In 1994, the first film starring the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew arrived in theaters. I’ve had a lot of time since then to think about what went wrong with it. Star Trek Generations is a puzzling film because its flaws are so glaring:
- The Nexus passes incredibly close to Earth (the headquarters of the Federation) at the start of the film, and yet the Enterprise-B is the only ship close enough to attempt a rescue.
- Captain Jean-Luc Picard can pick any point in time to go back to and yet he picks the one time when he’s at a significant disadvantage to try to stop Tolian Soran’s plan.
- James T. Kirk’s death is a pale shadow of the emotional one given to Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Rather than pointing out all this movie’s flaws, which many other reviewers have done brilliantly (including the Nostalgia Critic, SF Debris, and Confused Matthew), I am going to explain how to fix it.
Star Trek Generations could have been among the best Star Trek films. The filmmakers had all the pieces to make a truly great film. I’ll discuss seven ways they should have put them together.
Let’s boldly go where the makers of Star Trek Generations should have gone before.
1. Make This the Last Film, Not the First
First of all, this should have been the last film in the Next Generation film series. It was a monumental mistake to make this the first film. I understand that they wanted to bridge the gap between the old Enterprise crew and the new one, but that just wasn’t necessary. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had already passed the torch perfectly.
Instead of being a transitional film, Star Trek Generations should have been a wrapping up of the entire Star Trek universe, past and present. I’ll delve more into why this should be the last film over the course of this article.
2. Let Kirk Cheat Death, Like He Always Does
The reason Spock’s death in Star Trek II works so well is that Spock is such a selfless character. You absolutely believe him to be capable of sacrificing his life to save Kirk and the rest of his friends. He’s demonstrated time and time again his willingness to put others’ needs ahead of his own. So his death was… logical.
Likewise, Kirk’s “death” at the start of Star Trek Generations was totally in character. His first love is the Enterprise so of course he would be willing to die for it. But Kirk doesn’t die easily. Put him in a no-win scenario and he’ll find a way out of it using either his brains or his brawns. He has cheated death so many times, it’s practically his defining characteristic.
Star Trek Generations made the mistake of trying to give Kirk an actual heroic death when that was completely unnecessary. Kirk found a way to cheat death once and for all by falling into the Nexus. They could have their cake and eat it, too. Kirk got a noble “death,” like Spock’s, but he also gets to live forever, a fate worthy of such a legendary hero.
3. Switch the Roles of Kirk and Picard in the Nexus
Kirk should be the one to persuade Picard to leave the Nexus, not the other way around. There was no need for Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan to be Picard’s guide through the Nexus. They had already set up the idea that Kirk was sucked into the Nexus while he was saving the Enterprise-B, so they didn’t need anyone else.
For the past 78 years, Kirk would have done everything he could think of. He would have lived out the fantasy of being with Carol Marcus and raising their son, David, together. He would’ve spent decades exploring the universe as captain of the Enterprise. He might even have corrected all of the wrongs in his life and seen what would happen as a result. After playing god for decades, and he would have discovered that there was no need for it. He would find that he was proud of who he had become, despite all of his flaws and mistakes.
And when Picard entered the Nexus and found himself unsure of what he really wanted in life, Kirk would have been there to guide him through. Kirk would see Picard as a kindred spirit – someone who has a contradictory sense of guilt and pride about his decisions in life. We saw some of that in the classic episode “Tapestry” where Picard tried to correct a pivotal mistake and he wound up destroying his life as a result. He learned to own up to his mistakes after that instead of hiding from them.
But what about missed opportunities? Picard had a brilliant career, but in the end he had no family or children to carry on his legacy and mourn him when he died. Maybe he regretted never making a move on Beverly Crusher. Kirk could have some wonderful advice to share with Picard, and vice-versa.
4. Give Soran a Chance to Redeem Himself
Once Kirk succeeded in persuading Picard that he should leave the Nexus, they should have worked together to convince Soran to also leave.
Soran’s home world was destroyed by the Borg years ago, killing his wife and children. Now that he’s in the Nexus, he should realize that he has an incredible opportunity to alter history for the better. He can leave the Nexus and travel to any time and place, so why not go back to his family before they were killed and bring futuristic technology and other evidence to help people believe that he’s from the future and to help them either evacuate or be in a better position to defend themselves?
