Sovereign Class Variations
Starfleet'sSovereign class could be seen only in the form of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E, and exclusively in the three movies "Star Trek: First Contact", "Star Trek Insurrection" and "Star Trek Nemesis". At least one studio miniature of the Enterprise-E is in existence. In addition, for each of the movies a new CGI model was constructed. It still needs to be officially confirmed, but it seems that the physical model appeared only in "First Contact", whereas the starship in the two later features is entirely computer-generated.
There are naturally certain accidental discrepancies between the different incarnations of the ship, and for "Nemesis" the Enterprise-E was even purposely redesigned. The question is whether any of these changes are discernible on screen and whether they allow or rather necessitate the interpretation that the real starship was accordingly rebuilt.
Undeniably the interior of the vessel was modified more than once owing to the necessary reconstruction of the sets for each new feature film. Among many other changes this includes the replacement of the original holographic screen (which allowed to project an even image in front of a ribbed wall) with a more conventional viewscreen after "First Contact", or the addition of Riker's infamous joystick that popped up in "Insurrection". The engineering section was also subject to a number of modifications. However, this article is limited to the variations of the ship's exterior.
The "Nemesis" Redesign Sketches
There are no intentional changes to the look of the Enterprise-E from "First Contact" to "Insurrection" except for possible refinements of the model that were not supposed to be in any way visible. Evidently, as can be seen in the next chapter, even the captain's yacht was already present on the miniature in "First Contact", including its nacelle struts that were exposed to space in the docked configuration.
A deliberate redesign of the model of the Sovereign class (probably just the CGI) took place prior to "Star Trek Nemesis". Purportedly several small details were added, and even some of the overall dimensions of the ship did not remain the same. These are the alterations according to the pre-production sketches prepared for the movie:
A twin torpedo launcher was added on the saucer superstructure aft of the bridge, directly above deck 3.
A presumable single launcher was placed just above the aft shuttlebay.
Still two more (single?) launchers were added in front of the bridge module and above the twin transporter emitter pads at the forward end of the saucer.
Yet another (single?) launcher was put on the ventral surface below the aft shuttlebay.
Four phaser strips were mounted on the trailing edge of the warp pylons on the dorsal and ventral surfaces.
An adjustment was made to the upper shuttlebay area, where the side walls next to the impulse engines were extended, thereby smoothing the transition from the saucer to the engineering hull ("extended saucer detail"). Note that the height of this new side wall is somewhat overstated in our comparison image.
Also, the nacelles were moved slightly forward (3.5%) and upward (1.3%). This would make the Enterprise-E around 12m shorter than before (673m instead of 685m).
Side note The dimensioning on the redesign sketch insinuates that the nacelles were going to be shifted 3.5% forward relative to the overall length of the ship (and not to the length of the nacelles), which would double the absolute figure. Yet, the depiction already takes the modifications into account, and it is congruent with our interpretation that the 3.5% are in relation to the length of the nacelle. On the other hand, the nacelles are moved up as much as 8m on the same sketch, which would be much more than the indicated 1.3%, regardless whether this refers to the overall height or to the nacelle height. It is possible that the suggested changes on the sketch are not to scale.
All these changes were only cosmetic and arguably unnecessary on the model as well as on the real ship. One reason for the redesign may have been to let the ship appear still sleeker and "faster". In his purportedly first sketches John Eaves suggested that the ship could as well have pylons that are swept forward just like on the Enterprise-D to emphasize the forward motion. The idea of pulling the nacelles to the fore is a step in this direction without radically altering the overall appearance. Also, the extra weapons comply with the new military direction that Starfleet has supposedly taken, as well as they allow more exciting visual effects when the ship is literally firing from every spot on the hull.
Yet, in an in-universe view, it is a bit troublesome that Starfleet would rip apart half of the ship only for some barely visible rearrangement of the nacelle struts and nacelles. Overall it is obvious that the changes to the model are designed to be so subtle that no one would be able to catch them by just watching the single movies. In other words, it may be permissible to ignore the redesign altogether and simply assert that the ship always looked the same, maybe save the additional phaser strips and launchers that we may readily accept as upgrades that were actually added after "Insurrection". I will attempt to spot any modifications, not only those pertaining to the "Nemesis" redesign, in the following screen cap comparison.
