Retro Review – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Once upon a time there were Star Trek movies that were actually good and in some cases they were great. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is one of those cases.
Recently the Star Trek fandom suffered an immeasurable loss when Leonard Nimoy sadly passed away on February 27, 2015 at the age of 83 so I thought the best way I could pay tribute to him is by reviewing my favourite Star Trek movie. This one also has the notable advantage of having an excellent Spock narrative so it just feels right to me somehow.
I’ll talk a bit more about Leonard Nimoy after the review but for now I’m just going to talk about the film and why it made such an impression on me.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country serves as something of a finale to the original Star Trek series since they never really got one. The show ended with a whimper with the terrible episode Turnabout Intruder so thankfully the characters were allowed to continue into a hit -in most cases- film franchise. This film was released in 1991 and it seemed to be mutually agreed by the cast and studio that everyone was getting a little too old for this and it was time to step back. It was probably a good time to do so as Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the air and it seemed well placed to take up the mantle of the film franchise. Whether people feel that those films were successful critically or not the popularity of that show can’t be understated.
The specific problem of the age of the cast caused a few ideas to be tossed around that would never really see the light of day. Most prominently was an idea from producers Harve Bennett and Ralph Winter to have a prequel film focusing on the crew’s Starfleet Academy days and culminate with them meeting on the Enterprise to begin their 5 year mission. This idea was ultimately nixed to do something that would provide some sort of coda to the 25th anniversary of the franchise and the old crew were brought back for one last mission. The Academy and prequel concept would be later revisited in the 2009 JJ Abrams film.
It all sort of falls into place from there. Leonard Nimoy would serve as an exectutive producer as well as receiving a story credit while the critically acclaimed as well as fan favourite Nicholas Meyer would return to direct. After directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan people were eager to see him work on the franchise again and this film really needed to be strong creatively after the mixed critical reception Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
A story was developed that served as an allegory for the political situation at the time with the fall of Soviet Communism being the biggest inspiration for this story. Other elements were adapted and referenced but at its core that’s what this film is about. In universe the Federation and the Klingons had been hostile to one another for nearly 70 years at that point so for them to put an end to that was a really big deal. This film would also explain why they were allies by the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Anyway that’s probably enough background -if you want to know more then it’s easy to find on the internet- so onto the film itself.
The opening is a really memorable one that still strikes a chord to this day. Opening the film by showing a moon exploding and sending out a massive shockwave is a really striking image that immediately catches the attention. It’s also interesting to note that the visual effect known as the Praxis Effect would come to be used in other science fiction movies. A notable example is the special edition of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when a similar looking shockwave is caused by the destruction of the Death Star.
Observing the shockwave is a familiar face to Star Trek fans, Hikaru Sulu. Sulu has gained command of the U.S.S. Excelsior which is seen here being used properly for the first time. The Excelsior appeared in other films before this but was usually sitting idle in Spacedock or being sabotaged by Scotty. She has now gone on active duty and Sulu is commanding her on a mission to catalogue gaseous anomalies. On their way home the shockwave is detected to port which is probably why it hits the ship on the starboard side.
It’s a good scene this and it’s good to see a main character play into the story without being on the Enterprise. George Takei campaigned for his character to have his own ship and he got it but the tradeoff is that he’s in this film a lot less than his costars. You win some, you lose some I guess. Sulu’s reaction to the shockwave remains an amusing moment as he hams it up in a way that would make William Shatner cringe. It does work but it’s unintentionally hilarious.
After this we go to Starfleet Headquarters where the rest of the crew -minus Spock- are appearing at a briefing with a mysterious purpose. We learn here that the crew are planning to retire in 3 months and aren’t sure what’s going on. They aren’t kept in the dark for long when Spock appears and briefs them on the situation with the Klingons. The destruction of Praxis has all but crippled the Klingon Empire since that was their key energy production facility. It is said that the Empire has 50 years of life left as they simply don’t have the resources to recover from such a major catastrophe given their military budget. Spock -at the behest of his father no less- opened up a dialogue with Chancellor Gorkon to begin the discussion of a peace treaty that would put an end to hostilities between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The two powers have been aggressors for decades so this is a really big deal and sounds like great news on paper.
What I always found interesting here is that the attendees of the meeting are less than thrilled about the prospect of peace with the Klingons. Starfleet officers have been trained to be mistrustful of Klingons their whole careers so considering them allies is a big ask. It’s particularly difficult for Kirk who had to suffer the loss of his son at the hands of a Klingon in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. His son was someone he had been estranged from his entire life and was only just starting to get to know so the loss cut him deep. So much so that he irrationally blames the entire Klingon race for the actions of one.
It might not be very progressive and it’s certainly not in keeping with Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a perfect future free from prejudice and internal conflict but it really helps make Kirk a more interesting character and gives him a solid arc to work through in this film.
