"Oh dear... you're a bit older than I imagined..."
Aging and youth have long been subjects of exploration in science fiction, and with good reason. Aging and the look back to a time of vibrance is universal. And like children beholden to elders, audiences look to their stories and to their heroes to see how they grapple with this very real dimension. If these heroes can age and grow and be vibrant, then so can we, and feel as beholden to any ravages of time. Star Trek is no exception.
In fact, one of the very tenets of STAR TREK: PICARD on PARAMOUNT+ is exploring an older Jean-Luc Picard and how such a celebrated character faces aging and standing by his principles, which may have come out of date with Starfleet’s.
Wait a minute PARAMOUNT+… (Checks notes) "Picard" "faces aging" and "standing with traditional Starfleet principles…"
That feels awfully familiar. Hasn't there been a movie that saw Jean-Luc Picard grapple with aging and holding the line on Starfleet principles?
Ah yes... STAR TREK INSURR-... (hold on... I had a picture of a vibrant Jean-Luc Picard for this)
It's that one time Picard became younger and had to save the day by embracing his youth... FOUND IT!
You know... the adventure with Patrick Stewart playing a more youthful version of himself...
It's... It's STAR TREK: INSURRECTION.
Ah yes, STAR TREK INSURRECTION: the “fountain of youth” ninth entry into the canon. For this who have yet to see or don't remember, this is the film where Picard and crew must save the peaceful Ba'ku's youthful paradise from the vengeful Son'a.
As Michael Piller discusses in his book, FADE IN: THE MAKING OF STAR TREK: INSURRECTION, he wanted to portray Picard as a multifaceted hero grappling with his life and a lost sense of vitality as well as say something on our culture's obsession with youth.
What you may not know was that producer Rick Berman hated even the very idea of Picard facing his age.
Berman talking with Piller on a previous draft of the script:
"'[...] Picard's an old man who doesn't get to buckle his swash until the planet makes him young again. But he's our hero. When the movie's over and he's back to normal again, he needs to be a vital man of action. Patrick will hate this. He'll never do it.[...] You're telling our star he's an old man!'" (Piller, 38)
Piller wanted Picard and the crew to talk about something real, and always pulled from his own life in his work. As a writer, this gave him authenticity to the characters and it also made them more relatable. More human.
Hell, even his inspiration for the 'fountain of youth' theme feels human.
"I was in front of the bathroom mirror cursing to myself about [television network ABC's] youth obsession as I sprayed Rogaine on my bald spot when my mind made an unexpected jump to the Star Trek assignment. 'We're obsessed with youth', I thought. 'Looking young, feeling young, selling to the young. When was the last time anybody did a fountain of youth story?'" (Piller, 13)
What’s even funnier is that Patrick Stewart didn’t mind the idea at all. He loved it!
Thought it splendid fun. Clearly a theme he felt worth exploring in STAR TREK: PICARD, although with a 24 year old difference in between, both entries into the Trek canon tackle an aging Picard at opposite ends.
STAR TREK: INSURRECTION approaches an aging Picard by reminding him of his youth, but with a warning. An obsession with remaining young can prove quite fatal.
Piller explored the dangers of this by creating a villain named Ru'Afo (played brilliantly by F. Murray Abraham) so obsessed with trying to stay young that it consumed him and drove him mad. And originally wrote an ending that gave Ru'Afo his very wish: obtaining youth. So much that he faded from existence.
You can see this scene here, with an introduction by Co-Producer/2nd Unit Director Peter Lauritson. As an added treat, you can also read how Michael actually scripted the scene to play in an excerpt from FADE IN below:
ANGLE IN THE INJECTOR ASSEMBLY (OPTICAL) where another digital display shows the countdown at 00:55... Picard, breathing hard, moves to a wall of circuits where he finds the ignition matrix... but before he can pull it out...
Picard turns to see Ru'afo on the support structure, climbing up toward him, his gun trained on Picard... Picard glances again at the countdown which has reached 00:42... both men are exhausted, sweaty and out of breath... fumes billow between them...
PICARD We're getting too old for this, Ru'afo.
RU'AFO After today, that won't be a problem. For either of us.
SON'A COMPUTER VOICE Separation in thirty seconds.
RU'AFO Just step off the injector.
PICARD Are you really going to risk igniting the exhaust?
Their eyes are locked. Picard smiles.
PICARD No? All right. Then I will.
Ru'afo reacts as Picard grabs his rifle and fires a single shot at the fumes as he dives for cover behind a standing console...
There's a tremendous flash and smoke... Ru'afo is knocked back by the impact, his hood thrown off, revealing the stretched skin stapled to his head... he scrambles to his feet. Picard is no longer visible through the smoke... Ru'afo climbs onto the injector, moves quickly to the spot where Picard was standing... Picard is gone,,. Ru'afo looks at the circuit board -- the ignition matrix has been pulled out...
PICARD Looking for this?
He spins to see Picard holding the ignition matrix, standing where he just came from -- on the support structure which has begun retracting from the injector.... the countdown is at 00:10.
ANGLE FROM THE SUPPORT STRUCTURE AS IT RETRACTS
Picard, moving slowly away from Ru'afo who's still on the injector. As Ru'afo sees the countdown, he looks for a way to get off, can't find one... his eyes, filled with panic, connect with Picard's,,.
PICARD Take my arm!
Picard reaches out his hand. RU'AFO hesitates... then reaches out...
THEIR HANDS stretch to within inches but the support structure has retracted too far away...
THE DIGITAL DISPLAY -- 00:00
TWO SHOT: PICARD AND RU'AFO -- (OPTICAL) as Ru'afo slides away with the injector as it's launched... a protective forcefield zaps into place as it enters space... Picard watches as it moves toward the rings...
EXT. COLLECTOR - CONTINUOUS (OPTICAL) As we saw in the simulation, the injector continues to move toward the rings...
INT. INJECTOR - ANGLE THROUGH THE FORCEFIELD - (OPTICAL) to see the rings getting closer and closer... and as we burst into them... the bright colorful metaphasic dust and gases swirling around us like a hurricane...
RU`AFO - (OPTICAL)
begins to change... growing younger and younger... face-lift falls into middle-age... then taking on the Baku facial skin pattern as he reaches young adulthood.,, then adolescence... then childhood. White out.
At this point in the film, Picard has come to grips with his age and what the cost of taking this youth will do to him, the Federation, and the Son'a. And indeed the cost is great, as Ru'Afo literally fades to nothing.
At the end of the day, Picard appreciates a return to his youth, but that there is value in looking forward. Youth may fade, but obsessing over it will only lead you astray... And that's pretty powerful.
But I will leave you with this... STAR TREK: PICARD shows an older Picard grappling with a long past and its effects on the here and now while STAR TREK: INSURRECTION allows him to return to his prime, for a “breath of fresh air.” While Rick Berman may have thought this would offend Patrick, I think it offered him a chance to reflect. And to teach us all that aging isn't necessarily a bad thing.
For this and more about screenwriting and STAR TREK: INSURRECTION, get your copy of FADE IN, today.
What are your favorite Star Trek Stories about youth and aging? Let me know down below. Let's debate or reminisce together!
Until next time.