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10 Best Star Trek Moments

The greatest from 45 years in the final frontier.

By Rob Vaux     July 27, 2011


Star Trek
© Paramount Pictures/Robert Trate

Star Trek will be celebrating its 45th anniversary in a few weeks: an impressive run that includes five TV shows, a dozen movies, an animated cartoon, a theme ride in Vegas, and hundreds of novels, comics and Kirk/Spock slash fiction pieces. That’s a pretty unparalleled legacy in the annals of sci-fi… and Trek shows no signs of slowing down. In honor of the event, we’d like to present our ten favorite moments from the entire franchise: not necessarily episodes or movies, but those brief sequences within them that help give the franchise its soul.

 

10: Data on Trial

Patrick Stewart’s primary love remains Shakespeare, and he savored the chance to deliver big meaty Trek speeches in that vein. One of his best came in “The Measure of a Man,” in which he argued for the inalienable rights of his android officer Data. “Starfleet was founded to seek out new life; well there it sits!” he thunders with all the relish of Lear raging against the storm. The sequence also dares to grapple with a significant philosophical issue: something Trek does both well and badly, but always with unparalleled enthusiasm.

 

9: The Borg Queen’s Arrival

How can someone be so creepy and so sexy as the same time? That’s the question Alice Krige’s Borg Queen poses as she comes sliding out of those pipes and conduits in First Contact. Fans and onlookers alike tend to edge around the show’s sexual aspects: cracking jokes about Kirk’s boner and the poor girls in silver bikinis he chased around Styrofoam rocks. Krige brought a maturity and grace to that equation. The soft sigh she emits as her upper torso connects to her body is almost pornographic… but also gives one of Trek’s greatest villains a unique (and uniquely grown-up) seductiveness.

 

8: Evil Spock’s Beard

Bones was right: he really does look cooler with the goatee.

 

 

7: Tribbles!

Trek’s Achilles’ heel was always an inability to poke fun at itself: those periods when it grew po-faced and self-important, and refused to snicker at its own ridiculousness. “The Trouble With Tribbles” served as an instant tonic to that: a knowingly goofy episode that put Captain Kirk himself in a giant pile of purring fluffballs. It was such a hoot that Deep Space Nine took a second crack at it… reminding us that fun was still the purpose of the exercise.

  

6: Garak Has the Last Word

Deep Space Nine earned just praise for “The Visitor,” with a soulful performance from Tony Todd that breaks the heart.  But for me, the show’s greatest episode was “In the Pale Moonlight,” in which Andrew Robinson’s eternally sneaky Garak tricks Sisko into helping him bring the Romulans into war.  The scheme entails murder, espionage and indefensible moral compromise… and in the end, it probably saves the Federation. DS9 promised a darker, grittier take on Gene Roddenberry’s utopian future… and with Garak’s final line here, found the ideal means of delivery.

 

5: The Destruction of Vulcan

By the time J.J. Abrams took the helm of the Star Trek reboot in 2009, the franchise had become fatally calcified. Too many details, too much continuity, too much kow-towing to precedent instead of focusing on good stories. In order to save it, Abrams needed to cut that Gordian knot… and did so in spectacular fashion. The destruction of Vulcan announced that all bets were off. Now they could kill beloved figures, leave the bad guys victorious, and even blow up the home world of the galaxy’s biggest know-it-alls without so much as an “I’m sorry.” That frisson brought a newfound danger and excitement to the franchise: one it had been missing for a long time.

4: The City on the Edge of Forever

Much has been made about screenwriter Harlan Ellison’s dissatisfaction with this episode (though Ellison’s self-aggrandizement often blunted the potency of his arguments). In any case, the controversy overlooks just what a terrific episode it was. The weightier debate of letting a good woman die to prevent a catastrophe lingers over every shot, punctuated by marvelous moments both large (Spock’s “rice picker” lie) and small (Kirk’s allusion to a future writer who pens a beautiful phrase). It comes together perfectly, and remains the best episode the original series ever produced.

 

3: The Kiss

It seems so silly now: the fuss made over Kirk and Uhura exchanging a forced kiss at the hands of hostile alien controllers.  Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto got a lot hotter and heavier in 2009, and no one batted an eyelash. But back in the 1960s, a white man kissing a black woman was a big deal: so big, in fact, that the studio executives tried to cut the shot and reshoot it. William Shatner saved the day by crossing his eyes during the key moment, forcing the studio to go with the first televised interracial kiss. Despite their fears, the world didn’t end, and in fact might have become just a little bit better as a result.

 

2: Locutus of Borg

The Next Generation truly came of age with “The Best of Both Worlds,” a chilling story about the Borgs’ first full-scale invasion of the Federation. They seem unstoppable… to the point of assimilating Captain Picard himself at the end of the first half. The terror at seeing his blank, zombie-like face stands in complete contrast to Riker’s grim-faced order to open fire on the Borg ship. Best cliffhanger ever? Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

 

1: Spock’s Death

Every story needs an ending and Trek is no different. The climax to The Wrath of Khan delivered one, full of poignancy, friendship, and sacrifice for something greater than yourself. Yes, they brought Spock back to life, and Trek has continued on its merry way ever since. But his resurrection failed to diminish the power of this sequence: still packing a wallop, and as fitting an emotional coda as the franchise will ever produce.

