene pulls double duty. It is an exposition scene where they find out what Soran’s plan is. But at the same time, it does some really nice character stuff with Data and Picard.
Both of them are struggling with their emotions. Picard just has a little more experience to draw on than data does. It’s good stuff.
Speaking of Soran’s plan, it’s a bit dumb. But we’ll come to that a bit later.
I understand why the Duras sisters are willing to exchange Geordi for Picard, even if Picard is beamed down to Soran’s location. They want to use his visor to spy on the ship so they can destroy it. But why doesn’t Picard suspect their surprising agreement?
Veridian III looks amazing. This was all shot at the Valley of Fire State Park, and man it looks awesome. Especially shot with the cinema cameras and rendered in high def on blu-ray.
Such rugged beauty, so exotic and alien looking. I can’t say enough good about this location. It’s fantastic.
So Soran is willing to destroy two stars, and at least one entire planet populated by people. Just to divert the nexus ribbon to a place he can enter it. When Picard asks why he doesn’t just fly into it with a ship, Data’s excuse is that any ship that has approached the ribbon has been destroyed or damaged. Soran says his plan is the only way.
But we know this isn’t true. Yes, Soran’s ship might be destroyed, but….he’ll still end up in the Nexus. We'll shortly have proof of that when we see Kirk in the Nexus. He was blown out into space and sucked into the nexus by the ribbon. Pleasantly, that means all those lakul survivors that Scotty couldn’t save also ended up in the nexus. That’s nice.
The whole thing comes across as a bit convoluted. I understand the writers of this movie were under extreme time pressure, so I can understand why this is what they came up with, but I do acknowledge that it doesn’t really work for me.
But what does work is the character stuff between Picard and Soran. I like how Picard calls back to the borg. Soran’s perspective is almost convincing. We’re all going to die sometime anyway, so is it really so bad that I make it happen a little earlier for a few people so I can experience an eternity of joy?
The Duras sister’s plan is kind of clever and works for me. They’ve modified Geordi’s visor to transmit what he sees, and they see the shield nutation frequency on a panel. That allows them to get through the enterprise shields and actually inflict damage.
But this leads into what I consider to be the first really big negative in this movie.
This battle between the Enterprise and the bird of prey is pretty weak, and honestly, not a great way for our beloved ship to go down.
It always struck me as silly that the Enterprise takes shot after shot, through its shields, yet they get one single torpedo hit on their ship and the whole thing blows up.
The whole sequence feels very weak and pathetic.
The biggest issue, as others have pointed out before me, is that it’s all solved with technobabble. If you want to go into more detail on this, just listen to the youTube Lorerunner rant about this scene.
And do you notice that the shot of the bird of prey exploding is a recycled shot from Star Trek VI? I did, even back in the day. The budget must have been really tight for them to have done that.
Although, in the director’s commentary, David Carson talks about watching them shoot the destruction of the Klingon Ship, so….I’m not sure what to make of that.
And so, the writers decide to do what had only been done once before, They’re going to destroy a much-loved Starship Enterprise. It made sense to do this.
Firstly, it added bigger, more intense stakes to the movie. They’d never have done this in the show.
But more importantly, it allowed them to make a new Enterprise for subsequent movies. Remember, these sets were created back in the 80s for a standard definition TV show. They did some good stuff in this movie to make the Enterprise D look good on the big screen, but the Enterprise E was made for the big screen, and as I said in my First Contact video, it looked fantastic.
Sadly, the destruction of the Enterprise D was done very badly. It lacks the thematic and emotional resonance that the destruction of the original Enterprise had in Star Trek III. It is lost because of a battle they should have won with a silly little old bird of prey.
However, after the loss of the stardrive section, the whole battle thing is redeemed, in my opinion by a truly amazing sequence as the saucer section crashes onto Veridian III.
First off, let me say that Data’s swear word got a lot of audible laughter from the theatre when I first watched it, and yes, I laughed too.
The crash landing looks amazing. Seriously, I could just watch this sequence all day long. IT’s spectacular. The Enterprise has never felt so big. So weighty. The way it cuts through the trees and scoops up dirt from the surface of the planet.
Man, I can’t say enough good things about it. I Love it.
It blew me away in the cinema, and it still blows me away now. This may just be the best visual sequence out of any Star Trek movie.
And then, after all the firstworks, we have that silent moment as Troi tells Data he’s ok. And the sad music starts to swell, as we come to fully realise that the Enterprise, our Enterprise, is gone.
So Picard tries to stop Soran, but he fails. The probe is launched. The star is destroyed. While it doesn’t make sense for the sky to dim so immediately, it IS a beautiful visual image of the ribbon travelling through a near sun-set sky.
And then when the shockwave hits Veridian III, we get another cool visual - the destruction of Veridian III, which honestly, rivals the destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek 2009.
This next bit is a little disorienting, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Picard is in the Nexus, and he is living out his greatest fantasy.
Picard is married and surrounded by a big bunch of kids.
It’s a shame his wife is a random nobody, rather than Crusher. But I do note that Picard’s wife looks somewhat similar to crusher.
