I am sorry Chris there is nothing worthy about Kirk's death. Icons need to go out saving something huge.
He saved a whole planet.
Just look at how Superman was killed, it was a blaze of glory and in a way no one else could. Kirk deserved the same treatment. He is an icon of the highest order.
See, that's just it. That was never what he was meant to be. Roddenberry specifically created Star Trek
to get away from the larger-than-life, cartoony melodramas that dominated TV science fiction. He saw no reason why a futuristic setting couldn't be approached with the same character realism and maturity as any adult drama, whether a cop show or a courtroom show or a Western or a hospital show. The characters weren't meant to be exaggerated fantasy heroes; they were meant to be realistic human beings who simply happened to live and work on a spaceship in the future. Kirk was meant to be an everyman protagonist, not Flash Gordon.
And Kirk himself was the last person who would've defined himself as some grand, larger-than-life hero. As far as he was concerned, he was just a man dedicated to doing his duty. As long as he made a difference, that was all that mattered to him. And so that's what matters to me. I don't give a fig about spectacle or pandering to the audience; what matters to me is whether the character
is effectively served. To me, the most telling moment in Kirk's final battle is when Picard has just pulled him off the rickety bridge that almost killed him... and without a second's hesitation, he climbs right back onto it!
He's just been rescued from the jaws of death and leaps right back in without pause, because he's still got a job to do. It's the very casualness of that self-sacrifice, the lack
of hoopla surrounding that critical moment of decision, that made it such a powerful statement of who James Kirk was. Not some larger-than-life cosmic hero, but just a man who unhesitatingly put others before himself. That simple devotion to helping others is, to me, infinitely more spectacular than all the grand space battles and explosions you could possibly throw into a movie.
Now, I understand that this is all about perspective so there may not be a "right answer" here, but from my point of view, Kirk got the shaft. It would have been so much sweeter if he had died saving the universe instead of a planet and a people that we have never heard of.
And I think that's just far too melodramatic, and rather a ludicrous over-escalation compared to other Trek movies. The most Kirk ever saved from immediate peril in any prior movie was the Earth, although one could surmise he averted possible, more widespread destruction in the future by stopping Khan and Kruge from getting the Genesis Device, by keeping the Sha Ka Ree "god" from getting a starship, and by staving off war with the Klingons. Still, he never faced an existential threat to even the galaxy, let alone the whole universe (unless you count "The Alternative Factor," which contradicts the rest of Trek canon in a number of ways and is probably apocryphal, not to mention completely idiotic).
Now this does not make these people irrelevant or less deserving of needing to be saved, but I think that the story to kill off Kirk needed to be grander.
Pardon me for being harsh, but having suffered the death of my father only a couple of years ago, I feel quite strongly about this: I'm frankly repulsed by the concept that death should be portrayed as "grand" or good in any way. Death is an ugly, painful, frustrating thing. It hurts
. It's supposed to. Glamorizing death is an idea that disgusts me. We should
be angry when the characters we care about are taken from us. We should
feel that it's a waste and a lost opportunity. Because that's an honest portrayal of what death is. Painting it as some noble, grand, triumphant thing that we can feel good about is simply a lie. We should celebrate the lives
of the people we care about. That's the part that can be grand and noble and worthy of our admiration.