Ode to Star Trek Nemesis
Reflecting on the tenth Star Trek feature film
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles
I fondly remember going to see the tenth Star Trek film, Star Trek Nemesis, at the cinema when I was a nineteen-year-old. I went to see it with my brother (he’s about ten years younger than me) and we also saw The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers about the same time. We enjoyed the acts of heroism and gritty action scenes in both films. In our opinions, both movies rocked!
I loved the churning music near the start of Star Trek Nemesis, as the camera flew past the letters announcing the film’s name and zoomed from the star-filled sky straight down to the surface of Romulus, a planet only depicted a few times in previous Trek, including the very first episode I’d ever seen, TNG’s “The Defector”. This time, the panoramic view of the planet’s surface even included CGI characters.
We then got to see inside the Romulan Senate. Even though the Romulans were traditionally enemies of the Federation, I found it very interesting that, when introduced in this film, they’re politically deliberating in a way much like the Federation Council might. I loved the look of the uniforms, with their wide shoulder pads for the guards and multi-square designs for the officers, harkening back to the ’80s-influenced look of Romulan costumes in TNG, DS9 and Voyager. It was also great to see Neighbours actor Alan Dale as the Romulan Praetor (named “Hiren” in the end credits), and his demise – with his flesh seeming to turn into stone, which broke with his fall – came as quite a shock.
We didn’t know it at the time but, in the first draft script of Star Trek Nemesis, the film was to have opened with a medical montage representing the creation of the genetically engineered Shinzon (aka, the assassin of Praetor Hiren). This would have been followed by a view of him as a young boy on Remus, before the Romulan Senate scene we’re familiar with from the start of the film.
The movie’s opening scene recently inspired me to think about what is and isn’t set in stone. Having Covid earlier this year, I began to think about human mortality and even the fleeting impermanence of the position of atoms. It led me to realize that, even though we’re naturally saddened by death, we can often be more appreciative of things that won’t last forever. As Data says to Picard in the last episode of Star Trek: Picard‘s first season, “Mortality gives meaning to human life, captain. Peace, love, friendship; these are precious because we know they cannot endure.“
Indeed, the limitations can even be cause for celebration that circumstances have conspired to enable, for example, our own lives, those of others and enjoyable experiences we undergo. To me, the bottle spinning in space at the start of Generations, the first TNG film, metaphorically represents both aspects, with its transitory existence and yet used in a celebratory context.
This theme is arguably even more present in the opening scene of Nemesis, the final TNG film, as what is shattered at the end of this scene are the humanoid members of the Romulan Senate – not just a bottle, but people, much like ourselves. And again, this gives way to a celebratory scene, at Riker and Troi’s wedding, rather than aboard the Enterprise-B.
Now, let’s consider how attempts to overcome the aforementioned natural impermanence have been portrayed. I get the feeling that the importance Picard places on the continuation of his family line is a manifestation of one such attempt, since offspring can often represent a person’s legacy. Indeed, the name and premise of the show in which he’s introduced – i.e., “The Next Generation” – reflect a similar ideology, with the main characters continuing the legacy of their earlier counterparts, boldly going.
In general, the film Star Trek Nemesis can basically be seen as a conflict between those who, led by Picard, are driven by the continuation of life (using violence only as a means of self-defense) and those who, led by Shinzon, want to destroy life. Shinzon attempts to persuade Captain Picard that he is an “echo” of the captain, at least while Picard is still alive, and that they are “a mirror” of each other, with Shinzon hoping to be a kind of continuation of Picard, since he endeavors to kill the captain.
However, as Picard and his crew soon discover, Shinzon himself is terminally ill, the only cure being a complete blood transfusion from Picard, but Shinzon is hellbent on continuing his own life and securing victory for the Remans, no matter who he has to kill. (Notice he does state that the Enterprise is unimportant to him, since this, for him, is firmly about life.) Only in his final moments, when he realizes Picard has slain him, does Shinzon welcome his own demise, pulling himself down the long strut Picard uses to impale him.
Although Picard (the ultimate proponent for continuance of life) at one point voices hope that he and Data will beam off the Scimitar together, Data eventually sacrifices himself, making this hope impossible and revealing himself as thematically the true mirror of Shinzon. Whereas Shinzon will kill others in his desperate effort to save himself, Data embraces his own finiteness in order to save others.
The first season of Star Trek: Picard makes it clear that, despite the end of Nemesis implying that perhaps it is possible to overcome the transcience of mortality and “cheat” death, any such possibility, for Data prototype B-4 continuing Data’s legacy, turned out to be short-lived.
However, the end of the same season, as well as a few lines of dialogue in the fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery, seem to imply that it does eventually succeed for Picard. He, unlike Shinzon, is not dead set on saving his own life at the expense of others’, despite him likewise being terminally ill; it’s only thanks to the kindness and thoughtfulness of his friendly companions that his consciousness is allowed to continue, in a synth body.
Although thalaron radiation was the Romulan Senate’s downfall, Data’s self-sacrifice prevents the Scimitar from firing its thalaron generator, thus saving anyone else from exposure to this type of radiation. I find it intriguing that, when we last see him (in a simulation from the conclusion of Star Trek: Picard‘s first season finale), Data – or, rather, the representation of his consciousness – seems to turn to stone and undergo advanced aging as he dies. It’s as if he too is being affected by thalaron radiation, before a view of both him and Picard transitions into a wide shot of a nebula.
In my opinion, the moral of Star Trek Nemesis is ultimately that the continuation of life can come in unexpected ways. These can be as artistic memories of the past, experiences woven into the lives of others. It’s still my favourite of all the TNG movies, and that opinion is set in stone.
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.