Time Is The Fire In Which Generations Can Burn – Part 1
Twenty years ago today, Star Trek passed the movie baton from the Original Series to the Next Generation. Three years earlier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had wrapped up the story for the Original Series characters in a terrific movie and had that been the final voyage for those characters I’m sure everyone would have been delighted at that. With the Next Generation finishing up it’s seven season run on television, making the next movie about them made perfect sense.
Sadly, someone, somewhere, thought it would be a good idea to actually pass the baton on screen. The result was arguably the worst Star Trek movie ever made.
Now, I say arguably because I know lots of people who love Star Trek: Generations. Most of them are probably screaming “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” in their heads right now as that’s clearly the worst Star Trek movie ever made. A few are probably thinking the same about Star Trek: Insurrection, while I’m sure Star Trek: Nemesis features top of some worst lists. That’s without even touching the JJ Abrams universe movies which I know have divided opinion at times.
Leaving those aside, I’m now going to try and explain why I despise Generations just as much as I do. I’m going to run through the movie and pick it to pieces, and I’ll warn you now – this could last longer than the movie itself! I’ve always reckoned I could spend longer ripping this movie apart than it takes to actually show the movie itself, so this is probably about as close as I’ll get to finding out whether or not that’s the case.
I should also point out that a lot of this is probably covered by Red Letter Media, but I’ve got to admit I wrote all of this up before watching it from bits and pieces I’ve thought about over the last twenty years. Yes, the movie bothers me THAT MUCH. You’ll probably find out why eventually.
So, shall we begin?
We start off at the launch of the Enterprise-B. Good start, the Enterprise-A was being decommissioned at the end of the last movie and this nicely fills in the gap of the one ship we haven’t seen yet. Well, we have, but it’s been a model on the wall of the Enterprise-D and looks a bit like the Excelsior. Well, now we know, it’s a slightly modified Excelsior class ship. So far so good.
At the launch, as well as lots of media coverage for some unknown reason, are Captain Kirk, Captain Scott and Commander Chekov. Now, first off, why are the media there? Do the media get to ride about on the launch of every new ship? Does that happen today? If the American navy launch a new ship do the media get to sail on its maiden voyage? I’ll admit this is a very minor nitpick of mine.
A far bigger nitpick is why Scotty and Chekov are there with Kirk. We all know it would have been Spock and McCoy, but we also know that neither Leonard Nimoy nor DeForest Kelley wanted anything to do with these small cameo roles. I’m guessing Nimoy has softened to cameos in the 20 years since, as he turned up in both of the JJ movies and the second of those was completely needless as turning up in Generations would have been.
Personally then, I’d have rewritten this entire sequence. Scotty being there I can almost understand as he’d probably be curious to see the new technology. But then Scotty being there also ruins continuity as he turned up in the TNG episode “Relics” and the first thing he thought when he was told the Enterprise had rescued him was that Jim Kirk had rescued him. Apparently the official explanation for that is disorientation after 70 years in a transporter buffer, but I’m more inclined to think he just refused to believe Kirk was dead. We’ll come back to that though.
We’re introduced to the new captain of the Enterprise, John Harriman, who appears to be newly promoted. Okay, so they’ve given the new flagship – I’m assuming it’s the flagship anyway – to a new guy. Well, Kirk was fresh when he got the job I suppose. Kirk could probably have done without hearing that this new guy read about him in grade school though. Well done on making the living legends feel old Captain!
We’re also introduced to Demora Sulu, the never before mentioned daughter of Sulu. Where did he find the time to have a family? Well, if something’s important then you make the time. Good advice, but a massive cop out from the story writers there. Given her age, I’m guessing it happened after the first five year mission. After the original series but before the Motion Picture. That seems about right. Could have been after the Motion Picture as well.
So anyway, the Enterprise-B is taken out on the orders of Captain Kirk, to much applause and embarrassment and piss taking by Kirk’s “friends”… piss taking that would have worked much better with Spock and Bones of course. It doesn’t really make sense with Scotty and Chekov. They might not work under him any more, but they’re not the close friends I would expect to make such jokes. See what I mean about rewriting this scene?
Of course, this is the Enterprise so it wouldn’t be right if something didn’t go wrong. There’s a distress call and the new Enterprise is the only ship in range.
Really? Does anyone protect one of the most important planets in the Federation? They pulled this stunt a lot in the original movies. In the Motion Picture the Enterprise was the only thing standing between V’Ger and Earth. Okay, the Enterprise was the newest ship after it’s refit, so that made sense. It also made sense that they sent Kirk for his experience, in fact that’s precisely the argument Kirk takes to Admiral Nogura.
