Patrick Stewart’s best outing was in Star Trek: First Contact

1996 Patrick Stewart stars in the new movie "Star Trek: First Contact".
1996 Patrick Stewart stars in the new movie "Star Trek: First Contact". /

Patrick Stewart was at his best as Jean-Luc Picard In Star Trek: First Contact.

It’s Patrick Stewart’s birthday, and that means we’re going to be talking about him, Jean-Luc Picard, and Star Trek quite a bit today. Personally, Picard wouldn’t rank in my top captains based on enjoyability or character. Not character as in being honest, trustworthy, etc, but in how he’s written. Of all the Captains in Starfleet, Picard seemed the driest and most uninteresting to me. There were even moments I found him to be downright rude and borderline a bully. To be clear, that is my perception of him; not a definitive statement. You don’t have to agree with me.

I’m merely saying he’s not the first captain I would want to serve under. On the flip side, however, I adore Stewart. Not just for his work with the X-Men franchise, though he was the perfect casting choice for that role, but for his outlandish and bonkers portrayal of Avery Bullock on American Dad!

Stewart’s a joy to watch. That’s part of the reason why I fell in love with Star Trek: First Contact as much as I had. As a kid, I didn’t like The Next Generation. I never watched it live but would see re-runs all the time when Voyager was airing, so I’d watch. It never struck a chord with me the way Voyager did, as Voyager had a crew that mirrored my own family. So it pulled me in.

While First Contact came out a year after Voyager premiered I didn’t see First Contact until Voyager was in its third or fourth season. That’s how HBO worked back then, you’d wait for a film to debut on there about a year or so after it premiered. So by the time I saw First Contact for the first time, it was the summer of 97 or 98, long into my love of affair of Voyager.

Of all the episodes of The Next Generation that I’ve watched up until that point, Picard never interested me. Then I watched First Contact and 12 year old me was blown the heck away.

First Contact showed a captain who despite his stumbles, embodied leadership

At the time it really didn’t hit me why I loved the film so much but one thing I really enjoyed was watching how Picard fell further and further into his anger, pushing people away and being a straight-up jerk, only to realize all this and apologize. Seeing someone in a setting, especially the leader of a starship, not duck and weave from making mistakes, but instead apologize, was mindblowing to my little brain.

I loved that whole scene where Lily was reading Picard the riot act and the way Alfre Woodard delivered that iconic line, “Jean-Luc, blow up the damn ship!” made me shudder with excitement. Maybe there are episodes of The Next Generation that did things similar to the dynamic of Lily and Picard, but in my opinion, they never did it as well. Those two brought so much out of each other.

I always felt Picard had this sense of himself that he was never wrong, and never made mistakes. Even if his decision was wrong, he’d accept it and move on. He always felt almost too perfect, too sure of himself. So when Lily came along and Picard fell apart, it was so enjoyable to watch. Not because he finally got his, but because he finally looked human. There was no gloating after either. There was no meanness. Lily wasn’t trying to hurt Picard, she just wanted him to see he was chasing a white whale.

As a kid, this scene, that movie did so much for my Star Trek fandom. As an adult, it all makes sense why. Stewart’s acting was unleashed in this film. It felt like so much of his performances in The Next Generation were reigned in. Still good, no doubt, but he never went full bore. It reminds me of that line from the Justice League cartoon, where Superman is talking to Darkseid about how he feels he can’t ever let loose because no one could handle him; except Darkseid. So he finally lets loose.

That’s how I imagine Stewart looked at the script of First Contact. A sly smile probably crept over his lip as he realized he got to let loose and show the world just how fantastic he is as an actor. Maybe he did it before, maybe he did it in non-Star Trek properties, but my 12-year-old brain had never seen him in anything else (that I remember) up until that point.

Watching him unleash the full range of his acting skills throughout that near-two hour movie hooked me for life.

All because Stewart put in a performance of a lifetime.

Throwback Thursday – Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Review. dark. Next