With Patrick Stewart announcing that he would be returning to the role that made him an international superstar as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on a new Star Trek series, it's the perfect time to look back at one of the most important sci-fi characters to ever grace our screens. Earlier this week, we ran down the biggest, most crucial moments Picard experienced during his seven year television adventure. Now, we shift our focus to Stewart's other run as the iconic Starfleet officer.
The actor's most recent appearance as the Enterprise captain wasn't on the small screen, but in a quartet of films that brought the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation from television to movie theaters. From 1994 to 2002, Stewart led the Enterpise's crew on what was presumably their final voyages before the JJ Abrams-helmed reboot of the franchise in 2009.
Taking place after the conclusion of the show, 1994's Star Trek Generations was produced in conjunction with the final season of the television series after a film starring The Next Generation cast was commissioned by Paramount. The producers decided the inaugural film with the newer cast should feature a symbolic baton pass from Captain Kirk to Captain Picard to carry the franchise forward.
Star Trek Generations is an uneven film that would presage many of the issues that would plague future installments. Envisioned as a meditation on mortality, the emotional core of the film centered on three men and their differing views on death. Picard is rocked by a family tragedy leaving him as the last of his family alive while Kirk, the man who constantly cheated death, finds himself bored within the film's heavenly paradise of the Nexus. They are both pitted against Tolian Soran, whose inability to deal with the death of his family puts him on a plot to enter the Nexus at the cost of millions of lives.
The most cerebral of The Next Generation films, Generations never feels ambitious enough to come across as more than an extended episode of the series. The story plays it safe and Kirk's final fate is woefully anticlimactic especially for a character that ushered in such an iconic franchise while Picard coming to terms with death never feels like a complete character arc. Despite this, seeing the long-awaited team up is a treat and the differences between their leadership style on full display as Kirk, the man of action, goes hand-to-hand against Soran while Picard, the thinking man's captain, disarms the madman's weapons system.
1996's Star Trek: First Contact was a return to form, providing The Next Generation cast their best cinematic outing, resulting in one of the best films in the franchise. Directed by Jonathan Frakes, the filmmakers decided to up the scale and action with the Enterprise traveling to the past to stop the Borg Collective from changing history and taking over Earth. After their introduction on The Next Generation, the Borg had been used sparingly both due to budgetary constraints and to keep them a mysterious threat. With an increased production budget, the filmmakers planned to show the Borg in full; Jean-Luc Picard's greatest nightmare come to life.
First Contact is the most action-packed and scary as the classic film series ever got with the sequences of the Borg assimilating the crew playing out like a claustrophobic action-horror film. The Borg progress relatively unimpeded through the starship level by level consuming all in their path not unlike a zombie movie. And, carrying over from the television series, Stewart's Picard has grudge against the Borg which affects his judgment throughout the film. For his cybernetic enemy, there can be no quarter, no inch given to reclaim what they had taken from him six years previously and he will have his revenge at the expense of his crew.