Star Trek Beyond might have a tough time surprising audiences with serious twists and turns since its already tipped its hand by showing us the utter destruction of the Starship Enterprise in literally all of the trailers. Should we be upset that this upsetting event has been revealed before we’ve seen the movie? Not at all! Because blowing up the Enterprise is a long-held Star Trek tradition. Here’s the bizarre history, and some little-known facts about Star Trek’s obsession with destroying its favorite spaceship.
Code: 000- DESTRUCT- 0!
If we’re talking about the Enterprise being blown-up “for real,” the first time this was depicted on screen was in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Basically, Kirk was in a bind, and did some quick math: he only had five guys to evacuate because Scotty had the ship rigged up on automation, and he knew the Klingon ship they were fighting only had like 12 guys on it. So, he “surrenders” the Enterprise, tells the Klingons to come over, leaves really quick, and blows up the ship. Safe on the surface of the Genesis Planet, as they all look at the Enterprise burning up in the atmosphere, Kirk bemoans his decision saying, “My God Bones, what have I done?”
Were fans surprised by the sudden death of the Enterprise? After all, Spock had been killed in the previous film. The answer is: no. Nobody was shocked. Just like today’s trailers for Beyond, the first trailer for The Search for Spock shows the Enterprise being destroyed, while the narration tells the audience that this is “the last voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” In the most recent full trailer for Beyond, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk says something very similar. You knew going into The Search for Spock that the Enterprise was a goner.
The 60’s TV show set a precedent for how this happened: The order in which Kirk, Chekov, and Scotty have to enter in their destruct codes in The Search for Spock are taken straight from the original 1969 episode of the classic series “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield.”
But in 1984, why would Paramount Pictures spoil the surprise of blowing up the Enterprise? According to interviews with producer Harve Bennett, the decision to put the Enterprise destruction in the trailer was made because Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had already leaked the destruction of the Enterprise to fans. This is because Roddenberry was totally against blowing up the Enterprise, saying he would have “rather seen the saucer blow up.” But, Harve Bennett defended the decision, claiming he based Kirk’s actions on an early United States naval captain named Oliver Hazard Perry, who famously destroyed his own ship the Niagara in the War of 1812, and lived to fight aboard a separate ship.
In the final film, when the saucer does blow up, special effects house Industrial Light and Magic used a stock explosion from The Empire Strikes Back, meaning the Star Wars franchise was literally helping destroy the Enterprise back in 1984.
Jean-Luc, Blow up the Damn Ship!
In 1994, when the cast of the TV series The Next Generation made their big-screen debut in the film Star Trek Generations, the first thing they did (other than killing Kirk) was to blow up AND crash-land their version of the Enterprise, the Enterprise-D. In this scenario, Captain Picard isn’t around, and Commander Riker is running the show. After a battle with a Klingon Bird-of-Prey (the exact make and model of Klingon ship that bested the old Enterprise, WTF?) the ship is headed for a warp-core breach, which basically means that the engine is going to overheat and blow-up everything.
Here, the destruction of the ship isn’t intentional, per se, but instead we’re dealing with the evacuation of the entire crew into the saucer section, and the subsequent crash of basically half the Enterprise into the planet below. The Enterprise separated itself a lot on The Next Generation, and apparently, writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga actually wanted to crash the saucer section into the planet during the run of the TV show as a big cliffhanger. But according to Moore, the producers “hated that story for a cliffhanger and we tossed it aside, but when we were doing the movie, the crash of the saucer was one of the first things Brannon and I came to [producer] Rick [Berman] with.”
The idea of the Enterprise being able to separate itself into two spaceships (the saucer section and the battle section) in cases of extreme emergency however, wasn’t indigenous to The Next Generation, and actually originated on the original series in the episode “The Apple,” when Kirk tells Scotty that they might need to perform a similar maneuver. Accordingly, an early concept for Star Trek: The Motion Picture also featured half of the Enterprise getting messed-up and a saucer separatartion becoming necessary.
When Generations was set to release, just like with The Search for Spock (and Beyond), those trailers also quickly depicted the Enterprise blowing up. See? This is never a surprise! If anything, it should be expected! Plus, the way the Enterprise is depicted to be destroyed in the Beyond trailers could be read as a kind of mash-up between the destruction of the old Enterprise in The Search for Spock plus the saucer crash from Generations.
Plenty of Letters Left in the Alphabet?
Throughout the course of all of Star Trek the Starship Enterprise is often fake-destroyed, or almost destroyed, too. In the Beyond trailers, we see the crew jumping in a bunch of escape pods before the ship bites it, which is a little homage to 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact in which Picard and Data evacuate everyone in escape pods because they’re planning on blowing up the newest version of the Enterprise because there are just way too many Borg drones on board. Picard initially didn’t want to blow up the Enterprise-E because his Captain Ahab complex was in full effect. The 21st-century engineer Lily (Alfre Woodard) talks some sense into Picard (“Blow up the damn ship!”) after he throws a hissy-fit and symbolically destroys a bunch of models of various previous versions of the ship, including the immediate predecessor, from the movie right before.
The discussion of blowing up the Enterprise in First Contact is a funny meta-thing, a synecdoche for how Star Trek does this, or threatens to do this, all the time. If you know your Trek history, then you know all the model ships Picard smashes represent versions of the Enterprise that have all probably been destroyed. The original version blew-up, the Enterprise-C was sacrificed in the TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and we all know what happened to the Enterprise-D when Picard wasn’t around. Lily jokes that Picard “broke his little ships,” but basically she’s saying “damn, Star Trek, you blow up your ships all the time, huh?”
Of course, even on the Star Trek shows that didn’t feature the Enterprise exclusively - Deep Space Nine and Voyager - figured out ways of blowing up their resident ships, too. Voyager is destroyed by Captain Janeway more times than I care to count in alternate timelines, while Captain Sisko’s tough little ship the Defiant finally gets taken-out in the episode “The Changing Face of Evil.” Just like with the Enterprise, Sisko and company are given a new Defiant pretty quickly by their superiors at Star Fleet.
When it’s finally time to set the destruction sequence in First Contact, Dr. Crusher says, “Think they’ll build another one?” to which Picard quips, “Plenty of letters left in the alphabet.” The reality here is that as a plot device, blowing up the Enterprise is fun because it allows for the various production designers to make a brand new spiffy version of the Enterprise for the next installment. For those who have been life-long Trek fans, designing your own dream version of the iconic ship is part of really nerding out. In fact, Star Trek: Online even created a fan contest to design the [Enterprise-F](http://sto.gamepedia.com/U.S.S.Enterprise(NCC-1701-F) in order to determine how the ship would appear in their version of the Trek universe. If the previous version hadn’t been destroyed, the new version couldn’t have been rolled-out.
The director of Star Trek Beyond, Justin Lin, has mentioned that he really wanted this new film to take risks, hence, blowing up the Enterprise. While it’s cool Lin is taking risks, hardcore fans know this is actually just a proud tradition. So, if you’re hanging out with some Star Trek fans who are complaining about the notion that blowing up the Enterprise is played-out, remind them that this is how it’s supposed to happen.
In all productions of Julius Caesar, Julius Caesar needs to get stabbed through the back. And at some point, in all versions of Star Trek, the primary spaceship - usually the Enterprise - must be destroyed. We won’t be surprised by the ship getting destroyed in Star Trek Beyond, but what will be shocking is if we’re not given a brand new Enterprise before the end.