The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home both show us that there are indeed other ships hanging around Earth, but they’re all useless with idiots in charge of them. Captain Styles for instance, what an utter roaster that guy is. Funnily enough, he’s nowhere to be see when the whale probe shows up. Not that it would have mattered given what it was doing to the power of the ships. At least that made some sense then. The Final Frontier actually acknowledges this issue quite well, when Admiral Bennett actually tells Kirk that there ARE other ships but he needs the experience of Jim Kirk. Fair enough, that’s pretty much the same argument from The Motion Picture! The Undiscovered Country also uses the whole “only Nixon could go to China” quote to suggest that “only Kirk could go save the Klingons”.
The biggest flaw in any of the movies before Generations is actually when the “little training cruise” in The Wrath of Khan gets cancelled because the Enterprise was the only ship in the quadrant. Well, leaving aside that a quadrant changes meaning during the run of Star Trek, I can only assume they mean near Regula I rather than near Earth. I can’t imagine that’s too far given the Enterprise isn’t out of dock for very long, so it’s still pretty bad in my book. However, Carol Marcus did contact Kirk specifically so even then it made sense to send Kirk to investigate from that perspective.
But in Generations they’re on a quick run round the block – even shorter than the “little training cruise”. They were going out by Pluto and back again! Surely this time there’d be another ship that could respond? You can’t seriously tell me there’s nothing at all. This new Enterprise wasn’t ready to launch five minutes earlier so there must have been something protecting Earth and the centre of the Federation. You can’t use the experienced Captain excuse this time either because Kirk is retired and Harriman is new. Besides, it’s a distress call, you shouldn’t really need experience!
Regardless, the Enterprise is sent to help. Harriman looks worried by this, clearly showing his inexperience in doing so. If you look worried as Captain, then you can bet the rest of your crew is worrying as well – not just about their own situation but also the fact that their captain looks worried. He’s the leader, he needs to be the strong one in this situation. But no, he actually has to be encouraged by Kirk to do the right thing and try and assist after he hesitated to even respond to the distress call!
Of course, as they get to the problem – an energy ribbon with two trapped ships – things go from bad to worse and one of the ships explodes. 265 people on board, all “gone”. Yes, “gone”, we’ll come back to that later. First, lets just take a little bit of time to remember that these ships are El-Aurian refugee ships.
Did NO ONE in the 23rd century think to ask the most obvious question? You know, the one that asks” refugees from what exactly?”
We know that the El-Aurians were fleeing from the Borg because Guinan revealed the truth about the Borg after Q sent the Enterprise-D to meet them. Until that time, no one in the Federation had even heard of the Borg! Well, except for Annika Hansen’s parents of course, but Voyager is it’s own continuity headache!
Seriously though?! I know the El-Aurians are a race of listeners (they listen), but are you really going to convince us all that not one of them heard the question “refugees from what exactly” at any point in the three quarters of a century between this energy ribbon incident and Q sending the Enterprise 7,000 light years? Just how dumb are they making Starfleet personnel, doctors and officials in all that time?
Okay, lets leave that to one side for now. There’s still a ship to rescue.
Now, it would be nice to use the tractor beam to pull the other ship out of danger, but sadly that won’t be installed until Tuesday. So the ship wasn’t ready for launch after all? Who sanctioned that one? Remember when the refitted Enterprise almost didn’t launch in the Motion Picture because it wasn’t ready? They needed a crisis to get launched with dodgy warp drive. This wasn’t a crisis, it was a media circus. Maybe they figured a tractor beam wasn’t a major problem though so you could let this slide.
Without the tractor beam, the Enterprise has to get closer, into transporter range. But that’s inside the ribbon. Harriman at least decides to do this on his own, and now it’s Kirk’s turn to look worried. Well that makes no sense. If it’s the only option, then it’s what you need to do. Kirk was pretty much suggesting that to begin with and Harriman was worried about it, now the roles have reversed? Nope, sorry, I don’t get that at all.
The Enterprise moves into transporter range and Scotty manages to beam over 47 out of the 150 passengers before the second ship explodes. It was a neat trick as the people on the ship were phasing in and out at the time. Still, 47 people rescued is better than none and they’re now being attended to by the medical staff. Oh wait, no they’re not, the medical staff won’t arrive until Tuesday. Great. Should have launched after Tuesday really. I’m guessing the media pushed for this and they got an early launch to fit their schedules.
Fortunately, Dr McCoy is on hand and he takes two of the media to be “volunteer” nurses. Oops, it’s not McCoy, it’s Chekov. Well, we’ll assume he’s had field training. You’d assume even among a skeleton crew he’d not be the only one on the Enterprise that has had such training, but apparently he’s the only one willing to volunteer for it as if he’s actually a real doctor anyway. Yeah, this is another bit they really should have rewritten instead of just getting different characters to say the same lines. You can actually imagine Dr McCoy saying “you and you, you’ve just become nurses” as he heads for the turbolift.
