Star Trek 3 had its work cut out for it from the start. The connective tissue between the dark story in Wrath of Khan and the far more lighthearted tale of “The Voyage Home” is a movie that fans have had mixed opinions about since it’s release.
While few would go so far as to call it bad, the idea it’s actually a good movie doesn’t really come up as a counter argument.
Here’s my take on the movie in the form of an in depth review. This article assumes you’ve seen the movie. You’ve had nearly 40 years, I don’t feel that bad ‘spoiling’ That said if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know anymore just stop here (and kindly consider maybe giving Like & Follow for other posts and reviews).
It seems the aspiration for a Star Trek Movie Trilogy was partly gamed out before Wrath of Khan, so this movie would need to connect Star Trek 2 with Star Trek 4. In some ways Star Trek 3 begins before the end of Star Trek 2 due to flashbacks. When Star Trek 3 ends we’re only about a half a week or less from the events of Star Trek 2.
The ‘in world’ time that passes from the beginning of Star Trek 2 until the end of Star Trek 4 is only about a year, possibly less. Star Trek 2, 3 and 4 are one long, ongoing story. The other movies are all sort of one off adventures. So Star Trek 3 was a unique situation. It’s story is also a bit different from most other Star Trek movies.
Released in 1984 Star Trek 3 had its share of competition at the Box Office as well as challenges in casting and story. It was the years eighth highest earning movie despite having stiff sci-fi competition in ‘must see’ releases like Terminator, Ghostbusters 1 and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
This movie basically has a bit of ‘Middle Child Syndrome’ as far as it’s perception. It just isn’t as memorable as Wrath of Khan or Voyage Home, some wonder if it might not just be subpar. The story, however, is actually pretty good.
Star Trek II: The Search for Spock actually is a pretty good movie. It’s a decent second movie of a trilogy and also a stand alone fun time for all moviegoers. It also sports a really good movie score.
For Star Trek fans, while a step down from Wrath of Khan, it’s still considered a high quality story. It’s a better story than any movie with The Next Generation or Kelvin casts. It simply goes without saying that it’s just absolute Shakespeare compared to the horrors of NuTrek, which we shall speak of no more.
This movie had to convincingly resurrect Spock without cheaply “poof-ing him back into Existence.” The film deals with this by leaning hard on deep Star Trek Lore and creating some new aspects of Vulcan mysticism. They probably had to call Gene Roddenberry a few times to get this story right using as much as could be gleaned from the show.
While you could say Spock’s resurrection is a little too weird and convenient, they at least dedicate an entire movie to doing it. There’s a real cost to the other characters and we spend all of Star Trek IV with a very naive Spock. He isn’t simply his old self again in a quick reboot. He’s probably not fully recovered until Star Trek VI.
If the story seems weak consider this- Remember how cheaply JJ Abrams just poofs Kirk back to life with Khans blood seven or eight minutes after he dies in terrible Star Trek mockery Into Darkness? It was done easy and at no cost in the same movie. It was preposterous and dumb. So the Search for Spock writing team at least took this task seriously.
There’s going to be a high cost to be paid by Kirk and all for bringing back Spock. They know the dangers but do it because they’re loyal friends. Any and all would die taking a chance to save any other one. Not the worst reason at all. The plan is well within the characters abilities too. It’s a believable caper. There’s some overlooked dedication by the writers here.
Another challenge was needing to recast Saavik on the fly. They could have wrote their way out of this with one throw away line. This movie featured a larger role for the character, however Kirstie Alley just up and split. This problem was beyond anyone but Kirstie Alley or possibly Xenu’s control.
The movie deals with this by simply pretending the recast actress is the same person. Audiences missed Kirstie Alley and no doubt the cameras loved her, but she was gone from the cast and that was it.
Replacement Saavik Robin Curtis does fine, but there were creative paths to replacing the character. She had only been in one movie and after this we don’t see her again.
