Among the Star Trek movies, Generations has never been one of my favorites. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, but there’s nothing there to make it anything better than a rather middling episode of TNG. Plus, it has the added negative factor of *spoiler alert!* Capt. Kirk dying.
But I never really gave the film much thought beyond that, until I read a comment, almost an aside, made by one-time blogger Karen Walker (one of the hosts of the now defunct site Bronze Age Babies, and currently podcasting from Planet 8) in her review of the graphic novel adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s original (unaltered) screenplay for the much-lauded first season episode of TOS, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Basically, it’s her speculation about a better story for Kirk in the Nexus.
Since then, I’ve often found myself pondering, or perhaps obsessing over, Generations and how it could have been better. A lot better. In fact, I think that it could have become one of the best- (or at least better-)loved of the Trek films if the story had been tweaked in the ways I’m thinking about.
First of all, it seems to me that the crux of the film is what happens in the Nexus, as this is what brings the two Trek “generations” together. But for both of our favorite captains, their Nexus fantasies (for lack of a better term) seem really superficial, and frankly, sucky. They’re just kind of flimsy plot devices to get Kirk and Picard together, whereas I think they should have had more narrative meat to them.
Let’s start with Picard: his innermost desire was, apparently, to live in a Hallmark Christmas card, married to an anonymous, bland woman who we (the viewers) have never seen before, and with a bunch of little kids dressed for an elementary-school stage production of Pride and Prejudice. Really? (And I just hate the way the kids fawningly called him “Papa.”)
Personally, I think it would have been better to call back to something from TNG, either a specific episode, or just things we’ve learned about Picard’s personality over the preceding seven seasons of the show. So I think there could have been two options that would suit these criteria:
a) He could have ended up in what was basically another ‘virtual reality,’ but one that seemed very real to him: his other life on the planet Kataan, from the (outstanding) season 5 episode “The Inner Light.” Basically, what he had there was essentially what we see as his heart’s desire in the Nexus, a loving family and a mostly happy and simple life. So it would have made more sense that he would have just gone back to some point in that experience, which for him spanned forty years rather than the 25 or so minutes he was actually under the probe’s control in that episode. That actually had more meaning and resonance to him than the generic happy family scenario we got in the movie. And there could have even been a moment – before Guinan shows up – in which he begins to question his sanity, wondering which is his real life: being a starship captain or a villager on Kataan.
b) However, a much better Nexus alternate reality for Picard would, I think, not have been much different from the one he’s in already. Remember, in most of TNG we see that despite some occasional expressions of mild regret over his life choices, Picard loves being captain. And one of the leitmotifs of pretty much the entire series was the “will they/won’t they” dance between him and Dr. Crusher. So once he enters the Nexus, Picard finds himself in his favorite place to be, sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge of the Enterprise, as the ship approaches Earth for some retrofitting or something, and shore-leave for much of the crew. He and his wife, Beverly, beam down to France to visit his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, where they are joined by Wesley Crusher, his adoptive son. A really simple change, but one that would correspond more to what we know about Picard based on previous TNG continuity. He’d be living the life he’s always wanted, one without even a single reason to second guess himself. Once Guinan shows up to tell him he really shouldn’t stay, he’d believably find it much more difficult to rip himself away.
For Kirk, I’ll also propose two possibilities, one weaker one that occurred to me as I was (over) thinking this whole movie, and one I think is the home run.
a) Kirk is living happily with Miramanee and their child on that planet from the season 3 episode “The Paradise Syndrome.” This would make some sense, because it corresponds to Kirk’s desire – expressed at the very beginning of said episode – that he sometimes wished he could get away from it all and live a simple life, and also to his Nexus fantasy in the movie, where’s he living a sort of carefree, outdoorsy life in a mountain cabin. However, just in terms of production, there would be some serious problems with this one, mainly because Kirk was a much younger man when he was with Miramanee, and he would probably go back to that point in time rather than being a grandfather. And, of course, there’s just the whole problematic aspect of that episode in general, i.e., the way it presents its thinly disguised Native American population on that planet as some kind of simple, noble savages.
b) So now we get to the scenario that sparked this train of thought for me, which is basically Karen Walker’s suggestion in the blog post I mentioned above, which is rooted in “The City on the Edge of Forever“. In fact, here is what she wrote back then:
(…) one thing I would have loved to see is that when Picard went to find Kirk in the Nexus, he arrived in New York City, circa 1960. He sees Kirk, playing with some kids in the street. They are talking excitedly about the nascent space program, and Kirk tells them some day all the nations will work together and travel to the stars. A woman’s voice comes from a doorway, calling for Jim. He turns and we see Edith come out. They have been reunited, and are deeply in love. This makes it even harder for Kirk when Picard tells him he needs his help and he has to leave the Nexus. But Edith herself tells him he should go – and she’ll be waiting for him. (…)
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll let Lt. Cmdr. Data express my feelings about this proposal:
The only thing I would do is expand this whole scene, so that we not only see Kirk and Edith (played again by Joan Collins, naturally), but also his best friends, McCoy and Spock (maybe they’re visiting for Kirk’s birthday or something) – and Spock would be his own Vulcan self, because this is the Nexus, where everything is possible, so of course an alien could be living in mid-20th century New York without anyone batting an eye. While I like the idea of Edith being the one who tells Kirk he should go, I see the scene unfolding like this: McCoy and Spock each tell him that he already knows what he has to do, so he goes to Edith, thinking she’ll insist that he stays, but then she also tells him, perhaps tearfully, to be true to himself and go save the day yet again.
Before anyone mentions it in the comments, yes, it also occurred to me that David Marcus should probably show up, because one would think that Kirk would want his son back – his death was in fact something that tore him up and was a plot-point in Star Trek VI as well – but it would have required recasting the role, since the actor who played him, Merritt Butrick, quite sadly died in 1989.
Anyway, I think in both of these ‘b)’ scenarios would really make it hit home for viewers as to why it would be so hard for Picard and Kirk to leave the Nexus, because they would throw their truly specific desires, and lifelong regrets, into sharp focus, far better than the abstract, and unconvincing, ones that we got. Yeah, but screw all that, because we got to see Kirk and Picard have a horse race! (In that aforementioned post, Walker referred to that whole scene as “the Shatner horseback-riding ego-stroke”).
Obviously, in my vision for the movie, the parts that take place in the Nexus would last much longer and really be the heart of the story – while some of that other crap that I thought was extraneous, like the whole sub-plot with the Duras sisters and the Enterprise crash landing on that planet (why do they keep blowing up Enterprises in the movies?), could have been cut out.
In the end, though, despite all of this speculation, I have to say that ultimately I think Generations probably never should have been made. To me, the final scenes of Undiscovered Country were a perfect send-off for the original cast, as they figuratively rode off into the sunset. That should really have been it for them, with the exception of cameo appearances in later Trek productions, whether in the movies or the various TV shows.
Also, and to some extent contradicting what I just said, I think a Trek movie featuring Capt. Sulu should have been made, but that might be a discussion for another time…