Fri
May 6 2011 12:28pm

In the End, Was it Worth It? An Appreciation of Star Trek VII: Generations

Kirk and Picard ride horsies in a space dream or...something

Captain Kirk and Captain Picard team up to save the world. Sounds like a sure thing, right?

Unfortunately, Star Trek: Generations is mired in so much controversy that even the people who worked on the film have apologized for the writing and claimed that it was essentially one giant error. In addition, it’s fairly well known that William Shatner was not exactly a boy scout (well, to be fair, Kirk never was either) during the filming; set rumors insist that he was difficult to work with, irritable, and who can blame him? This is Captain Kirk we’re talking about here, and he dies because he falls off the side of a rock face with part of a bridge? A bridge?! Whose bright idea was that?

And yet I don’t hate this movie the way that so many fans do. Because for all its flaws, Generations is asking a very important question about the captain who effectively created the mold for all those who followed in Trek canon: is it worth it? Is being Captain James T. Kirk worth it?

Maybe it wasn’t the question that fans wanted them to ask, but it was a question that needed to be answered; the quintessential Kirk vs. Picard battle among the Star Trek fanbase is one that consistently seems to come out in favor of Picard and, frankly, that just doesn’t seem fair. Picard is a mature, level-headed, eloquent man; he is the sort of hero that our forebrain wants us to be. Jim Kirk is an Iowa cowboy with a penchant for turning no-win scenarios into I-win scenarios; the kind of hero that our hindbrain embraces. Both of these men are necessary to Starfleet, but there’s a reason why Kirk was the prototype (other than the fact that it was a younger Gene Roddenberry who created him). There’s a reason why Picard is awed by him, even when he’s yelling at him to get off his high horse (literally) and join the fight again.

Picard and Kirk

I would argue that the villain in this film is not Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Tolian Soren: the villain is the Nexus that both Kirk and Picard find themselves trapped in. While underdeveloped at the scripting level, it is a classic sort of Star Trek nemesis—the evil that our heroes are struggling to overcome is their own complacency in this existence where dreams are placed in the palm of their hands. It is a particular type of bliss that both men have fought against vehemently through their careers, Kirk in particular: his choice to put an end to an effective Eden in “The Apple,” his destruction of Spock’s spore-induced happiness in “This Side of Paradise,” his refusal to relinquish his own personal anguish in Star Trek V.

But Kirk is older and feeling the wear of years more keenly, especially as he watches a new crew take on the Enterprise-B at the start of the film. Picard too, is questioning the merit of his life’s path after his brother and nephew, the only other living members of the Picard line, have died in a fire. What the Nexus offers them both is peace with the part of their lives that they find lacking, the “empty house” as Kirk puts it. (See, Spock, this is what happens when you decide to go be an ambassador forever and leave your friends behind without a number to reach you.)

It’s a hard pitch to pass up, and Kirk presents some ironclad reasons for his wanting to accept paradise for a change. “I was saving the universe when your grandfather was in diapers,” is one of my personal favorites on that account. But we know Kirk well enough to know this can’t last, and it’s not long before he calls a mirage a prison and comes back to the party with all his characteristic gusto. It’s not so much the call of duty as it is the call of what Spock calls his “best destiny.” Kirk’s character has always had something of a “chosen one” quality to it; now all that remains is for Picard to see it in action.

No, the threat isn’t the most frightening or dramatic one that they’ve ever come across. No, there is nothing particularly epic about the way the fight progresses. No, Kirk does not go down in a blaze of glory. But then, he did tell Spock and Bones that he always knew he’d die alone, didn’t he?

And this is what it means to die alone; out of his time, off of his ship, on a planet that no one has ever heard of, with a man who only knows him through history books. All whimper, no bang, and the knowledge that mortality has finally decided to sever his godlike, lifelong streak of luck. So, you have to ask the question again: was it worth it? Was being James Tiberius Kirk—with all that pain, the doubt and the losses, the risks, the loneliness—worth it?

“It was...fun.”

You damn well bet it was.


With this appreciation, Tor.com’s Star Trek Movie Marathon comes to a close. We hope you enjoyed the appreciations, giveaways, and essays! We had a lot of fun putting it all together. You can check them all out in the index linked in this paragraph or by clicking the red link at the top of the page.