Unfortunately, now the Enterprise is trapped by the ribbon. They need to disrupt the gravitational distortions and a photon torpedo should do the trick. Oh wait, there’s no photon torpedoes. Let me guess, Tuesday? Harriman’s look says it all. Even he’s fed up apologising for Starfleet sending out a ship that wasn’t ready.
Okay then, so how do they get out? Well, Scotty has a plan. Use the navigational deflector to simulate the effect of a photon torpedo. This might be the one bit where I think that Spock probably could have come up with the solution but Scotty coming up with it made even more sense. It seems like his kind of fix, and he probably should have been the man to head down to the bowels of the ship to make the necessary changes.
Of course, no one else thinks that. Never mind that there’s an experienced Engineer like Scotty around, Harriman decides he’s going down there to make the changes. Why doesn’t he just ask someone down there to do it? Surely he has his own Engineering staff? Or are they not arriving until Tuesday either? Is there anyone on this ship that’s not on the Bridge? I’m having my doubts at this point. Which is odd, because a few movies ago it took some special work from Scotty to ensure that “a trainee and two chimpanzees” could run an entire starship from a partially automated bridge.
However, just as Kirk is about to sit in the Captain’s chair, he remembers that he’s not the captain of the Enterprise any more. On the bridge of the Enterprise is where the captain belongs and so in a gallant act of passing the baton he stops Harriman, heads for the turbolift himself and leaves Harriman to take the centre seat. Well that wasn’t symbolic at all…
Down in the bowels, Kirk makes the changes necessary as the ship is battered by the ribbon. Harriman orders it to be activated and it works – the Enterprise breaks free. But just as it does, the ribbon almost seems to get angry and lashes out one final time. It’s such a big hit that a big chunk of the Enterprise is knocked out. Back on the Bridge, now free of the ribbon, Demora Sulu reports the damage and everyone realises that it’s the exact area of the ship where Kirk had to be.
Scotty calls him and there’s no response. He and Harriman head down there to look for him and Scotty tells McCo… Chekov to meet him there. Well, if Kirk’s injured they’ll need a doctor. But when they get there they find the entire section is open to space. Chekov arrives late and exclaims “My God, was anyone in there?”
Later in the movie, Picard confirms history recorded that Kirk died saving the Enterprise-B from the energy ribbon. One last heroic act from a legendary Captain, and lets leave it at that.
“You came back for me.”
“You would have done the same for me.”
Remember those words from the end of The Search for Spock? Kirk was the one who came back for Spock, and you can bet your life that Spock would have done the same for Kirk. In fact, I reckon that upon hearing of the death of his friend, Spock immediately stopped whatever he was doing to find out every detail of what had happened.
I reckon the bit that would have intrigued Spock most would have been the bit where the lifesigns were phasing in and out. What was all that about? Did anyone even bother to check? I’m sure Spock would have coupled that with the story Chekov told him. The bit I’ve left out of this first part. The bit where he was in sickbay with the 47 survivors, one of which was screaming “let me go back, let me go back” while the other 46 all seemed pretty shaken.
Back where exactly? Back to the ship? Did he leave something there? Do you not think Spock would have located this rambling lunatic to make sure? Surely someone, somewhere asked him why he wanted to go back after he woke up following being sedated. Surely after asking him he’d have confirmed with the other 46 passengers that what he was saying was something they had all shared. We know from later on in the movie that Guinan experience the same thing after all, surely she could have explained it?
Oh no, wait, maybe this is another one of those questions that NO ONE asked the race of listeners at any point. A bit like the whole “refugees from what exactly” question I mentioned earlier.
Well maybe everyone else is useless, but I would bet Spock would have investigated every last piece of this apparent death and he would have come to the same conclusion that the TNG cast do later in the movie. That the ribbon was some kind of gateway to another realm. Except Spock would also have figured out that Kirk might just be there – as might the other 103 people from the second ship and all 265 from the first ship.
We’ll come back to how I think it’s possible later, because there are another couple of points in the movie later on where comments from characters make it relevant again.
The first part of the movie ends with Harriman, Scotty and Chekov staring out of the big gap in the shiny new Enterprise. Harriman’s career is clearly in tatters given that on his very first command mission he’s managed to break his new ship and kill off the most legendary Starfleet captain in history. That inquiry must have been fun…
Actually, maybe that explains everything. Maybe Harriman has an Admiral daddy who gave him the job, and when this clusterfuck happened he pulled a lot of strings to have it swept under the carpet. Yeah, lets not investigate all of this, we don’t want little Johnny to get his starship taken off him again. We’ll just get it patched up again and pretend this never happened. Nothing to see, move along. All media recordings confiscated and classified.
Lets just say if Harriman is the kind of captain you give your new flagship to then I could probably believe that no one asked the El-Aurians “refugees from what exactly”. But I’d also reckon the Federation would have fallen apart long before Picard’s time as they would probably give the Pakleds a run for their money on the intelligence stakes.