Finally, the screen caps should be able to refute the idea that the engineering hull may have been extended by adding a couple of decks - a rumor in reference to the obviously flawed statement that the Remans entered the ship on deck 29 in "Nemesis", whereas we could see the MSD with just 24 or 25 decks in "Insurrection" and in "Nemesis" itself.
Screen Cap Analysis
Each of the following paragraphs compares one key section of the Enterprise-E's hull as it appeared in each of the three movies. Of course, there are hardly anyidentical viewing angles and camera distances that would allow to overlay two images or to make precise measurements. But if there are clear-cut changes like extra torpedo launchers or even new proportions of major hull sections, they could be visible on the screen caps.
Lower aft end
The evaluation of the various ventral aft views of the Enterprise-E does not provide any solid evidence of shifted pylons or nacelles or even of overall different dimensions. However, it clearly reveals a torpedo launcher at the very bottom of the engineering hull in "Nemesis" and already in "Insurrection", whereas just an empty trench ran along the ventral side of the "First Contact" version. Some of the design sketches made prior to "First Contact" depict this torpedo launcher, which can be seen protruding from the curved hull portion in the side view. Unless it is retractable in some fashion, this launcher exists only on the two later versions, possibly making up for an oversight on the original Enterprise-E. The other purportedly new torpedo launcher below the aft shuttlebay is not identifiable on any of the screen caps from "Nemesis".
Furthermore, it appears that the paneling in the concave hull portion of the "Nemesis" ship is more pronounced, but this may be a matter of lighting. Likewise, we may attribute the smaller hull panels in the bright as well as the dark portions of the starboard side of the engineering hull in "Nemesis" to lighting conditions, although the newer CGI model may be in fact more detailed here. There is no need to point out that the hull color in "Nemesis" is green due to the illumination in the Bassen Rift, although throughout the movie the hull of the ship seems to exhibit an overall warmer hue than the plain gray of "First Contact" and of most of "Insurrection".
Pertaining to the alleged enlargement of the engineering hull to accommodate the notorious "deck 29", there is no indication that the proportions of the engineering hull in "Nemesis" are in any way different than in "First Contact". Especially the concave undercut looks exactly the same as far as the different viewing angles permit a comparison. Also, the window arrangement and therefore the deck structure seems to be the same in both movies, so that an internal re-arrangement of the ship becomes unlikely as well.
Aft saucer and shuttlebay
A discrepancy becomes apparent already when comparing different views of the saucer superstructure from the same movie "Star Trek: First Contact". In the opening scenes, before the battle with the Borg cube, there is no sign of the three docking hatches on the two side walls and on the aft wall of deck 3, the angular superstructure above the saucer shuttlebay deck. These three docking ports come into sight in close-ups later in the movie, when the Enterprise is orbiting Earth. It seems that these are missing on the CGI ship, while they are present on the overall more complete physical Enterprise miniature. The ports are consistently visible in "Insurrection" and in "Nemesis".
Other than that, no substantial difference is visible between the "First Contact" and the "Insurrection" shuttlebay areas. However, the latter version appears overall a bit crisper, which may have to do with the model nearly standing still in "Insurrection", but perhaps also with the progress in CGI rendering.
In "Nemesis" we can clearly make out the new side walls bordering the shuttlebay platform next to the impulse engines. Indeed they smooth the previously bumpy transition between the saucer and the engineering hull. In addition, it is possible that the area just aft of the shuttlebay doors is not a completely horizontal and even platform as particularly visible in "Insurrection" any longer, but flares out into the roughly cylindrical secondary hull in a smoother curve than before.
Furthermore we can see one of the additional torpedo launchers in "Nemesis", the one mounted just above the deck 3 superstructure. It was a poor choice to put the launcher there of all possible locations, considering that the short protruding tubes could hardly accelerate torpedoes, much less could the torpedoes be easily delivered, as they would need to pass what looks like the "entrance hall" of the ship with no less than three docking ports and large windows.
Saucer and engineering top sides
On the more comprehensive top views we can recognize how the new side walls close the formerly separate U-shaped "lip" on the engineering hull and the big "U" on the saucer to one oval shape on the "Nemesis" redesign. The aforementioned additional launcher above deck 3 can be seen too, as well as the new phaser strips on the nacelle struts. The new torpedo launcher above the rear shuttlebay, on the other hand, is obscured because either the nacelles cast a shadow on this area or because the ship is in too fast motion. All other visible dissimilarities are likely attributed to CGI refinements and lighting conditions.