Tor.com is definitely not done talking about Star Trek. Check back with us on Monday! We’ve got some exciting stuff for fans of the original series and Next Gen alike. Phasers set to debate! (Sorry, we had to.)


Emily Asher-Perrin thinks that all of this probably started when her parents took her to a movie theater for the very first time. The film was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and she—allegedly—got very excited when they freed the whales. It was all “best destiny” from there. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

This article is part of Star Trek Movie Marathon: ‹ previous | index
21 comments
ChrisG
1. ChrisG
A nice appreciation, thanks.

I think the main plot conceit of someone destroying worlds to redirect a cosmic-scale phenomenon for his own purposes is, at the core, a neat story idea.

But it's hard to get over them carrying the idiot ball in this one: you can choose to come back anytime and anywhere to stop this threat and *that's* when you choose???
j p
2. sps49
I didn't like the death scene. Granted, it isn't easy, but if something can't be presented well, then maybe it shouldn't be presented at all.
ChrisG
3. Rootboy
The last time I watched this I was struck by how the movie becomes 10 times more entertaining whenever Shatner is on the screen.

I feel bad for the TOS crew - check out their ultimate fates: Kirk fell in a space-nexus for 70 years then died by falling of a bridge. Scotty got caught in a transporter buffer until the TNG era. Spock got sucked back in time to see Vulcan destroyed. In the name of franchise continuity these people all have terrible ends.
rick gregory
4. rickg
The death scene annoyed me for the same reason Trinity's death in the Matrix movies annoyed me. You have a chracter who's survived against amazing odds time after time and then they die not only meaninglessly but trivially. Yeah, I know, it happens. But if I want real life, I can stay outside the theater.
Michael Poteet
5. MikePoteet
It was fun, particularly seeing the 1701-D crash on the big screen. Don't get me wrong: I grew to love that iteration of the Enterprise (though the movie refit 1701 and 1701-A remain my favorite version--my "real" Enterprise). But the cinematic spectacle that was the Galaxy-class starship's demise was incredibly exciting in 70mm and Dolby surround. Definitely one of the highlights of the Trek movie franchise.
Ashley McGee
6. AshleyMcGee
Thanks so much to all the bloggers who gave us Star Trek Appreciation Week. I had so much fun reading and responding. @MikePoteet, I agree, Riker having to crash Enterprise into a planet to save them all was pretty epic. I also like the background story of Guinan. The writing may not have been the best, but when it comes to Star Trek writing, quite frankly, I've seen worse. Lets not mince it up with how awesome it is to see Picard meet one of the greatest heroes of Star Trek lore, history, and the universe. I've written a few fanfics involving old and new generation and it gets me every time.

Thanks again. Can't wait to watch the TNG re-watch!
rob mcCathy
7. roblewmac
The bad guy was about as thearting as a sock pupet. I was confused by the whole "Death of Kirk did'nt the real kirk die in the begining and the one that dies with Picard is some nexus hangover?
Ryan Britt
8. ryancbritt
@Ashley McGee Thanks! We had a blast doing it. So much fun.
Christopher Turkel
9. Applekey
The saucer section crashing on the planet, in the theater, in full dolby surrond sound was amazing. Almost worth the price of admission alone.

I actually think this movie is one of William Shatner's best performances: he was relaxed and confident and didn't try too hard.

The movie stunk to high heaven but these are two good things about it.
Amy G. Dala
10. amygdala11
Regarding the saucer section crash, I distinctly remember hearing the crash from the theatre next-door-to-ours, which was running the film 20 min behind our showing. It was ear-splittingly loud.
john mullen
11. johntheirishmongol
I remember the major thought at the time was that Picard would outshine Kirk because of the actors abilities, but that was certainly not the case.

David Warner, who has been very good in many things, was absolutely awful in this film.

Kirk's death was inane, and not even staged properly. It didn't even look that dangerous. And there was not need for it. They could have just retired them and I think most would have accepted it at the time.
ChrisG
12. Pendard
Even if his death scene had been everything we could have wanted, bringing Kirk back just to kill him in this movie was the wrong move. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had tied up the classic series in a perfect little bow, and after seven years on the air The Next Generation could stand on its own. This movie has always struck me as the perfect example of not knowing when to stop. We didn't need to know what Kirk did with his retirement, and we didn't need to know how he died. Kirk should have just flown off into the sunset at the end of The Undiscovered Country. In our imaginations he should have sat in the captain's chair of the Enterprise forever.
ChrisG
13. QuantumSam
I agree with Pendard.

