Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Written by Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Carson
Star Trek: Generations is not a film that is going to bring new viewers into the franchise, it exists as something for fans of the series. That said, even if you don’t know who these characters are and the legacy bits are lost on you, the story is still comprehensible. It’s a story about regret, how time goes back so fast, and you find yourself thinking about the other life you could have had. Generations is the perfect companion piece to “All Good Things,” the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They both focus on Picard, his sense of aging, and confronting the life not lived.
The film opens with a prologue centered around the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B, this will be the first version of this ship not captained by James Kirk. He’s there for the ceremony but ends up having to take up a leadership role when they receive a distress signal. A strange band of energy has damaged ships of refugees, and the Enterprise must fly in and rescue them. Using some quick thinking, and aided by Scotty and Chekov, Kirk can save some of these refugees but appears to have died in the process.
The film jumps to the Next Generation era, where Worf is being promoted. During the ceremony, Picard receives upsetting news. We later learn, after Troi implores him to open up, that his brother, Robert, and nephew, Rene were killed in a fire on Earth. There’s the weight of people he loves dying, but that also brings up his own subconscious fears of dying alone. For many years, Picard always knew he had a home and loved ones waiting for him on Earth when he was ready to come back. Now they are gone, and he is alone, just commanding a starship and going through the motions until he retires or dies. This scene between Picard and Troi is my favorite moment in the whole movie. It gives Picard the next steps in his emotional development that “All Good Things” set up.
There are a lot of things that Generations stumbles over. The other crew member being spotlighted in the feature is Data, who installs the emotion chip he took from his deceased brother Lore. The result is actor Brent Spiner delivering the cringiest performance he’s ever given. It’s worse than his choices when playing Lore. He’s supposed to be overwhelmed with new emotional experiences, which the script translates to making dumb jokes and laughing a lot. I feel like the whole spectrum of emotions is ignored during the story. We never see sadness, rage, lust, or a whole host of others. We see some guilt when Data reflects on how he allowed fear to get Geordi abducted.
What would have been more interesting was to parallel Data’s overwhelming emotions, particularly his first experience of regret with Picard’s. Data could discover that emotions paired with memories are a volatile mix. He could reflect on the relationships he never got to have with his creator or Lore. It would be interesting to finally show the synthesis of data and lore, knowledge, and story. To know something is not the same as feeling it, and when you think about your past, the emotions overflow. But what we get is a chance for Brent Spiner to be the comedy relief and ham it up.
Captain Kirk eventually teams up with Picard, and it stands as a massive reminder that these two have very different takes on what a captain is. William Shatner can’t quite deliver his moments of regret with the same pathos as Patrick Stewart. His primary purpose for being in this movie is to pass the baton of the franchise to the TNG crew. Kirk gets to dies a hero, and it’s a perfectly fine moment, but nothing I felt earned any strong emotions from the audience unless it was pure fan nostalgia.
The film feels like a more extended, slightly bigger budget episode of the show, and that’s completely fine. The writers were smart in not bloating the picture with nods to old events or overplaying the legacy aspects. It seats itself firmly as a character story about Picard and gives the rest of the crew a serviceable space mystery to deal with. Things become a little grating when the Enterprise is shot down, and we get way too many explosions, and camera shakes. Destroying the Enterprise-D does serve a symbolic purpose of moving forward into new territory, though. It’s not one of the best Star Trek movies, but so few of them are.