‘Star Trek Generations’ got the 24th-century Enterprise crew off to an uneven start in the movie theaters

March 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 11, 2015

Star Trek Generations, the seventh feature film in that science fiction franchise, opened in theaters in November 1994, a few months after the end of the seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The movie, which was written by TNG producers Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, was explicitly intended to springboard the newer cast into a cinematic series.

Generations did so in part by transporting a character from the original show and movie series into a 24th-century adventure. The Next Generation had largely avoided this kind of crossover, at least partly out of deference to the wishes of Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991 at age 70.

(Dear readers: There be spoilers ahead. I mean, they’re for a 21-year-old movie, but still, you’ve been warned!)

The movie starts in the 23rd century as Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and two of his former crewmen participate in the maiden voyage of the fourth starship Enterprise. This time around, Kirk isn’t in charge — he’s just a guest aboard the Excelsior-class vessel, registration number NCC-1701-B. The crew includes a young ensign named Demora Sulu (Jacqueline Kim), the daughter of Kirk’s old helmsman. Kirk wonders aloud how Sulu was able to start a family. “If something’s important, you make the time,” Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) reproachfully tells his former commanding officer.

This being Star Trek, the Enterprise soon finds herself the only ship in position to rescue two vessels carrying (conveniently long-lived, as we shall see) refugees from the destroyed El-Aurian homeworld. Captain John Harriman (Alan Ruck) answers the distress call reluctantly; Enterprise is only carrying a partial crew and doesn’t yet have either a tractor beam or photon torpedoes.

The starship warps out to the location of the emergency and beams a handful of survivors to safety before a mysterious energy ribbon crushes the two ships. But soon afterward, Enterprise finds itself being drawn toward the ribbon. Kirk leaves the bridge to reconfigure some equipment in a bid to free the vessel. He’s successful, but as Enterprise heads to safety, a tendril of energy lashes out, exposing the compartment where Kirk was working to the void of space.

In the 24th century, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) commands the sixth starship Enterprise, registry NCC-1701-D. A happy occasion, the promotion of Worf (Michael Dorn) from lieutenant to lieutenant commander, is interrupted by a private message for the captain. We don’t immediately learn what he reads, but it prompts Picard to abruptly leave the holodeck’s simulated 19th-century sailing vessel.

Minutes later, Enterprise receives a distress call from an orbital observatory in the remote Amargosa star system. The crew rescues a handful of scientists who have survived an apparent Romulan attack.

Astronomer Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell) begs Picard to let him return to the station in order to resume his sensitive experiments. “Time is the fire in which we burn,” Soran says. “And right now, my time is running out. We leave so many things unfinished in our lives. I’m sure you understand.”

The captain is moved by this short speech, because the message he received earlier informed him that his brother and nephew had died in a fire on Earth, leaving Jean-Luc as the last living man to bear the name Picard.

But Soran’s intentions turn out to be malicious. After Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) and the android Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) entry a secret compartment aboard the observatory, Soran appears, incapacitates La Forge and launches a probe that halts the nuclear activity within the local star. He then beams aboard a Klingon Bird of Prey that has suddenly appeared, taking La Forge along as a hostage.

As soon as Cmdr. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), the Enterprise’s first officer, retrieves Data, who’s unable to function because his new emotion chip has overwhelmed him with fear, the Enterprise warps away. An instant later, a shock wave from the collapsing sun crushes the observatory and everything else in the system.

Picard and crew research Soran and discover that he was one of the refugees rescued from the energy ribbon by the Enterprise 1701-B in the previous century. So was a traveler on the current Enterprise, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg, who isn’t credited, for some reason). She tells Picard that the ribbon is the gateway to a place called the Nexus, a timeless realm where inhabitants experience constant, nearly overwhelming joy.

Soran seems to be determined to re-enter to the Nexus. By destroying Amargosa, Soran has altered the course of the ribbon so that it approaches a planet in the Veridian system. Data calculates that if Soran also wipes out Veridian’s sun, the ribbon will pass directly by the surface of Veridian III. The fact that the subsequent shock wave will kill hundreds of millions of civilians inhabiting a planet in the system troubles Soran not a whit.

Enterprise warps to Veridian and finds the Klingons there. The Klingon commanders agree to return La Forge to his ship in exchange for getting Picard as a replacement prisoner; the only wrinkle is that the captain demands an opportunity to visit Soran, who’s working at a secret location on Veridian III. After the transfer, the Klingons, who have bugged the visor that the blind La Forge uses to see, find a way to bypass the Enterprise’s defensive shields and begin a devastating assault.

