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After the crew of the Enterprise successfully intervenes the assassins' plans and saves the future of human-Klingon-peace in 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, there is a little epilogue where they say farwell to Sulu and the Excelsior. After wondering about what to do next Uhura receives a slightly off-putting message:

Captain, I have orders from Starfleet command. We're to put back to space dock immediately, to be decommissioned.

But while the crew deliberately ignores orders for a last little trip, Captain Kirk still ends the film with:

Captain's log, stardate 952931: This is the final cruise of the starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we begun and journey to all the undicovered countries boldy going where no man, where noone, has gone before.

This seems quite a strong conclusion to the movie and after all the whole series, supposedly putting an end to Kirk's adventures. Now this might just have been a little overly emotional ending fitting to the prospects of a brighter future as presented by the rest of the movie's story. They could in the end just construe some new reason to not decommission the Enterprise right away for the next movie. But in fact it actually was practically the end of the TOS-based movie series as the next film, 1994's Star Trek: Generations marks the handoff to Picard's crew and Kirk only has a short appearance as a retired officer at the beginning, the rest is set in TNG's future.

So is there any official information or at least solid evidence that the out-of-universe "decommissioning" of the Enterprise movie series (or at least the TOS-series) was already planned/decided at this point? And if yes, did they already plan for Picard to take over? Was that epilogue already the series' recognition of TNG as the primary continuation of the Star Trek tradition? Or was there actually not that much thought behind the production put into that ending (which of course still fits with the rest of the movie's motifs)?

  • Well, in universe, Kirk was forced into retirement based on age, via promotion to an Admiral desk job. The ships themselves only have a 10~20 active life span, and it was already refitted once. – cde Nov 18 '15 at 0:14
  • @cde But he was made Admiral before, and got his Captain's position back. And building a new ship's always possible, too. – Napoleon Wilson Nov 18 '15 at 0:15
  • A new ship wouldn't be the same. As Scotty says youtube.com/watch?v=1A1TZQk5Wgk – cde Nov 18 '15 at 3:10
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According to the Development section of the Wikipedia article for The Undiscovered Country:

With the looming 25th anniversary of the original series in 1991, producer Harve Bennett revisited an idea Ralph Winter had for the fourth film: a prequel featuring young versions of Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy. The prequel was designed to be a way of keeping the characters, if not the actors, in what was called "Top Gun in outer space".Bennett and The Final Frontier writer David Loughery wrote a script entitled The Academy Years, where Dr. Leonard McCoy talks about how he met Kirk and Spock while addressing a group of Academy graduates.

So the first idea was to keep the TOS characters, but not the crew. This was rejected:

Actor James Doohan claimed that Paramount chief Frank Mancuso had fired Bennett following negative reaction from the core cast, Roddenberry, and fans. Bennett claimed that after he rewrote the script to include Shatner and Nimoy, Paramount had still rejected it and that he decided it was time he left the franchise.

A second idea of a (almost) total party kill was presented by Chekov, also not used:

Actor Walter Koenig approached Mancuso with a new script outline codenamed "In Flanders Fields"; in it, the Romulans join the Federation and go to war with the Klingons. The Enterprise crew, except Spock, are forced to retire for not meeting fitness tests. When Spock and his new crew are captured by a monstrous worm-like race of aliens (which Koenig described as "things that the monsters in Aliens evolved from"), the old crew must rescue them. In the end, all of the characters except McCoy and Spock die.

In the end, Nimoy was asked to write.

Mancuso asked Leonard Nimoy to conceive the new film to serve as a swan song for the original cast. Nimoy, Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner suggested Kirk meeting Jean-Luc Picard, but Star Trek: The Next Generation‍ '​s producers refused to end their show. ... Ralph Winter was brought on to the project as producer shortly after Bennett's departure, and said Paramount's mandate was to produce a 25th anniversary film that would not cost a lot of money.

Mancuso being the Chief of Paramount at the time. A swan song being the final movement made before death/retirement. So the answer was yes. This is backed by the DVD extras and Shatner's mémoire (From Memory-Alpha):

The Undiscovered Country was almost never made as a Star Trek film, not only due to the dismal box office receipts of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but also for an unbroken string of, for Paramount Pictures, disappointing yet very expensive movie releases as well, leaving the studio deeply in the red, only aggravated by a worldwide recession. However as seen on the Star Trek VI DVD set and also according to William Shatner's Star Trek Movie Memories, Paramount, specifically its president Frank Mancuso, Sr. – who had been intimately involved with Star Trek ever since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – , did not really want to end the Original Crew run on The Final Frontier low note, especially with the 25th Anniversary coming up, and wanted one more film.

So already knowing that this should be the last TOS movie, Nimoy, along with Nicholas Meyer, who directed The Wrath of Khan and co-wrote The Voyage Home ended up spitballing until they got the final idea of not so Cold anymore War in Space..

Remember, the movie before, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, was a failure, and the success of TNG was already calling for an end to the TOS series, so Undiscovered Country was more like a retirement gift to the series than anything else.

That said, Generations turned into an epilogue for Kirk, when production of Generations was denied the killing of a TNG character. Initially, the plan was a prologue cameo instead of a main role. From the Generations Wiki article:

[TNG director] Berman felt that including the original cast of the previous Star Trek films felt like a "good way to pass the baton" to the next series. In the initial draft of the screenplay, the original series cast appeared in a prologue, and Guinan served as the bridge between the two generations. [...] Moore recalled that "we wanted to aim high, do something different and big... We knew we had to have a strong Picard story arc, so what are the profound things in a man's life he has to face? Mortality tops the list." After the idea of killing off a Next Generation cast member was vetoed, someone suggested that Kirk die instead. Moore recalled that "we all sorta looked around and said, 'That might be it.' " The studio and Shatner himself had few concerns about the plot point.

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