We get to see close views of the Sovereign's forward saucer several times in "Nemesis", which may have to do with the fact that this portion of the ship will eventually be destroyed. Anyway, comparing this to the screen caps and to a photo of the "First Contact" saucer (the corresponding reference material from "Insurrection" is very poor), we cannot see any sign of the launcher that was purportedly added just above the two curved transporter emitter pads at the leading edge of the saucer. The surface is completely even in this region, so if a launcher is located somewhere here, it must be retractable (which makes the according redesign note trivial, as CGI parts may pop up anywhere from the hull, like on the NX-01). The other launcher just in front of the bridge is present on the "Nemesis" Enterprise.
Deflector and saucer underside
One of John Eaves's already more detailed sketches for "First Contact" from 1996 still depicts the main deflector as a funnel-like deepening, even without a separate dish that would stick out. In the movie, however, the deflector area wound up as very angular, with a deflector disk placed in the center of a completely flat plane with relatively steep side walls. The reason for this is that the area had to be built as a 1/1 scale set for the movie as well. In "Insurrection" the deflector dish still sits on this even surface. Prior to "Nemesis" modifications may have taken place although they were not indicated in the sketches for "Nemesis". The deflector dish eventually created for "Nemesis" is still very close to the one from "First Contact", however. It only appears as if the side walls above and ahead of the dish are not as steep any more and as if the area is overall a bit more rounded. We can see that the top side of the "U" visible in "First Contact" and "Insurrection" is chamfered in "Nemesis".
When the Enterprise comes into sight for the first time in "Insurrection", the windows in the deepening just behind the registry are completely missing. However, this is a CGI oversight, because the windows are visible again later in the same movie.
The available front views do not reveal anything that may have been modified except for the already mentioned changes around the main deflector. Owing to the somewhat different viewing angles we are not able to verify whether the nacelles were really moved up. In all honesty, we shouldn't have expected to notice a difference of just 1.3% anyway, even with much better matching screen captures.
The screen cap comparison between "First Contact" and "Insurrection" confirms that the captain's yacht was already present in the former movie and was just not recognized as such because it initially only served as a quantum torpedo launcher. Even the nacelle struts are visible. Looking more closely, however, we can observe that the shape of the yacht's ventral side was slightly altered for "Insurrection" to something more streamlined. The bottom is essentially flat with a bump in the center in "First Contact", whereas we can make out a curvature with no pronounced bump in "Insurrection". Naturally in "Nemesis" the yacht remained like it was in "Insurrection".
Many of the smaller changes made to the Sovereign CGI model prior to "Star Trek Nemesis" are actually visible on screen and are hence canon. Most notably the new side walls flanking the transition from the saucer to the engineering hull are clearly recognizable in a direct comparison with the two previous movies. Also, at least some of the new launchers and the new phaser strips on the nacelle struts can be identified. Furthermore we can make out a slight redesign of the deflector dish, whose surrounding area appears to be more rounded. On the other hand, the slightly revised nacelle placement is too insignificant to be identifiable on any screen captures, which are naturally not orthographic views. So for the sake of simplicity, we may be allowed to disregard the knowledge about these changes.
In addition, the screen cap analysis reveals an inconsistency in "First Contact", where the CGI appears to lack three docking ports that are on the physical model. Moreover, we can see that the captain's yacht was present on the Enterprise-E as soon as in "First Contact", but then with a different shape of the ventral side. It remains a matter of interpretation whether the captain's yacht in "Insurrection" may be a different type of vessel.
In the hopes of producing more voyages of the Enterprise-E, John Eaves sketched up a final refit of the Enterprise-E after leaving the spacedock in "Nemesis". This sketch is closer to the originally approved design sketch for "First Contact", with its thicker nacelle pylons and the 45° division line between a forward and an aft section of the engineering hull. But the scene of the ship leaving spacedock was removed from the script and "Nemesis" would remain the last movie with this ship and crew.
The Enterprise Legacy - a compilation about the eight starships to bear this name
Cordial thanks to Jörg Hillebrand who, as usual, contributed all screen caps. Some of the "Nemesis" sketches were posted and commented on by Graham Kennedy at DITL, where I found other useful hints as well. Thanks also to Marcus, who spotted the missing windows in "Insurrection".