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Star Trek has had a pretty impressive and expansive life over the last 50 plus years, but for many, it will never be better than the original Enterprise crew, captained by James T. Kirk. Kirk's on-screen career covered the original television series and seven movies, but in that last one, the Captain met a heroic, if slightly silly end. While the actor did return for Star Trek: Generations to sort of pass the torch to the Next Generation crew on the big screen, he recently talked about that it wasn't because that was what he wanted. According to Shatner...
Well, I didn't think I had any choice in the matter. Paramount had decided that the ceiling that they could reach in our box office had been reached and they thought that by putting in the Next Generation cast, that they would reach a higher box office. That decision had been made. It was either I was going to appear and die, or they were going to say he died. So, I chose the more practical of the two.
It seems that Captain James T. Kirk was either going to be dead when the movie started, or dead when it ended, and William Shatner decided he might as well be part of the send-off if it was going to happen regardless. It sounds from his comments to TrekMovie.com that he wasn't at all happy with the decision, but in the end, the character he played for so long was owned by the studio, and thus it had control over what happened to Kirik.
It isn't all that surprising. William Shatner is a globally known celebrity thanks to James T. Kirk and the actor and the character will be forever connected, regardless of what Chris Pine does with the character. Saying goodbye to that has to be hard whether or not you think it's the right decision, and in this case, Shatner clearly thinks it was not.
It has to be said, the particular method of Kirk's death hit a sour note with many fans. While he did die saving the universe, his final moments maybe weren't the most iconic or heroic.
Of course, now with an alternate timeline that includes time travel, it's possible that we could still see William Shatner's Kirk again, the character has been rumored in previous installments of the new film series before, which makes it feel like it's only a matter of time before it actually happens.