With the onslaught of legacy sequels we’ve gotten over the past several years that seek to keep telling stories in franchises that should have arguably stayed finished, I was thinking about which ones had a successful passing of the torch: that is, having a new set of characters take over from older, more famous ones, and was drawing a blank.
Then I realized that we have gotten one story that perfectly passes the torch, and it came out over 30 years ago: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.’
But wait a moment, you might say, none of the characters from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ or ‘Voyager’ or ‘Deep Space Nine’ show up! I would say that you’re correct, and that’s why ‘Country’ works so well: the classic crew get one last story that is focused entirely on them, they get to save the galaxy, the Federation, and democracy without any help from those who will come after them. And when their task is done, they triumphantly sail off into the sunrise (metaphorically speaking) and a journey that began 25 years prior finally comes to a heartwarming end.
Why does this work so well when so many other passing-the-torch stories fail? Because the classic characters have one last adventure all to themselves. They’re not teamed with younger characters the audience isn’t interested in, nor do these newcomers upstage them. The newcomers – in this case, The Next Generation crew – pick up the torch in their first story, and prove to the audience then that they are worthy of carrying it without having to tear down or upstage those who came before.
To contrast ‘Country,’ consider the fourth Indiana Jones movie, ‘The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’: Indy is accompanied by Mutt, who upstages Indy a few times, helps rescue him, insults him, and infamously almost puts on the famous fedora at the end. Now imagine the same movie, but without Mutt: Indy gets more opportunities to save the day, foil the villains, and do awesome stuff with Marion (and in a perfect world, Henry Jones Sr., Sallah and a grown-up Short Round). At the end, he marries Marion with all his friends present and sets off to a happy and well-deserved retirement. Afterwords, Mutt is introduced in his own movie and given the chance to prove himself worthy of being an adventurer without upstaging Indy or stealing his spotlight.
The lesson here? Let your classic heroes get one last adventure all to themselves before bringing in someone else to keep a franchise going. Let them have their grand finale, their satisfying end, and give their fans closure and the satisfaction of knowing that they saw a great story from its beginning to its end.