I have, throughout my life, been known as something of a Generations apologist. My reasoning behind this is not at all balanced—I am more of an Original Series fan than a Next Gen one, and Generations, to me, had some interesting things to say about being Captain Kirk.
But in terms of a film meant to launch the Next Generation crew into their own slew of Hollywood blockbusters, it is perfectly fair to say that Generations is a meltdown of nuclear proportions. Let’s be real here.
There are a number of things to be sad about in this film. In fact, it has been expertly picked apart at great length by many, writers of the script included. You can go all over the internet and have the ravages of plot holes, inconsistencies with previously established television continuity, and outright goofiness aired systematically before your very eyes. Yet there’s even more to cringe at, and so much of it has to do with ignoring everything that made people love the TNG crew.
A perfect microcosm on the film’s problems can be found in Data’s emotion chip snafu, a B-plot that runs the course of the whole film. Data’s desire to become more human comprises his entire character arc in the show, a quest that powers many forms of self-discovery during his time on board the Enterprise. But out of the desire to give this quest a shorthand for potential movie audiences who knew nothing about Data, the emotion chip was brought into play. Make no mistake, the android’s choice to finally integrate this aspect into his person is monumental, but in Generations, it is treated with all the relevance of a new haircut. An important alteration to a key character is instead contained in a few quips and an essential meltdown when the plot requires it. If you need any further proof that this storyline was made light of, all you have to do is jump ahead to Star Trek: First Contact, where Data has apparently integrated the emotion chip so well (off camera, so we observe none of the struggle) into his being that he can turn it off at will.
Captain Picard is given trauma to deal with from the get-go because without the death of his family, it seems he would have no reason at all to be tempted by the Nexus. Does anyone really buy this? Or buy into the idea that Picard’s ideal fantasy is to live somewhere in Victorian England with half-a-dozen perfect Victorian kids, and a wife who spends her days slaving over their roast goose dinners? Jean-Luc has an appreciation for history and anthropology, and we could even argue that he’s something of a throwback in his refined tastes, but his idea of “a blanket of joy” being the ultimate example of ye olde western European privilege is sort of off-putting. Combine that with his parental scolding of Captain Kirk, and the current Captain of the Enterprise comes off nothing like his usual enlightened self.
Geordi is there to get his VISOR messed with so spying turns easy for our villains, Dr. Crusher is there to fall prey to a “repulsive human females” Klingon punchline, Riker is there because someone has to be in charge while the captain’s away, and Troi is allowed to be counselor right at the beginning and then never again. The script is so confused about what to do with her that she’s somehow promoted to helmsman in a dire emergency of the ship-crashing variety. Worf doesn’t do much of anything at all. It’s understandable that giving everyone their moment in a two hour film when you’ve got a core crew of seven and a legacy captain is practically impossible. But all that meant was that the script needed to be distilled down. If passing the torch was really the whole point, then 70% of the film should have been Kirk and Picard showing the kids how it’s done. And honestly, that film might have been something wondrous. We’ll never know.
But with what we’ve got, I would argue that the only member of the TNG crew who acquits herself with dignity in this tale is Guinan. She is eerily situated to know exactly what is going on, as she often was on the television show. Her patent brand of wisdom provides Picard with the advice he needs and gets the real show rolling. If the Nexus had been used as something more than an enabler, an object for the antagonist to covet, we could have instead had a film with Picard trying to navigate the thing and Guinan popping up whenever he needed a clue to exit the level. Which also could have been an incredible movie, one that would have worked on the level of your typical Trek episode.
And what about the antagonist? The choice for the villain roster was confusing at best. It’s not that I object to the Duras sisters (I really don’t at all), or to bringing in a screen veteran with an impressive track record for psychopathy (Malcolm McDowell is a pretty fantastic guy). But combining Tolian Soran’s forces with Lursa and B’Etor, only to have him treat them them both like dumb, muscled limo drivers is entirely disappointing. As was their needless deaths over something as insert-the-blank thoughtless as a trilithium bomb.
Notably, Generations has all the problems of a poor two-part episode from the television show. There are too many plotlines, most of them not important enough to demand the attention they receive. It is full of big ideas, but none of them are examined beyond the barest skeletal consideration. It has many moments that are meant to be emotionally impacting, but fail because they are not treated with the care they deserve.
Or, to put it another way—if Data’s reunion with a cat is aimed to prompt the same level of emotional response as the legendary Captain Kirk’s lonely death... you might need to rethink your movie a little.