The role only called for a science-y Starfleet aligned female Vulcan. Though David Marcus needed to be on the Genesis Planet, it would have been a simple matter of a throw away line to just swap out Saavik for another female Vulcan. Robin Curtis could have done the same things without being Saavik. I don’t understand this choice at all. It hurts the movie.
The movie begins with a montage of scenes from the end of Star Trek Wrath of Khan, so everyone is up to speed when this movie begins it’s own story.
In Wrath of Khan and again in this movie we see Spock touch McCoy and cryptically say “Remember,” before his self sacrifice that saves the ship. What we find out in this movie is what we’d consider Spock’s immortal soul is inside McCoy’s mind in a not so contained spiritual lifeboat.
This is also the first time we get Interstellar Diplomacy really showing up in a Star Trek movie. We knew the Klingon’s and other alien races were still out there, but we’d had only one brief glimpse of them in about 18 years. In this movie Vulcan and Klingon cultures are as important to the plot as that of the characters from Earth. The movie is great if your favorite parts of Star Trek is the crew interacting with the alien cultures they encountered. That’s most of what this movie is. Considering all the lore that’s a lot to work with but takes special care.
These aren’t new alien races, but we’ve never had this kind of intimacy with them in any of the movies. Most Vulcans we saw were acculturated to being in Starfleet in the first two movies. Now we see a lot of their culture. It’s the same thing with the Klingons. Both races have some new traits and get a strong reintroduction.
There’s some really good world-building in this movie, continuing to expand what we knew already in a way that entertained and made enough sense.
The Search for Spock hits the familiar Star Trek themes of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. The movies at its best when it’s showing how an ad hoc family of comrades can care about one another as much or more than a genetic family. There’s a minor theme of not messing too much with nature here too.
The movie also managed to show us their century’s version of Earth, take us to Vulcan and the exotic and dangerous Genesis Planet for some revelations about their ‘In-World’ science.
The theme of sacrifice showed up numerous times in the show and the previous movie but Star Trek 3 serves it up with a twist. The surviving characters must sacrifice their careers to save Spock.
Being misguided is nothing new for the Federation or Starfleet. They had bad ideas all the time in the show, but Starfleet looks really bad in Star Trek 3. It’s shown as unfeeling, ineffective and weak. Starfleet captains and admirals have a ‘country club attitude’ in this movie. Only Kirk is all that likable or seems ready to dive in and deal with a problem.
The movie also uses all the emotional attachment the audience has to the USS Enterprise, the only ship the show and movies had ever centered on.
For fans of The Original Series more than any other Star Trek show the Enterprise itself had always been a character. It had its own fanfare and music. It had certain traits, like being able to exceed design specs in all regards with some coaxing from Mr Scott and the ability to take incredible amounts of punishment.
For 17 years we had followed the voyages of the starship Enterprise and its crew. The characters, like the fans, have a deep affection for their ship.
Kirk more than anyone else has a somewhat unhealthy fixation on the ship. In the first movie he’s outright ruthless and unfair to other officers, especially McCoy and Captain Decker, to get command of the Enterprise back. Kirk had always been shown as incomplete without it. When not in command of the Enterprise Kirk simply ruminates on the idea of getting in the captain’s chair of anything that flies.
We’ve seen Kirk loves this ship more than anything but his crew in episodes as far back as ‘Naked Time.’ We knew what to expect of the Original Enterprise and we loved the ship. Fans made sure movie history would never forget the name ‘Enterprise’ decades before Picard spoke those words.
In the previous movies we’d spent a long time just regarding The Enterprise and fans approved. The Enterprise properly presented is an awesome sight. Original Series Star Trek movies would take time out to just show the Enterprise and other scenes were organized in a way that made the ship feel authentic. It was almost alive.
When the Enterprise took a beating in Wrath of Khan fans felt it as much as if any other character were getting hurt. That would be used to great effect in Star Trek 2.
This whole approach just worked better when there were actual models involved. This movie’s practical special effects still hold up. The space sequences still look great.
The wounded Enterprise is limping back to a Federation Space Station for repairs. We get more time regarding the great work the model makers did creating The Enterprise. The ships theme music is prevalent throughout the movie.
