What Might Have Been: The Galaxy-class Enterprise-E
Starting filming in 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation required some very large models to film the scenes of the exterior of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) were contracted to build two six-foot models and a four-foot model of the ship.
According to Memory Alpha, one of the six-foot models cost US$75,000 to construct, had extremely complex internal lighting and animated nacelle forward sections.
Called out of retirement for use in Star Trek Generations, the model was used to film scenes for the big screen. Before it could be used, though, it needed refurbishment, especially as it would be required to show a saucer separation, which the smaller, four-foot model could not do.
The model was repainted into a different colour scheme from the series, as it had been stored since its last use and needed a lot of work. However, several scenes in Generations show stock footage from “Encounter at Farpoint”, which didn’t have the new colour scheme, so a lot of post-processing work was needed, to try to match it. If you look closely at the scene of the Enterprise flying through space before Data and Captain Picard are shown working in the Stellar Cartography lab, you can just about see it.
During the filming of Star Trek Generations, the six-foot model was used to show the final destruction of the USS Enterprise-D, culminating in a saucer separation just moments before the vessel’s warp core breach destroys the secondary hull of the ship. The last use of the six-foot model in Generations was for the scene where the saucer section of the Enterprise breaks through the clouds on Veridian III.
Following this, the model was due to go back into storage, but with one difference. After the shooting of Generations was completed, the six-foot model was modified to have the registry read “NCC-1701-E“.
The change to the registry was made by ILM model supervisor John Goodson. He assumed that the new USS Enterprise would be a Galaxy-class starship as well, and wanted to save whoever did the special features for the next film the task of changing over the registry.
All of this was done before the six-foot model was crated up, not to see the light of day again until the model was unpacked for a TNG Season 2 DVD special feature, Inside the Starfleet Archives, on 19th October 2001. The change of registry confused Paramount archivist Penny Juday, who presented that particular special feature.
Eventually, the model would be returned to its original “NCC-1701-D” registry number and listed for sale in an auction in October 2006. It was estimated to sell for a cost somewhere between US$25,000 to US$35,000, but it eventually sold for US$500,000. It was acquired by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who intended to display it in his Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Initially, the model was not put on display, due to space limitations in the museum.
The model eventually resurfaced as part of an exhibition called “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds“. It was displayed there from May 2016 until May 2018 and subsequently became a touring exhibition.
On a personal note, as a massive fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, seeing either a new Galaxy-class USS Enterprise or the USS Enterprise-D refitted to an upgraded specification would have been one of my favourite Star Trek moments, as I feel like the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise was taken from fans way too early. Don’t get me wrong; the Sovereign-class USS Enterprise-E is a gorgeous design, but the D is still the first USS Enterprise I ever saw and therefore my favourite.
This is a feeling other fans seem to share. YouTube even has a fan-created video of the Galaxy-class Enterprise-D in place of the Enterprise-E for the First Contact intro.
From all appearances in this CGI-rendered video, the USS Enterprise-D survived the battle at Veridian III, possibly by ejecting the warp core, thus keeping the ship intact but badly damaged, and was then refitted to the standard of the USS Venture, seen in the outstanding Deep Space Nine episode “The Way of the Warrior” with additional phaser arrays on the nacelles, etc.
Even though this ultimately wasn’t the course taken for the Enterprise-E, it gives an indication as to how far the Galaxy-class has come. Since its initial creation as a few studio models, it has ingrained itself in the hearts and minds of enterprising fans.
A forty-year-old Star Trek fan, Rick has spent a lifetime imagining himself travelling among the stars ever since he first heard the words, “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise, it’s continuing mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no-one has gone before.” With a collection of more than 250 Star Trek books, Rick hopes one day to write one himself, even if it is never published.