Set course for The Next Generation and… engage!
We’re now up to the seventh movie in the series, Star Trek: Generations, and the titles have given up on the whole numbering scheme. There never was that Star Trek XI movie that The Simpsons predicted… or was there?
This film came out in late 1994 and we had seen the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, All Good Things…, some months before. It was time for that next generation to take to the big screen and replace the original series cast that had spent a dozen years up there.
But despite the fact that ST:TNG had run for seven seasons and re-established Star Trek as a syndicated television staple, leading to Deep Space Nine and Voyager, each of which would run for seven seasons as well, the people at Paramount seemed to have felt that we couldn’t just go straight to the 24th century and the clearly well established crew of the current USS Enterprise, NCC-1701D. No, that might smack of Hollywood boldly going somewhere, and its mission is to never risk anything at all.
So we start the film with Kirk yet again in the last decade of the 23rd century going on board the newly commissioned USS Enterprise, NCC-1701B. He is an honored guest, a dignitary meant to impress, a bit of history on the deck of a fresh new starship with a fresh new captain, Cameron Frye, who is so tentative that you’d think he was taking his dad’s Ferrari out for a joy ride again.
That’s unfair, but it is just the context his face at that age brings to me.
The ship, not fully fitted out, which we’ve come to expect from Star Fleet by this point in the film series, gets a distress signal, goes to the rescue because… again, trope of the series, there is no other ship available except the one with James T. Kirk hanging about in it… and they manage to beam out some of the crew of the ship in trouble before it is swallowed up by the energy ribbon that is tearing it apart. Guinan, Whoopi Goldberg’s character on TNG, is among those rescued.
Kirk, however, falls out of a hole in the ship and is listed as missing, presumed dead.
Are we done with him yet? Of course we’re not done with him. He’s on the damn poster.
Then we’re in the back half of the 24th century and on the Enterprise, NCC-1701D, with Captain Picard and the finest crew in Star Fleet, and they’re investigating a space station that was under attack where they find Malcolm McDowell, who was also one of the people rescued in the first act of the film.
There are Klingons about in a cloaked bird of prey commanded by the Duras sisters, who were part of a TNG story arc about Klingon high council politics, and who are interested in the research being conducted by Malcolm McDowell… who I guess I should refer to as Soran, his character’s name, but that always makes me think of Zoran, the Bond villain from A View to a Kill, which isn’t helped by the fact that they keep saying “Soran” like it is spelled “Zoran” but I digress… and things happen.
We learn from Guinan that the space energy ribbon is a place of peace and wish fulfillment and Soran has been working all this time, applying all of his technical ability, to getting back into the ribbon and his bliss or whatever, rather than trying to make the best of the life he has in the current space time continuum.
Guinan knows all of this because she too was in the ribbon of bliss, which means that she appeared out of nowhere in act one and somehow got a job as a bartender on a Galaxy class starship, a location where people talk about their troubles, which is just the sort of location a spy would want to occupy. Good job Starfleet Security Services.
Soran has a whole plan to attract the ribbon by destroying a star and killing millions, all so he can get back into his cherished vibe.
Meanwhile, there is a whole sub-plot about Data, the anti-Spock, who is so keen to experience emotions that he plugs an experimental emotion chip into his… whatever… and spends the next half dozen scenes diverting attention from the main plot by having a series of emotional crises… because, character development maybe? Or something else?
We spend about 30 minutes of the run time of the film with that… or it feels like that much. I am not sure why they felt this was the way to go. Data’s being the anti-Spock, always in search of emotions as opposed to suppressing them, is what made his character interesting. Solving that with a chip seems like a bit of a cheat.
Anyway, Soran’s plan goes ahead, Picard ends up fighting him but fails to stop his plan, ending up in the energy ribbon as well where, of course, he find Kirk in some vision of domestic happiness. They chat, scheme, and then figure out a work-around for ribbon rules, which apparently didn’t exclude “wish for more wishes” and Picard gets to replay the last 20 minutes of struggle with Soran, but now with Kirk helping him.
They succeed in stopping Soran, Kirk dies for real this time, Picard has saved millions, but the Enterprise has been destroyed. I am sure he and Riker will be up on charges of dereliction of duty and drummed out of Star Fleet while the cursed name of Enterprise will be stricken from the list of possible ship names going forward.
No? Of course not. We have three more films to get through and they don’t involve Picard sulking in a vineyard somewhere while newly appointed Captain Barclay drives the USS Marshmallow, NCC-1765G, into some perilous situation. The show must go on, Picard must be captain, and the ship must be the Enterprise.
At least they didn’t make the mistake of promoting him to Admiral Picard in the first film.
As for the film, it felt pretty weak to me. It was an unalloyed attempt to have a two hour hand-over ceremony from the original series to the TNG crew. I guess they felt there was an audience out there that only ever watched the films and never heard of the shows, so they had to make it very obvious that new guy with the French name now runs the big ship and that Kirk is no more.
Like the previous films in the series, it felt like there was a good one hour episode of material in this, but that two hours was asking too much. Again, I feel like either my initial charity towards the film series has faded over the watching or things really did peak with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I am not going to try and rank the original series movies in with the TNG movies, and I will count this as a TNG movie, but if I did it would be mid-pack at best. Better than The Final Frontier, but not as good as The Search for Spock even.
When we have finally watched them all, and we’re well on our way with only five more left as of this writing, I will likely pick a top five… or maybe a top three. Again, my charitable nature has its limits.
Meanwhile, the next post will be about Star Trek: First Contact, where we will finally get the TNG crew on its own in yet another new Enterprise. Let’s see if they can go without breaking that one.