Fan favorite and one time crew member Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) is among those there to watch the Enterprise dock, visibly shocked at the extensive damage.
This appearance by Rand is about it for fan service because that simply didn’t exist yet. The truth is they just liked the actress personally and wanted her to get paid. That’s right, believe it or not Star Trek once had a heart.
The long sequences showing off the ship are not quite fan service, even in retrospect. The Enterprise needs to be shown as formidable. In this movie we need to see how beat up it is while still having it project some potency. Hollywood was at the pinnacle of pre-CGI effects. All of the models and miniatures are well conceived and completely believable.
This movie was made at a time when directors witnessed the craftsmanship of the model makers first hand. They wanted these glamorous shots showing us space stations, new worlds and their take on the future. These scenes advance the story and build immersion, they aren’t simply thrown in.
At this time in Hollywood, if your movie was missing something you were just out of luck. You couldn’t just throw money at an underappreciated army of coders and create a new scene or battle in a couple of weeks. Stories needed to be well conceived and finished months ahead of time or the movie would just be incomplete or late. There are lost crafts on display in this movie, like amazing miniature models and stunning matte paintings.
When we find out our ship is going to be broken up for scrap it hits hard for fans of the show. Starfleet is simply done repairing the Enterprise over and over. Our ship has fought its final battle in beating Khan and had discovered its final new world- Planet Genesis. It was profound to hear.
In the post mission debriefing by the dismissive Starfleet brass Admiral Kirk loses his ship. When he approaches his colleagues later he gets shot down on a bid to return to Genesis. We have to wonder if Starfleet is done with Kirk as well.
This movie has something we’ve really only seen glimpses of before; Star Trek social life. Its an enjoyable set of scenes the fans really loved. Its probably why they put Ten Forward on Enterprise D.
All bridge crew but McCoy, who’s busy hitting bars and getting arrested, are socializing together at Admiral Kirk’ San Francisco apartment. We see them relating to one another and everyone is in their civilian clothes. For all male members of the cast this includes a damn cool and culturally appropriate leather jacket. Sulu wins the cool leather jacket contest with a cape-like coat that leaves him freer to use his martial arts skills. Thought went into all costumes.
It’s a charming scene but soon it’s interrupted by Spock’s father Sarek. Fans know Sarek’s not the kind of guy who goes to a party, so this is a big deal. He knows a few things he probably shouldn’t about the need to return to Genesis.
It seems like the Force but it’s actually Vulcan mysticism, which was around first. Sarek still seems to know more than anyone could have cobbled together, even a Vulcan genius. This problem took a rewatching the movie for it to register in my mind. It’s a bit subtle, but it is a hole or contrivance of sorts in the plot. They at least knew to have a great and beloved Star Trek character deliver the information to smooth out the jarring nature of what he tells them.
Sarek provides Kirk with key information. Spock had the ability to transplant his consciousness into someone else if he’s in great danger. This provides an opportunity for a Time-Lord-ish regeneration. It’s not clear how far they can take it, but some part of Spock is alive and if they can get the person carrying it to Vulcan quickly enough there’s a few things they can do to preserve Spock’s soul. I still can’t figure out how he knew they needed to stop by the Genesis Planet first. Sarek might know all these things he just shouldn’t from ‘sensing Spock.’ The movie has a couple of loose ends in that area.
In due course Sarek and Kirk determine that Spock’s “katra” was passed to McCoy, whose now in a Federation psychiatric facility for trying to return to forbidden Planet Genesis and quite literally (and correctly) thinking hes Spock.
The Federation has declared the Genesis Planet off limits to all except its own science team, currently orbiting the new planet. McCoy’s arrest and escape are played for laughs quite well and DeForest Kelly does some good acting. It’s fun and it’s funny.
Meanwhile the Klingon’s know all about Genesis through old fashioned spying and are already killing people over the information.
