At the time I write this it is unbelievably the 20th anniversary of the release of “Star Trek Generations”. This massively underated movie was defined not only by the big screen debut of the next generation cast, but also the final outing of Captain Kirk. Even though Star Trek The Next Generation had enjoyed a hugely successful 7 seasons, the studio felt that a passing of the baton was required, as a result Kirk was shoe horned into the film. This gave us a unique experience in Trek, we effectively not only got to see Kirk die once, but effectively twice. Both scenes are vastly different with Kirks heroism not in question, but which was the most appropriate end for the captain of the Enterprise.
At the very start of Generations we see once again Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise, this time not in command but in an observational capacity. Of course disaster ensues and suddenly not only do a group of El-Aurian refugees need rescuing, but also the Enterprise is the only ship in the sector. Soon enough its up to Kirk to take control, after passing up the captains chair he throws himself to engineering, making the modifications to the main deflector in order to simulate the photon torpedo blast that they need to break free of the pull of the energy ribbon. This scene is brilliant, the El-Aurians don’t seem to matter any more, it boils down to Kirk desperately trying to save the Enterprise. This encapsulated the character perfectly for me, although his crew and friends are everything to Kirk, his one true love has always been the ship and the name Enterprise. Sacrificing his life to do this seems to be the fitting end that I expected for the character.
This simple shot (and spectacular effect) of Kirks comrades paying quiet respect to the man reflected the mood perfectly.
In many ways Kirks demise on Veridian III was more becoming of a true hero. The stakes couldn’t have been higher with literally millions of lives at risk. One on one, hand to hand combat is classic Kirk, even the terrain was reminiscent of “Arena”. The actual scene of the bridge falling was brutal and brilliant, a vast improvement I believe on Kirks originally scripted disruptor blast demise. The actual death scene itself was beautifully acted by Shatner, the simple words and close up camera work gave the scene a serenity and emotional involvement that was unquestionably touching.
Why then, did it leave me feeling empty and a little unfulfilled. I don’t think it was simply because I felt I had already said goodbye to the original cast in the most perfect way at the end of ” The Undiscovered Country” , but more I felt detached from the lives at stake. The millions at risk were never seen, just coldly mentioned by a distracted Data in stellar cartography. Maybe seeing this pre- industrialized society or involving them more in the story would have dragged the viewer in more.
However by far the biggest consequence for me as a Star Trek fan, was the destruction of the Enterprise D.
That is why for me, his death on the Enterprise B although simpler, quicker and less emotional with the stakes significantly less is by far the more appropriate for the character. I know Kirk sacrificed the Enterprise in the “Search for Spock” but this was done on his terms, it helped him to win. What occurred on Veridian III didn’t feel like a win. Bad decisions by Picard and the Next Generation crew resulted in the ultimate loss for any fan. Im aware the D had to die to make way for the magnificent Enterprise E, but I feel the writers having already took the brave decision to bring Kirk back could have had his more involved in the loss of the D, made more of a fight for its loss as he did in Star Trek III.
The nature of Kirks death on the Enterprise B seemed more of the end he would have wanted. Going down in space, saving the name he loved.