Star Trek: First Contact
If you’re trying to explain why Star Trek was such a big deal in the 1990s, the best cultural artifact is easily the 1996 film First Contact. Released on November 22, 1996, just two months after the 30th anniversary of The Original Series, the second feature film focused on The Next Generation crew was a confluence of everything that was happening in Trek at that time, but also, a retroactive origin story about how it all started. Today, various MCU movies check continuity boxes like this all the time, but First Contact was unique because it somehow spanned three ‘90s Trek shows by not only featuring the TNG crew front and center but also referencing Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart have never been better, but the guest cast for First Contact is the real proof of just how big this film was. Alfre Woodard’s Lily is the perfect audience surrogate for the poor soul who knows nothing about Trek (“It’s my first ray gun”) while James Cromwell reboots the father of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane, with charming (and drunken) panache. To top it all off, Alice Krige’s Borg Queen recontextualized the greatest Trek villain of all time, with a performance that is both understated and unique. In 1996, Trek traded “boldly go” for “let’s rock and roll!” and it worked perfectly. – RB
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
It’s funny: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – the final big screen voyage of the entire original series cast – never seems to get the same type of discussion or analysis as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or even Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Which is too bad, because it’s right up there with The Wrath of Khan as one of the finest of the bunch.
It’s no coincidence that it was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, the same filmmaker who was in the center seat for Khan, and just as he did with that film, Meyer here crafts a character-driven space opera filled with excitement, suspense, Big Themes, and some of the best moments ever written for William Shatner’s Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Both men grapple with age, irrelevance, and their own flaws – Kirk’s bigotry on one hand, Spock’s hubris on the other – as they try to determine who wants to sabotage a peace process between the Federation and the Klingons and start a galactic war.
Highlights include a superb climactic battle against the rogue Klingon ship (commanded by an awesome Christopher Plummer), Sulu (George Takei) in action as captain of his own starship, and a scene in Spock’s quarters between the Vulcan and Kirk that is both poignant and meta (“Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute… a joke?”). By the time the Enterprise literally sails off into the sun at the end, you almost don’t want this to be this cast’s sign-off. But it was, and they went out like a nova. – Don Kaye
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek has always been goofy. Yes, yes, Star Trek can be lots of things, including exciting and romantic and philosophical. But it has always been goofy, with giant Spock heads and Worf assuring us that he is not a Merry Man. So it makes sense that the most popular Trek movie of all time would also be one of its silliest. But whatever you might think about a story that sends the original crew back to 1980s San Fransisco to save the whales, The Voyage Home always laughs with the characters, not at them.