 

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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jackwagon 7/27/2011 12:13:30 PM

Certainly got the top two spots 100% right.  I don't normally go for the more light-hearted moments in Trek history, but one moment I have always loved was in Star Trek IV when Kirk and Spock are offered to eat Italian with the doctor in San Francisco, and they openly argue over whether they both like it or not.  Finally Kirk "ordered" Spock to say he enjoyed Italian as well.  Hilarious!

I would humbly submit you picked the wrong part of Star Trek: First Contact though.  Six words: The line must be drawn HERE.  'Nuff said.

karas1 7/27/2011 12:16:49 PM

Ooh, they thought the site was too quiet so they posted a Star Trek article!

Blowing up Vulcan?  Not a great moment.

SarcasticCaveman 7/27/2011 12:28:59 PM

 Another classic moment I would have included on this list (great in it's tragedy, like the destruction of Vulcan) is Star Trek III: The Search For Spock when Kirk learns of David's death.  I still say Christopher Lloyd is one of the best, most under-appreciated actors in Hollywood.  Still cracks me up that the movie had Jim from "Taxi" and Dan from "Night Court" as Klingons.

Jeffaulburn 7/27/2011 12:47:42 PM

 Good choices, I agree with jackwagon with reguards to the First Contact moment and even would have added the ending of Star Trek VI when Kirk saves the President and then gives his speech about the fears of the future and the closing captains log. Another good one would be Deep Space Nine's third season two part episode 'Past Tense" The scene where Sisko gives a dressing down to the guard, this is while they are in the 2020's mind you, about trying to make changes so that all people are given the chance to make something of themselves. So many good moments to choose though it is tough, good article :)

EagleManiac 7/27/2011 12:47:44 PM

Caveman, I agree on the moment Kirk learns of David's death. That was actually a mistake on Shatner's part. He WAS supposed to sit down hard in the chair, slump over, and then say his famous line. Instead, he tripped and Nemoy kept the camera rolling and Shatner finished the scene, and they felt THAT was more powerful than what was originally intended.

Mr. Lloyd's Klingon, Cmdr. Kruge, is THE BEST Klingon ever done by ANY actor! I still love to use the line, "Then I hope PAIN is something you enjoy!" whenever someone does something painful!

I really have gotten to love the new Trek movie the more I watch it. Sure, it has some errors, and some questionable moments, but at least it didn't stagnate and KILL Star Trek like Insurrection and Nemesis did! Both of those movies are FAR FAR FAR worse than anything bad in JJ's Star Trek! I personally can't wait for more movies with this new cast and storyline!

Jackwagon, Picard's line you mentioned from First Contact is some of Star Trek's BEST acting, done by the master himself, Mr. Stewart! The anger. The determination. The hatred for the Borg. All seen clearly in one, simple, short line. Gives me goosebumps each time I see it!

 

vagabondster 7/27/2011 1:07:53 PM

Eagle, I agree fully with regards to Picard in First Contact. He also played Ahab in a tv version of Moby Dick, and that no doubt helped when he did First Contact. Incredible actor, Stewart is. I would also say that Q2's speech on Voyager is also a good moment. "Cant you see? For us, the disease is immortality." To me, aside from the paraell to assisted suicide it tries to me, shows a bit of cleverness.."You're immortal, what could possibly be wrong with that?" yknow?

Kadet2002 7/27/2011 2:05:19 PM

What about Kahn? There must be at least one scene with him spouting Moby Dick ( no pun intended). Or even Chang's "to be or not to be" in the Undiscovered Country.

wessmith1966 7/27/2011 2:20:37 PM

There are good picks on this list, but some that I think are pretty weak. However, those of us who grew up with all of the Trek series probably have scores of favorite moments.

One of mine is at the end of The Undiscovered Country when Spock says "If I were human, I believe my response would be...go to hell."

The end of the next generation series, when everyone is sitting around the poker table would be another.

There are too many for a top 100 list much less a top 10 list. I do think they got number 1 right though. I remember getting teary-eyed when I saw this in the theater back in '82 (I think that's the year it was released).

GSSCHAN2000 7/27/2011 3:19:42 PM

personally i think #1 should of been from ST#5 THE FINAL FRONTIER. that being when the end credits starting rolling.

MrGarabaldi 7/27/2011 3:44:27 PM

This is a pretty solid list.  One of my favorite moments, and in my opinion a very powerful moment, in next Gen season three episode "The Survivors" when John Andersons character explaines, "I did'nt kill just one Husnok, or 100, or 1000...  I killed them all.  All housnok everywhere."  Powerful stuff.

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