After Kirk’s request to return to Genesis is rejected out of hand all members of the Enterprise Bridge Crew agree to try to save Spock. They then engage in a mutiny against Starfleet, stealing their old ship and sabotaging another in a daring escape from an enclosed Space station.
All of our heroes have their skills and bravery on display in the Mutiny sequence. They make good on their escape by hacking the doors of the drydock and outrunning the pre-sabotaged pursuers. It’s mostly thanks to Scotty’s ingenuity and Sulu’s skill at piloting.
The resurrection of Spock is handled in the best way the writers could come up with, but it’s unsubtle. We find out the mysterious Genesis Planet is unstable and doomed. This is because The Genesis Device was created with reckless methods by Kirk’s son David. This compromise is spoken of by Saavik as though it were Space Voodoo or breaking of the Geneva Convention. The unholy compromise resulted in an unstable but somewhat magical planet that somehow regenerated Spock through the nebulous “Genesis Effect.”
Spock’s personality had already reasserted itself briefly very early in the movie, taking over McCoy’s body and breaking into his old quarters. Kirk and the rest apparently simply write it off to some kind of PTSD over Spock’s loss. This should have concerned Kirk more when it happened. When McCoy finds out what’s really going on his response is classic. “This is revenge for all those arguments he lost!”
On the steadily degrading Genesis Planet David and Saavik discover the “Genesis Effect” has also somehow spawned a mostly blank minded clone of Spock, apparently due to its very nature. The “Genesis clone” of Spock probably is viable on its own, but needs some care and education. Its currently a blank slate. His katra needs this clone as a vessel. What they would have done if this unique planet hadn’t spontaneously created a perfect clone is a real question. The story is dependant on the Genesis Clone.
At this point the Klingon’s show up and destroy the Federation research vessel, stranding the away team and the child version of Spock, who is ageing rapidly.
The Klingons are lead by the incredible Christopher Lloyd and he’s amazing as the over the top Captain Kruge. We got a quick, effective intro earlier for Kruge and his crew when he kills his girlfriend for exceeding her orders while delivering him the Genesis information.
We find out through some quick dialogue the other Klingon’s back home are sort of divided with how to deal with their adversary, Starfleet. Since these Klingons turn out to be quirky and kind of crazy, they want the more aggressive parties to prevail.
The Klingon crew is also deeply impressed with the Genesis Device. Christopher Lloyd’s Captain Kruge character is disgusted by the positive aspects of the technology, seeing it as a thinly veiled weapon. So he’s about as smart as McCoy, who reached the same correct conclusion about as quickly in Wrath of Khan.
After learning of Genesis it’s implied that Kruge is freewheeling without orders. He’s glory-seeking in the true Klingon way. Later he strangles a giant maggot as a feat of strength. It’s a lot of fun whenever Captain Kruge is on screen.
Spock’s re-spawned physical form presents the opportunity to give him a katra transplant into a perfect copy of his own body. The Away team needs to be recovered for the mission to succeed. This is the Enterprise crew’s only priority.
In an all action third act the movie delivers action, drama and humor. The core cast all give incredible performances that are true to character. William Shatner delivers a stellar performance throughout this movie.
The setbacks to the heroes include loss of Kirk’s son and The Enterprise. These hit pretty hard as emotional moments.
The Enterprise’s final moments are just as emotional as the death of Spock. I cried in theaters seeing this, but hey, I was a child! To this day though the scene still gets me.
The Enterprise went out making a difference rather than being scrapped, but it still hurt to see and does to this day.
The excellent special effects throughout this sequence were well conceived to be emotional and the scene still holds up. Those Miniature Model Makers made me cry. Hail to them and their craftsmanship!
We had seen the auto-destruct teased in episodes a few times. When it finally happens the effects are just incredible, especially considering the sequence has absolutely no CGI.
The Death of The Enterprise in Search for Spock is still one of the most iconic scenes in all Trek history. It’s been copied many times but simply never done this well again.
To be totally accurate there IS some early CGI in this movie. It’s all grandfathered in from the visually amazing things we see in The Genesis Proposal, re-tasked from Star Trek II.
