#148: Star Trek Generations (TOS/TNG movie)

This week, the Enterprise-B scores Starfleet’s lowest ever Uber rating when James Kirk dies on its shakedown cruise. But when a mad scientist will stop at nothing to reach his happy place, Jean-Luc Picard must step outside of time and put in a formal crossover request to stop him. Is the time finally right for Jim and Carol? Are the Reeves-Stevenses being cheeky? And is Sulu ready to turn into a lizard? All this and more in Star Trek Generations, the book that finally tosses Scotty a compliment.

Star Trek Generations
Authors: J.M. Dillard (story), Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (behind-the-scenes section)
Pages: 29o, including the behind-the-scenes stuff
Published: December 1994 (hardback)
Timeline: 2293 and 78 years afterward
Prerequisites: Familiarity with TOS cast plus late-series TNG concepts such as Data’s emotion chip; the novelization of The Undiscovered Country; assorted events of most of the TOS films, but especially The Final Frontier, in particular the El Capitan and Yosemite scenes

A few weeks ago, we took a look at the novelverse’s take on a TOS/TNG crossover, and now we’re checking out the canonical passing of the torch: Star Trek Generations, which premiered in theaters on November 18, 1994 and saw its novelized counterpart published a few weeks later in hardback. As with the lasat two films, we have the stalwart Jeanne Dillard at the book’s helm, making the best of material that doesn’t leave much slack on its leash for diversions into original territory.

To my way of thinking, original content is the primary draw of the movie novelizations, and it’s a shame that the ratio has shifted in favor of straight retellings as time has gone on. Most of the new material we get here is loaded up front; Chapter One continues the Carol Marcus hospitalization subplot from the Undiscovered Country novel. In an ironic reversal, Kirk is the one who’s finally ready to settle down, but now it’s Carol who’s itching to get back out into space to rebuild the Themis research station and resume her work. Noteworthy also is a scene in which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy trade parting gifts that packs more of an emotional punch than anything in the movie, including yes that part.

The rest of the book covers the movie more or less as is, which, to wit, spends its first half-hour on the Enterprise-B’s inaugural shakedown cruise, where Kirk appears to die while assisting with the rescue of two ships of El-Aurian refugees from an energy storm. Almost eight decades later, one of those refugees, a scientist named Tolian Soran, is trying to get back to that storm, a ribbon called the Nexus,1 which turns out to be a sort of gateway to a plane outside time that surrounds one with a simulation of their greatest desires. Soran’s is to reunite with his family in happier pre–Borg-wipeout times, and although loving your family is cool and all, he’s gone to megalomaniacal lengths to achieve it, collaborating with the Duras sisters to steal a superweapon that can destroy stars, with which he aims to reroute the Nexus into his direct path. It’s up to Picard to enter the Nexus, resist its allure, and convince Kirk, who ended up there when everyone thought he died, to do the same and help him stop Soran.

Prior to watching Generations for review purposes, I had only seen it one other time, on TV, when I was eleven or twelve. I didn’t remember much about it going in here in 2020, though it turns out that’s mostly because the movie itself is not all that memorable. The pacing is off, the Nexus and how to navigate it are never suitably explained either in the book or the movie, and the arc with Data’s emotion chip is just exhausting. I can understand Brent Spiner needing an occasional break from talking like a librarian for seven seasons, but this stuff is no good for the most part, not to mention fundamentally flawed—like, why didn’t Data consult with Picard and/or Riker before installing the chip? I did not that feel that business at all.

The story on its own is a bit slight to cover the average Pocket Books length, so it’s padded out with almost forty pages of behind-the-scenes insight written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, authors of FederationPrime Directive, and several supplemental works about inside Trek baseball. Though hardly essential, this companion piece is a mildly entertaining read, cutely written, and in some spots even a little quaint, as in its slack-jawed awe at the sparing use of CGI, then a novelty used only in instances where traditional models absolutely couldn’t cut it. On the whole, despite probably being added mostly out of necessity, the segment is nifty, if optional.

Between the book and the film, it’s pretty much dead even as to which is preferable. All other things being equal, I personally would take the book on this one; I fidget during movies and have an easier time engaging actively with books. Plus, you get those little morsels of extra original content, which unsurprisingly are the only times Dillard’s writing seems to light up with true joy. Both versions are acceptable, good but not great. Take your pick, basically.

MVP & LVP

  • MVP this week goes to Picard, if for no other reason than doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. He has to take Soran on mostly on his own, talk Data down off the ledge (figuratively) in the stellar cartography lab, and put up with Kirk’s flightiness in the Nexus, which he somehow manages to do without yelling at him. Not sure I could have done that without snapping myself.
  • This week, I’m giving a co-LVP to Geordi and Dr. Crusher. Data’s decision to install his emotion chip is driven by yet another misinterpretation of humor during Worf’s promotion ceremony in the holodeck; wondering why it was funny to take the plank out from under Worf without warning, Beverly tells him it was fun and spontaneous, and that humor is found in that spontaneity. So, armed with that knowledge, Data pushes Beverly off the boat. When she gets pissed, Data, confused, asks Geordi what went wrong, but Geordi doesn’t tell him anything useful—only that basically he really stepped in it with that move. Never mind that Data pushing Beverly overboard immediately after she tells him that actually is really funny, or that it’s just the holodeck and she’s in no danger beyond getting the carpet wet; even if she and Geordi didn’t think it was funny or unsafe, couldn’t they have shown a little more patience and charity? And if they had, would Data maybe not have decided he needed the emotion chip, and subsequently not frozen up with fear during a shootout or had a meltdown in the stellar cartography lab? It just goes to show: be kind with your words to the greatest extent you can, because you never know what’s going on in people’s (or androids’) hearts (or positronic brains).