As Picard strives to prevent Soran from destroying the sun, Riker attempts to fend off the Klingon warbird while protecting his crew. But the captain is unable to thwart Soran, who eradicates the star and returns to the Nexus. Enterprise crashes on Veridian III, which, like other local planets, is pulverized by the collapsed sun’s shock wave.

Picard, who’s been sucked into the Nexus along with Soran, finds himself enjoying a plummy 19th-century Christmas holiday as the family patriarch he never was. But seeing his late nephew, Rene, prompts Picard to realize that he’s experiencing the illusory properties of the Nexus.

A figment of Guinan’s consciousness explains that the captain can exit the Nexus at any time and place in the universe. Picard decides that he must stop Soran but understands that he can’t accomplish this on his own. Guinan notes that someone else in the Nexus may be able to help Picard.

This individual, unsurprisingly, turns out to be Kirk, whom Picard finds chopping wood and preparing breakfast on the 23rd-century day that he told his girlfriend that he was going to end his retirement and rejoin Starfleet. The captain of Enterprise D asks Kirk for assistance, insisting that his predecessor has a duty to help complete Picard’s mission.

“I don’t need to be lectured by you,” Kirk answers. “I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was in diapers. Besides which, I think the galaxy owes me one.”

But Kirk, like Picard, acknowledges that the pleasures of the Nexus are illusory, and he agrees to accompany his successor to Veridian III. Can the duo stop Soran? As I wrote yesterday, there were three further movies featuring the Next Generation cast, so I’ll let you do the math.

Generations is a problematic film. The protagonists suffer a devastating blow about two-thirds of the way into the picture when Soran destroys Veridian. Then the action grinds to a halt as we wait for first Picard and then Kirk to realize that the Nexus is a meaningless fantasy realm. The scenes in Picard’s imaginary manor are unbearably treacly thanks to the children’s lilting voices and the garish Victorian decor, which seems to have been sprung from the mind of a feverish Thomas Kinkade.

Once the action resumes, snippets of the Enterprise D’s crash on Veridian III are repeated, and we get a new version of the planetbound confrontation with Soran. None of these clips improve with repetition. A lot of the action scenes are flat-out laughable — not very surprising, given that the principles celebrated their 63rd (Shatner), 54th (Stewart) and 51st (McDowell) birthdays the year that Generations was released.

One suspects that this endeavor might have seemed much more thrilling on the small screen. The special effects are a mixed bag, and the Enterprise sets look rather shabby and unconvincing. (The fact that some key bridge stations lack chairs comes to seem thoroughly ridiculous when crew members are thrown as the ship descends violent to the planet’s surface.)

I think much of the blame for the movie’s flaws belong to the director, David Carson, who’s done most of his work in television. Ironically, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” a second-season Next Generation episode directed by Carson, has a cinematic scope and is widely considered to be one of best episodes of the series.

Unfortunately, Generations proved to be an apt harbinger of the Next Generation’s films: It contained interesting moments (too many of which involved the original cast), but overall it proved to be unsatisfying, despite my eagerness to like the movie — both two decades ago and this time around.

Trekkers (Trekkies? w/e, as the kids say) should consider Star Trek Generations to be required viewings. Everyone else would do well to give it a miss.

One Response to “‘Star Trek Generations’ got the 24th-century Enterprise crew off to an uneven start in the movie theaters”

  1. Rainman Says:

    I like your post but very much disagree about missing this movie. Yes, the action scenes on Viridian were sad in an unintended way. You mentioned a lack of chairs at certain stations, but my feelings go a step further: Even those in chairs were thrown about, leading me to conclude that the people of the future made a terrible mistake in eliminating seatbelts! Otherwise, my experiences with the film were positive. The introduction of the holodeck to a generation of viewers unfamiliar with TNG was brilliant. I found the “grinding halt” in the story to be emotionally remarkable: It allowed a brief moment to reflect on the fact that the entire Next Generation crew had just been murdered, but then quickly took you on a joy-ride as you experienced Christmas with the Picards as though it were with your own family. I, too, wish the franchise could let go of the original cast (RIP Mr. Nimoy) and let the newest generation stand on its own. But it was absolutely necessary to this movie, and I thought overall it was very well done. :)

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