Our heroes, all finally together on the doomed Genesis Planet, face off with the Klingons. The Klingons start with a strong upper hand, but Kruge squanders his tactical advantage. There’s an old fashioned Star Trek Brawl as the planet is self destructing very quickly.
Like most good movies, the hero kills the villain. It’s a spectacular death this villain truly earned. Kirk then pulls off the liberation of his crew and takeover of the Klingon Scout Ship in a smart and novel way. Kirk is now captain of another ship he’s not legally entitled to command. They take control of just in time to escape.
The movie ends with the entire bridge crew reunited on Vulcan. There, through use of some serious Vulcan magic, Spock’s body and katra are reunited. Spock’s obviously not all the way back yet, but we get a deeply satisfying scene between Kirk, Spock and the crew to end the movie.
It was gratifying as a viewer when Spock has a moment of recall and calls Kirk “Jim.” This is the human side of Spock speaking and is another step in Spock accepting both sides of his genetic makeup. This theme goes through all of the original series the TOS movies, so it’s a great payoff for fans. It’s also just an obvious manifestation of friendship anyone in the theater could enjoy.
Is the movie perfect? No, but its not overly flawed either. The problems are few and far between with a good level of immersion to help you through.
The movie is an effective second movie of a trilogy. It had to set up the next movie while cleaning up some serious loose ends from Wrath of Khan, like saving Spock.
The franchise uses this movie to do all these things and wisely disposes with the Genesis technology as a Star Trek plot device. We never hear about it again. This move is actually great because Star Trek just shouldn’t have Star Wars-y Death Star-like threats as a major plot device.They managed to pull it off in Wrath of Khan but apparently they knew this tech was just too hard on the stakes. The movie walks a thin line.
The Genesis technology can destroy, create and reanimate. It gives ‘Infinite Resets’ to save anyone who dies. It’s just destructive to a story building stakes. Infinite Resets and no one staying dead helped kill the Star Wars Sequels.
The movie closes off the idea of infinite regeneration’s by getting rid of the Genesis Planet and the scientist who created all the Genesis Tech. David Marcus dies and takes this knowledge with him. It’s Ironic. He could save others from death but not himself. George Lucas definitely enjoyed this movie and took notes.
While the device is known of by other factions, the Federation just abandons Genesis. It seems only David Marcus had the knowledge and reckless nature to successfully pull off such an incredible feat. The Genesis Device is simply too powerful. It also just doesn’t fit the Federation’s overall ideals. It’s destructive interference at odds with the Prime Directive. It doesn’t figure in again.
While we recovered Spock, it wasn’t easy. Kirk loses his son and everyone loses the Enterprise. Our heroes are now a band of criminal fugitives wanted by Federation for theft of the Enterprise. They’re pretty much space pirates now.
The decision to save Spock works out, but at great cost from the perspective of our heroes. Earned over 17 years of of shared history, fans always felt a deep connection to these characters.
Fans had saved Star Trek a couple of times already, so every movie still seemed like a fluke that could be the last. In this movie fans really get to spend time with the crew. Like most, I always enjoyed exploring the strength of the crew’s bond. The writers of this movie didn’t make a lot of mistakes. The movie is important damage control to the stakes of all future Star Trek projects. The movie does no harm as it resets The Final Frontier to a large degree with care and subtlety.
In Search for Spock all the familiar and beloved characters are front and center. It was a futuristic movie with an old fashioned sensibility; ‘provide a quality story with characters people love being true to themselves.’ Search for Spock delivers these elements really well, giving us some deep looks into the world of Star Trek. The movie was hit in its time and holds up well.
The Search for Spock scratched everyone’s Star Trek itch and does a great job setting up the next movie. The Star Trek people would really hit the box office jackpot in their next movie The Voyage Home, the most financially successful installment of the Original Movie Franchise.
We come out of this movie knowing our heroes are together on Vulcan in possession of a new ship. We’ve seen them show the strength of the bond they had formed over the many years we’d watched them as well as countless unseen adventures in decades of exploration.