This all ties in thematically with Picard’s terrible loss, and the stuff he talked about with Troi.
As Picard looks at the Christmas tree, he sees what appears to be an exploding star on one of the Christmas baubles. I always assumed that this was an image of Veridian III exploding, that it was the Nexus’s way of reminding Picard of what it had cost for him to be here in this paradise. Kind of a nasty passive aggressive jab to prick his conscience. This would also imply some intelligence behind the nexus.
While this all seemed super obvious to me, apparently not everybody thought so, as there have been discussions online about what it’s all about.
What do you think?
The sudden appearance of Guinan doesn’t entirely make sense. The whole concept of an echo, a part of herself she left behind isn’t well developed and not that well explained.
But it serves as a mechanism for some exposition and introduces us to the fact that Kirk is alive and well, after all this time, in the Nexus himself.
Picard is apparently able to travel from his own fantasy into Kirk’s.
Finally, after all these years, we get to see Kirk and Picard share the screen together.
It’s not exactly in the setting we might have hoped it would be, but it was still exciting to see them together.
It’s a shame they invented the woman antonia, instead of using Carol Marcus, who it should have been.
We can speculate that this moment in Kirk’s life takes place some time between The Motion Picture and Star Trek II. There’s quite a period of time there where Kirk wasn’t happy with his career. I can imagine he left Starfleet for a time and then decided to return, even if it meant resuming his former position as admiral.
Unlike Picard, Kirk is fully embracing this fantasy. I don’t think the movie has really given us enough background to what he’s dealing with. Picard’s character arc in this movie works. Kirk’s not so much.
At this point in the movie, my feelings are that I liked what we got, but I would have loved something different. Kirk never gets to see the Enterprise D. He never gets to meet any of the rest of the crew. I would have liked to see Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise A come face to face with the crew of the Enterprise D. I would have liked to see those two crews work together. Of course, bringing together that many characters would have been a challenge, and would have given few of them a satisfying role.
Generations was put together quickly, and I believe the writers, Ronald D moore and Branon Brage weren’t entirely happy with it themselves. There’s no doubt that with more time for writing, this movie could have been something much greater, but there’s still a lot to like in what we actually got.
So Kirk quickly realises that nothing in the nexus matters. He gives Picard a speech about never leaving the bridge of his ship and they return to Veridian III just before Soran destroys the star.
IT seems silly that they didn’t give themselves more time. That could have chosen anywhere anytime.
Now that the writers had brought Kirk into the 24th century, they have to decide what to do with him. IT wouldn’t have made sense to send him back and rewrite all that established history. They could have left him alive in this new time period, and at the time, I was in favour of that, but over time I’ve come to agree that it made good sense to kill Kirk in the climax of this film.
But is Kirk’s death fitting?
Hmm. Not entirely, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some people make out.
First, let’s acknowledge that it was originally much worse. Before they showed this to test audiences, they had Kirk shot in the back by a dying Soran after remarking that the 24th century isn’t so tough. Obviously, that was not just a terrible idea, but an insulting one.
They wisely went back and re-shot this sequence with a new death, in which Kirk has to risk his life to get the control pad.
I’ve heard some say they think Kirk should have died aboard the Enterprise. In space.
But I don’t know. This seems a very Kirk way to die.
Kirk was always beaming down to rocky planets like this and getting into fist fights. It seems fitting that this would be the way he would die.
So I’m with it.,
It was still sad to see Picard bury his predecessor, realising that we’d never again see Kirk.
Kirk’s moment of death is extremely well acted by William Shatner. Possibly his best acting moment.
And the music does it’s job well here too.
So having experienced 261 distinct emotional states Data is beginning to learn how to control his emotions, rather than allow them to control him.
Which of course makes perfect sense.
The data we’ll see in the next movie will be less annoying and more human.
Good character development, until Insurrection and Nemesis mess it all up.
But those tears, ugh. That was silly and didn’t work for me.
As Picard rummages through the ruins of his office, looking for his photo album, he tosses something over his shoulder, showing complete disregard for it. This was terrible. This object had tremendous scientific and archeological significance, not to mention huge emotional significance as it was given to him by his old mentor, professor Galen. That really annoys me.
So, that was Star Trek Generations. Despite its flaws, I really like this movie.
And I hope you have enjoyed revisiting it with me.
So, that was Star Trek Generations. You know, there’s actually only one Next Generation movie that we haven’t talked about on the podcast yet. And that, of course, is Insurrection. So I will be doing an episode about that at some point in the reasonably near future.
Now, if you like Star Trek, then don’t forget that my series of books, Jewel of The Stars, is very Star Treky in nature, it’s actually about a cruise ship in space on the run from an alien amarda after Earth has fallen to an invasion. You can actually read the entire first episode, completely for free now, going to wattpad and searching for Jewel of The Stars by Adam David Collings, or you can pick it up in any ebook format from the major retailers for 99 cents. And it is also available in paperback.
Well, next episode we’re gonna be doing something a little different. I’ll be talking about the movie Stargate Origins: Catherine, so I’ll see you for that in two weeks time
Live long and prosper
Make it so.