Destroying The Enterprise In Generations Shows TNG Didn't Understand Their Own Starship
Star Trek Generations featured the stunning destruction of the Enterprise-D, the beloved hero ship from Star Trek: The Next Generation, a mistake that hindered the proceeding TNG movies in both big and small ways. The Enterprise-D was the primary setting for all seven seasons of TNG, the Galaxy-class flagship of the Federation. In contrast to the brightly colored, highly stylized future military look of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise in Star Trek: The Original Series, Captain Picard’s Enterprise-D had a warmer, more welcoming aesthetic while also boasting the top of the line in weaponry and defense systems Starfleet had to offer in the mid-24th century.
The Enterprise-D met its end in the TNG crew’s first film, Star Trek Generations, when it was critically damaged by the villainous Klingons the Duras sisters. With a warp core breach imminent, the ship separated into its two components; the drive section exploded shortly after it was evacuated, pushing the saucer section into the atmosphere of Veridian III, where it made a spectacular emergency landing. While casualties were light, the Enterprise-D itself could not be salvaged.
Star Trek Generations was written by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, two of the more celebrated writers from TNG. Moore and Braga wanted Generations to make a splash with big, shocking events that would have never been possible on the small screen. The writers assumed the most dramatic moment of the movie would be the death of Captain James T. Kirk in William Shatner’s final performance in the role, but the destruction of the Enterprise-D ended up having the longer lasting consequences.
Beyond the dramatic effect of the ship’s destruction, Moore and Braga believed it was time to retire the Enterprise-D; the ship was created in 1987, and the writers – along with producer Rick Berman – believed the Enterprise-D was beginning to look dated by the mid-90s and wasn’t up to the cinematic scrutiny of the big screen. The starship also happened to straddle a technological threshold; the Enterprise-D was rendered almost exclusively with practical models just as the industry was beginning to wholeheartedly embrace CG effects.
The destruction of the Enterprise-D certainly made for a stirring, dramatic sequence in Star Trek Generations, but the following three TNG movies all suffered from the ship’s absence in different ways. The next TNG film, Star Trek: First Contact, is almost universally considered the best film featuring Picard and his crew. Yet even in that successful film, there are aspects that would have worked better on the Enterprise-D. The Borg slowly taking over the Enterprise-D would have been a more nightmarish scenario, evoking more terror as they took over such a well known and beloved location. Picard’s declaration that he thinks of the new Enterprise-E as home also rings a bit hollow.
Star Trek: Insurrection was the franchise’s big leap into fully CG effects, and many of them were unimpressive. The Enterprise-E looked ropey and cartoonish, never approaching the majesty of the gorgeous model work of the Enterprise-D. The bridge of the Enterprise-E also lacked the character of the Enterprise-D’s; gone were the wood-paneled horseshoe tactical station and cushy beige chairs, replaced by an anodyne collection of workstations and blinking lights. And while the CG was somewhat improved, the ill-fated Star Trek: Nemesis would have had more impact as the final TNG adventure had it taken place on the more iconic Enterprise-D.
Star Trek: Picard seems to understand the iconic nature of the Enterprise-D. The very first scene of the series features Picard aboard the ship with Data in a dream sequence, and Picard later stops to admire a holographic image of the ship at Starfleet Headquarters. With the cast of TNG returning for Picard season 3, many have wondered if the Enterprise-D could somehow make an appearance.
Beyond flashbacks and holodeck recreations, it is possible the actual Enterprise-D could make an appearance. A mural in Picard season 2 notes that the ship’s saucer section was in fact recovered from Veridian III and put on display in the Fleet Museum. The primary setting for Picard season 3 is going to be the new ship the USS Titan-A, but producer Terry Matalas has promised the season will feature multiple Starfleet vessels, and both Patrick Stewart and LeVar Burton have hinted that the Enterprise-D might be one of them. Star Trek Generations made a serious misstep in destroying the Enterprise-D, but it’s a mistake Star Trek: Picard can rectify nearly three decades later.
Next: Picard Season 3: Every TNG’s Character’s Next Generation