There’s less in the way of space battles in this movie, but we have a couple of cool scenes. We instead get an amazing self destruct scene of the Enterprise and the Genesis Planet for special effects payoff and as I said, these scenes hold up well.
The Genesis Planet itself is a little cheap. Its all soundstage. The planet doesn’t feel too real because it’s only as good as the sets. The super high definition version I recently saw of the movie really showed off the flaws of the Genesis Planet sets most of the time. It’s another distraction. It might have been a better idea to have some actual location shoots for early scenes on Genesis.
In space we fare far better with effects and sets. The Enterprise and Klingon ships are a win. They both look great and feel real inside and out. The weapons and cloaking effects are all cool. Just having the Klingon’s back as the bad guys also felt really good as a fan. These are our preferred opponents and there was already a long history of mutual antagonism. Fans loved to hate the Klingons.
The three principle characters all grow and have an arc in this movie.
Kirk is finally aware of his limitations, he’s now more cautious, but not fearful. He’s shed the overconfidence he had in the series and the last two movies. Kirk’s not broken or intimidated, he’s simply more realistic. He pays the highest personal cost of anyone in this movie.
McCoy has to literally ‘learn to live with Spock,’ which alternates between humorous and heartwarming.
Spock lives life again physically. Later his katra is transplanted into his Genesis Clone, but for a while it was bottled up inside a deeply emotional human. This affects him and McCoy. Spock has a lot of recovery ahead of him, in the next movie he gives a performance that lines up with this.
Canon and Continuity are not an issue for Star Trek at all at this point. This certainly sounds strange when you say it now as Star Trek is a non canonical disaster in its present, illegitimate form.
Star Trek II, like Star Trek V, is just a longer, more expensive episode of the series in most ways, including some very fake boulders and a somewhat camp-y planet. It’s biggest asset is it’s a very charming story that relies on what we had seen on TV. The movie is very true to Trek lore as it was at the time.
There’s all aspects of the Vulcan’s culture on display, but it’s the Klingons who steal a lot of the movie.
Search for Spock really reintroduces the Klingon’s as a powerful adversarial force. We’d seen a glimpse of how the movies reimagined the Klingons before, but this movie really showed us much more of them. They effectively show us their fierceness as well as how that fierceness can be a weakness. This new look is how the Klingons are presented until the Roddenberry continuity ends in 2005.
Personally I loved the crew of slightly misfit Klingons and Captain Kruge and his feral targ. This second, closer look at the ‘new’ Klingons really establishes what we see from them in subsequent Star Trek movies and TV shows. This often gets overlooked when discussing the movie. We’re not done with the Klingon’s as bad guys by a long shot!
While this small crew of Klingon’s in their scout ship were no match for our heroes, the movie throws enough other challenges their way for them to be in real danger.
There’s the ticking clock of the Genesis Planet’s demise as well as the erosion of Spock’s katra while it resides in McCoy. These elements along with the loss of the Enterprise make even inept Klingon’s enough of a problem. It also adds some believability to the movie. A more competent band of Klingon’s would have prevailed in these circumstances.
This crew of Klingons, relegated to the inglorious task of espionage, only merited a scout ship. Its captain was worthy of only a dozen guys. He’s not as smart and far more aggressive than most Klingon’s we see moving forward.
Captain Kruge seemingly decides to proceed to Genesis on his own. This is a good writing choice. The Klingon faction doesn’t really take a hit to its prestige. Kruge was at least smart enough to tell his government about the Genesis Device though. The Federation and Kirk will have to answer for it in the next movie.
Search for Spock actually is sandwiched between the best Star Trek movie of all and the most successful film for that cast. It gets overshadowed by its companion films for sure, but it’s still better than most movies. To keep the comparison to other Sci Fi movies I’d say it’s much better than Attack of the Clones but still not as good as Independence Day.
Star Trek Search for Spock is part of my collection and I watch it at least once a year. I strongly recommend it.
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