By doing this, he might create an alternate timeline in which Picard and Guinan never meet. Or maybe the Borg are detected by the Federation much sooner than previously, which unites the Klingons, Romulans, and Federation against a common threat instead of pursuing war with each other. Unintended consequences are part of the fun and melancholy of changing history in time-travel stories.
5. Have Picard and Kirk Go Their Separate Ways
After Soran has made his choice to live the life he always wanted, Picard would have to make his own decision on whether to save his nephew or let history take its course. I don’t think there’s any question what Picard would do, though. He is not one to alter history, even if it’s to his personal detriment. He’ll return to the Enterprise, which never crashed, thanks to Soran’s change of heart, and he’ll instantly start to change things, such as finally marrying Dr. Crusher and living other dreams that he had never done before.
Kirk would stay in the Nexus where he would continue to enjoy his retirement. But he might handwrite a message or give Picard some other meaningful token to inform Scotty and Spock (the only two surviving members of Kirk’s Enterprise crew in Picard’s time) that they don’t need to worry about him. He’s alive and well, and he found a way to cheat the system one last time.
6. Connect the First and Last Star Trek Films
At the end of the two-part episode “Descent” in season 7, Data finally has access to a special chip that he could use to experience emotions. But he decides it’s too dangerous and he should never use it. His friend, Geordi La Forge, disagrees and says that he should use it someday when he’s ready.
There should have come a moment early in Star Trek Generations where Geordi confronts Data and convinces him to take the plunge. Perhaps Data encounters a situation where he fails at a task that others would find simple, and he realizes that he is stuck in a rut and no longer progressing like he used to. They sort of did that in the film, but it was sloppy and mostly played for laughs. It should have been serious enough to make him amenable to changing his mind about the emotion chip.
Once Data is faced with his limitations, he should ask, “Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?” Then Geordi would call Data’s attention to something no one would have expected. He says, “Another machine uttered those same words long ago. It, too, reached a point in its existence where it couldn’t move past its own circuitry. And its solution was to join with a human to experience emotions for the first time. Its name was V’ger.” In one fell swoop this would have tied together the first and last films in the series beautifully.
V’ger was never referenced by any other film or TV episode beyond Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But if there’s one thing Star Trek: The Next Generation was great at, it was correcting past mistakes. After the pointless death of Tasha Yar in season 1’s “Skin of Evil,” the writers came up with a much more noble and heroic end to her character in season 3’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” And they managed to turn the show’s mediocre start with the pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” into a triumphant conclusion with the series finale “All Good Things.” Surely they could have pulled off the same miracle by casting a new light on the much-maligned first Star Trek film and connecting a beloved character like Data to the more mysterious V’ger.
7. Let Data Experience Richer Emotions
Data’s first experience with genuine human emotions should have been a momentous occasion, not some comic-relief subplot. Instead of just crying over finding his lost cat, Data should have had a chance to revisit old memories, like the deaths of his onetime love Tasha Yar and his creator Dr. Noonien Soong. Imagine the rich emotional experiences he could have had just thinking about those two people. Data should have been the one weeping in this movie, not Picard.
Data deserved to run the gamut of emotions from incredible joy to despair and back again. His interactions with his crewmembers should have taken on a new feel. Instead of attempting to mimic human emotions to make the people he works with feel more at ease around him, he should have been shown to subtly change his behavior, as though he was talking with old friends for the first time. The whole world would be full of wonder and possibility as he struggled to process all of the new feelings coursing through his circuitry.
And the audience would have loved every minute exploring those emotions with Data.
Star Trek: The Next Generation had the best conclusion out of all the Star Trek TV series. Its film series deserved to end just as strong.
The filmmakers had all the elements to make an amazing final chapter to the TNG era, but they failed to capitalize on them. They should have saved this story for the end, let Kirk cheat death, given Soran a shot at redemption, connected the first and last Star Trek films, and humanized Data in a more clever way. Then any other problems with Star Trek Generations would have been easily solvable.
Star Trek Generations was a missed opportunity, but now hopefully you can write a much better movie in your head as a fond farewell to these beloved characters you grew up with.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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