I watched this movie with my wife and she could not grasp why all of the men in the theater were in tears at the end...Kirk died....The Kirk died. There was no reasonf for this. No reason to have Kirk in the movie other than to goose the numbers and "hand off" to a new generation. I also found it amazing that all new about Kirk in the movie, but in Naked Now none of them had heard of him.

And they cut the scene in which Kirt removed the Shatner 2000 hairpiece and hands it to Picard to wear.
David Scotton
14. Kaxon
This writeup was better than the actual movie. "Was it worth it" is actually a really interesting question, but sadly the movie just didn't handle it well. I agree with most of the complaints in this discussion, but particularly Pendard's - Kirk shouldn't have been brought back. ST6 wrapped up the original cast's storyline perfectly, and TNG did not need Kirk in their movie after 7 successful seasons on the air - they should have focused on the characters TNG fans loved.
ChrisG
15. ccradio
And yet, the death of Kirk that we saw was still better than the first one they filmed, which involved him getting shot in the back by Soren.
Keith Quigley
16. keithq
Oh come on folks. How cool was it to see both loved Captains in scenes together. I went just for that and was not disappointed. Was I looking for high art in the form of plausible dialogue and situations? Hell no, this is Science *Fiction* after all and Star Trek at that. Was it a gimmick? Sure, but an admittedly enjoyable one. All I know is, the emotional quality of seeing Picard standing with head bowed over the unmarked grave of one of his/our heroes was almost as moving as seeing the 1701-D destroyed (and I agree, worth the price of admission!).

Was this the best of the movies, nah but it sure as heck was not the worst.

Keith

"Live long and try to have a good time while attempting to prosper"
Emily Asher-Perrin
17. EmilyAP
@Pendard, QuantumSam and Kaxon - Interestingly enough, according to Ron Moore, the movie used Kirk for exactly that reason. It was believed that Kirk needed to die, that the audience needed to see that happen because Kirk had always been larger than life, and giving him a death was an important reminder that he was human.

I completely understand why many people didn't want to see that, and I agree that he could have died in a way that felt more like Kirk at his best, but I think the choice to have him die was an admirable one in a lot of respects. Like you said, QuantumSam, many people were in tears. I cry every time I watch that movie myself. Kirk deserves that.
Marcus W
18. toryx
I never really got the sense that Kirk died. It felt more like Shatner putting the character to rest. I think that Star Trek put so much on the Triad -- Kirk, Spock and McCoy -- that Kirk wasn't really Kirk without the other two.

I cried when Spock died (with McCoy and Kirk were right there) and I cried when the Enterprise exploded but I couldn't feel any real sense of loss in Generations because Kirk seemed every bit as real to me as the Nexus. It was more like a holodeck death than a true one and I always felt somehow cheated by it. Still do, I suppose.

I'm in agreement with those who felt his destiny should have been left with ST:VI.
Joseph Newton
19. crzydroid
johntheirishmongol: Could the reason David Warner was so bad in this film be because he wasn't in the film? You may be thinking of either Star Trek V or Star Trek VI.

QuantumSam: I have to comment, because you left the same comment on The Naked Now rewatch (on the same day, as it turns out) that they had never heard of Kirk--I just don't get this impression at all. Picard comes up to the screen and says, "Constitution-class USS Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk in command" like he's reading it off the screen, but none of them give ANY indication that they'd never heard of him before.
ChrisG
20. Erekose
I agree with Rootboy - against the odds (to coin a phrase) Kirk was the best thing about Generations. While clearly polarised on purpose, Picard really suffers in direct comparison with the more dynamic Kirk.
ChrisG
21. The Real Scott M
Fans really choose Picard over Kirk? I would MUCH rather serve under Kirk. Kirk lost plenty of red-shirts, but he was pissed about every single one. Picard doesn't seem to give a flying flip about loss of life among his crew -- he never separates the saucer section (going into battle against the Borg? Eh, a little mortal fear will toughen up those little brats he has to ferry around), and he even rams the Enterprise into an enemy ship without evacuating the forward sections. (Are they ALL completely evacuated during a battle?)

Yeah, I'll take Kirk any day. He mourns the good guys while killing the baddies without a tinge of guilt. Picard inexplicably has that backward.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment