Last summer when I watched Star Trek XI, I got so pumped up about the Star Trek legacy that I went home and put Star Trek 1-10 in my Netflix queue. I realize that Captain Kirk and William Shatner have been the butt of many jokes for the better part of the last decade, but you have to admit, Captain Kirk was a great character.
But when Patrick Stewart took the helm of the Enterprise as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard the writers decided that a movie featuring both old and new cast members was appropriate. Considering the time span between the Treks over 70 years, it took some pretty creative (read: terrible) writing. The result is they had to kill Kirk. Twice. And both times really sucked.
Okay actually Kirk died more than 2 times. Spock killed him once. But I’m less concerned about the TV series and more about the movies.
Death #1: Energy Ribbon
In the beginning of Star Trek VII: Generations, Kirk climbs aboard a brand-new, not fully equipped, Enterprise for it’s maiden voyage and is unexpectedly swept away on a rescue mission of two ships caught in a pink energy ribbon. With him are Checkov and Mr. Scott. After rescuing a handful of the other ships’ passengers from doom the (third) Enterprise finds itself also caught up in the ribbon. Kirk once again saves the day by launching something into the ribbon that blasts the Enterprise free. Everyone gets away clean except for Kirk who died loading the device into some random port on a suspiciously obscure part of the ship. Dead. A quick flash and we’re watching Jean-Luc and Worf playing Moby Dick on the holodeck.
Death #2: Faulty Bridge
The energy ribbon is back! Only this time we discover that it’s a place where you go and it’s kind of like heaven. So technically Kirk didn’t die, he just went to the Nexus. But for all intents and purposes he was dead. ANYWAY Soran, this crazy El-Aurian (similar to Woopy Goldberg’s character) was on one of the first ships in the beginning of the movie and was pulled out of the Nexus when he was “saved” by the Enterprise. Since then he’s been trying to put together a plan of returning to the Nexus and it involves killing an entire planet and, of course, the Enterprise. The only way he can be stopped is if Jean-Luc who gets into the Nexus can convince Kirk to return from the Nexus with him and stop Soran. If that sounds stupid, it’s because it is. Anway, they come back, explosions, fighting, Kirk on a faulty bridge, falls to his death but saves the day (with Picard). Movie over.
Why it Sucks:
After all the years of Kirk narrowly escaping death while being a champion and hero for his friends and the Federation and even the whole dang planet Earth, HE DIES BECAUSE OF A FAULTY BRIDGE!?!?!
In order for a death scene to be awesome it needs certain things. Since Spock and Kirk are the most iconic of Star Trek characters, let’s compare their death scenes and the elements that made Spock’s death awesome and Kirk’s awful.
1. A good villain. Spock dies due to the actions of Kahn. Kahn is single handedly the greatest villain in all of Star Trek. He’s smart, cunning, ruthless, vengeful, wild, and when he’s more than a match for the Enterprise and his crew. He has a history with Kirk and is out for blood! Then you have the faulty bridge. It’s lame. It has probably 2 min of screen time, zero character development, and is completely unassuming. Ok ok, let’s pretend that it was Soran that is responsible for Kirk’s death. I guess he is smart and cunning but he lacks a certain menacing demeanor. He just seems like a real jerk. Also he’s the villain of the Next Generation, not Kirk. They have no history and Kirk is like an innocent bystander. It would be like if Batman walked onto the set of Superman and was offed by the robot from Superman III.
2. Dying for a cause that you care about. Spock died saving the crew of the Enterprise. A group of characters that you (and he) genuinely cared about. He was saving his friends. When Kirk died he was saving “millions of lives” that lived on some random planet AND you never even saw one of it’s inhabitants. It could’ve been space slugs for all we know! Die for someone you love…that’s they way to die in Hollywood.
3. A good final moment. Kirk looks up blankly and states, “make a difference” and “it was fun.” That’s it? Of course his final moment could not have been spent with anyone he knew or cared about because he’d been trapped in a pink ribbon for seven decades. Spock on the other hand died right in front of his good friend, Jim telling him “the good of the many, outweigh the good of the few.” With their hands pressed together in the vulcan salute Spock says, “live long and prosper” and slumps to the floor. That was awesome.
4. A worthy funeral. The crew of the enterprise launch Spock into space. Being 1/2 Vulcan and 1/2 human his only real home was on the Enterprise. His burial in space then was fitting. Well actually they launched him to the planet that was going through the Genesis which totally opened up the possibility for Spock to be reborn. But still it was good. Kirk was buried under a pile of rocks on Veridian III. (where?) The only person there was Captain Picard…WHO DIDN”T EVEN KNOW HIM! The honored and celebrated Kirk couldn’t even be transported home to earth for proper burial. I guess when you die to a bridge, you get a crappy funeral.
Saying that Kirk’s death ruined Star Trek 7 isn’t really true since the movie sucked anyway. It just made it even worse and left you feeling cheap. They really didn’t honor the resilience of Kirk in either of this two deaths. The pink ribbon kills him off-screen with no special moment and the second death to the bridge lacks the things that makes death scenes acceptable for characters that you love. If you are going to kill off an icon it needs to be epic.
Fortunately, Kirk has been resurrected via J.J. Abrams…and he knows how to kill people (LOST, anyone?). In Star Trek XI, Kirk’s father is on screen for a total of about 30 seconds and gets a better death scene. So James T. Kirk’s terrible death in a bad Star Trek movie will always be on my list of Character Deaths That Ruined the Movie. Which, by the way, is another blog post I’m working on!