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • I imagine a number of people might make a case for Captain Jon Harriman as LVP, and I can see that, but mostly I just feel bad for the guy. It’s tough to argue that he couldn’t have acquitted himself better as captain of a flagship with a sterling history and reputation, even accounting for first-day jitters. But for one thing, although he can only offer lame excuses for the incomplete state of the ship, I doubt the decision to take the B out on a shakedown cruise in that condition was entirely or even mostly his. More to my point, however: this is the only time we ever see the Enterprise-B in canon (that I am aware of so far). That means that more than likely, this was the defining incident of the B’s tour of duty. For all we know, Harriman might have gone on to be as good a captain as Kirk, maybe even in some ways better. But we only ever see the B as “the ship that gets James Kirk killed on its first trip out of spacedock”, and I’m willing to bet that’s how it’s largely defined by in-universe history as well. Which, if true, sucks, a lot—and not just for Harriman, but his whole crew. So ultimately, I’m sympathetic to him and them.
  • Chekov gets in touch with Irina Galliulin, only to learn she’s “soon to marry.” Senior Enterprise officers striking out all over the place today! (p. 14)
  • It’s about time someone described Scotty tastefully in text: “He was looking as healthy as Chekov had ever seen him; his face was well tanned, with a faint ruddy glow that spoke of contentment rather than Scotch, and though his form was still stout, he seemed to Chekov slightly leaner as of late.” (p. 15)
  • “‘In thirteen seconds,’ Sulu told Docksey, ‘get us out of here. Warp ten.'” — It’s just a drill, but come on, Sulu, you can’t do that. You’ll end up having lizard babies! (p. 63)
  • “The burst of speed caused [Geordi] to step on the heel of a dark-haired fleeing lieutenant—Farrell, with whom he’d served for years, with whom he’d joked the past fifty drills or so because somehow, they’d always managed to wind up the last two to make it out of engineering. Plus there was the fact that splay-footed Farrell ran like a duck. A running joke, Farrell had called herself last time, and Geordi had grimaced at the pun.” — Cute little bit of flavor to throw in the middle of impending disaster. Also, Geordi, do not even pretend you are too good for that joke. (p. 173)
  • Nice to see Data’s “Oh, shit” make it to print intact. Call it a hunch, but somehow I doubt the same can be said for the junior novelization written by John Vornholt (which I’ve elected not to cover, to avoid redundancy). (p. 177)
  • One photo caption in the behind-the-scenes section reads: “Twenty-eight years after he first appeared as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, William Shatner returns to the Paramount soundstages to reprise his role for hte final time. But then, didn’t Mr. Spock die in the third Star Trek movie, only to be… Naw. It couldn’t happen again, could it?” Considering we’re only a year and change away from The Return, which makes good on the implied Kirk resurrection teased here, and that book was written by William Shatner with an assist from Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, the same folks who wrote this section of the book, I have to suspect they were having a bit of a private larf there. (p. 260)

Final Assessment: 😐

People in my everyday life have keyed into the fact that when I say something is “fine”, it’s a kiss of death. Specifically, I don’t begrudge anyone else enjoying that thing, but saying that generally means that thing did next to nothing for me. That said, Star Trek Generations is fine. The movie is fine, the book is fine. Dillard tries to spice it up where she can, and the effort is evident and appreciated, but these film novelizations are gradually offering fewer and fewer chances for authors to stretch out. When the material is excellent enough to support itself, that’s not so much a problem. But this material does not quite reach that level.

NEXT TIME: Jake and Nog take care of The Pet

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3 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    A few thoughts:

    1. Yeah, it’s fine. I loved it when I first saw it when I was in college and still a raving Trekkie, as opposed to the mature, wise and seasoned sf/fantasy geek I am now, but yeah time and subsequent viewings leaves it low on my ranking of the films – not at the bottom, but not in the top half to be sure. Poor Dillard has a thankless job again here, like she did with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. I loved her depictions of Kirk’s existence in the Nexus, playing out the righting of every wrong of his life, something the movie sorely needed! It’s like Ron Moore and Brannon Braga were rushed to produce a film script and it winds up being a bit poorly thought-out and shallow, like plain broth soup, so bless JM Dillard for adding what she could to the “dish”. Another case of the novelization being a bit better than the film. (I will give the film credit for the acting, casting, music and effects – high scores all around there. Kinda like Alien 3 – everything was great! …except the script.)

    2. After Anton Yelchin died, I strongly felt that if there’s ever a 4th Kelvinverse film, there should be a scene where Kirk tells someone he got a letter from Chekov, who’s been promoted and transferred back to Earth at Starfleet Security, has married Irina and has a baby on the way. Give the character a happy ending since I doubt they’d recast (maybe time to bring Arex and M’Ress to the big screen!). Just something your mention of Irina reminded me of.

    3. Don’t forget poor Harriman had to deal with a difficult situation while under scrutiny of the UFP press – first time we’d ever SEEN news journalists in Trek

    4. Say what one might about the Nexus and how much it does or doesn’t work as a concept, one thing that bugs me is every time when fans complain “why doesn’t Soran just fly into it with a ship?” when that’s specifically addressed in dialogue. It makes me think they’re not paying attention… but now you make me wonder if because the film is so meh that they just don’t remember that little factoid.

  2. R

    They go to warp 10 in TOS as well. The fan theory is that the warp scale was reset sometime before Theshold happened.

  3. I am pretty sure Data says “uh oh” in the YA novel.

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