His thoughts at this point are pretty shocking as revealed through a conversation with Spock where Kirk could not be any less keen to take on this mission. Spock volunteers Kirk and crew for the diplomatic mission because he assumed that Kirk would be fully onboard with such an historic opportunity. Kirk’s feelings are made very clear as he seems to be a man who just wants to run out the clock on his career before he retires. He even says that he feels that he -and his crew- have done enough. Spock tries to counter Kirk’s protest by reminding him that the Klingons are dying which prompts the response “Let them die!” from Kirk. Naturally it’s a very extreme reaction but again it makes sense for Kirk’s character. He doesn’t necessarily mean what he said but there’s definitely no love for the Klingons from Kirk at this point.
There’s a great line in this scene from Spock when he references an “old Vulcan proverb” to Kirk, “Only Nixon can go to China”. It’s a clever line despite it being a clear reference to Earth history but at least it wasn’t something hammy like “Only Soval can go to Andoria” or some similar alienised version like they sometimes do. The basic meaning is that since Nixon was an active opponent to Communism with no love for him on the other side it was believed that only he could go there and get anything done. Sort of a respect for the brutal honesty of the situation. Kirk is similar in that respect since he is famous among the Klingons as being someone they don’t like but respect. Similarly the gesture of diplomacy from Kirk -if deemed sincere- would mean more since it’s from someone who dislikes them as much as they dislike him.
I know I’ve said a lot about that briefing but it’s just so dripping in content that it’s hard not to. This one scene is more densely plotted and intricately written than both JJ Abrams movies combined. I’m really not here to hate on those movies at all but I do think that this is the finest example of Star Trek in movie form and this scene is a big part of why. It doesn’t need to pander to an approaching action scene and doesn’t need to be full of witty banter and jokes. All it features is well written dialogue between characters that have a significant history. That is pretty much all you need sometimes. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for all that other stuff of course.
From here we get back to the Enterprise and we meet our traitor for the movie. Lieutenant Valeris (Kim Catrall) is introduced here as a prodigy that Spock has a personal interest in. This character was originally supposed to be Saavik who was introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan played by Kirstie Alley and returns in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock played by Robin Curtis. The reasoning behind using this character is that fans already know here and would have more of a reaction to her betrayal. This idea was reportedly vetoed by Gene Roddenberry who thought that Saavik was too popular a character to end up as a traitor. Some reports that Nick Meyer’s basic thinking was that Saavik was his creation and he could do whatever he wanted. Kirstie Alley couldn’t reprise the role anyway due to an apparent combination of her asking price being too high due to her popularity on Cheers and the fact that she turned down the role possibly because she was self conscious about her weight at the time. Kim Cattrall also didn’t want to be the third actress to play this character -wonder why they never asked Robin Curtis- so the character was retooled into Valeris, a completely new character who has an unseen personal connection to Spock.
Anyway, back to the film. There’s some funny banter on the bridge as they prepare to leave Spacedock with Kirk’s maverick tendencies settling in again when he gives the order to leave at 1/4 impulse instead of the regulations mandated thrusters. Is there any rule he won’t break?
Following this Kirk gets a little personal with his personal log and confesses that he’ll never trust Klingons because he’s unable to forgive them for killing his son. It mostly sums up what he said before but it’s a nice reinforcement of how vulnerable Kirk is currently feeling and the reluctance he has to carry out this mission. It also gives us a hint that Valeris is a traitor as she hovers around at his door listening to his log entry and only making herself known once Kirk has incriminated himself enough.
Once the Klingons arrive on their ship Kronos 1 we are introduced to the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) who is clearly an obvious reference to Mikhail Gorbachev. There’s a wonderful sense of tension to this scene from the powerful score to the worried looks on the faces of the characters as they are the closest they have ever been to a Klingon ship without having their shields up. This scene also has some really good diplomatic falseness to it. Gorkon and Kirk exchange pleasantries but there is clearly lots of mistrust between them. Nevertheless Kirk invites him to dinner aboard the Enterprise as per diplomatic protocol.
There’s a brief line from Chekov that stirred quite a lot of controversy among the cast. The line is simply “Guess who’s coming to dinner!” which seems innocuous enough but when you look into what it means it becomes a little more shocking. The line was originally given to Nichelle Nichols refused to say it. The reason for this is that it’s also the title of a 1967 Sidney Poitier movie about a daughter who brings home a fiancé to her parents who turns out to be black. The implications of such a line were clearly too much for her to bring herself to say so Walter Koenig got the pleasure instead. It is a good line though and effectively underpins the feelings of the characters at that time.
I really like the scene that introduces the Klingons who come across more like Samurai than the -then- standard Viking portrayal elsewhere. There’s a real sense of honour about them and in particular Christopher Plummer’s General Chang comes across as an old warrior who has seen a lot of battles. His scenes with Shatner’s Kirk are electric as there’s that sense of mutual respect yet quiet hatred between them. I love how Chang sort of taunts him into giving into the instincts that he clearly has.
The dinner scene goes about as well as you’d expect. There’s an awkwardness about it from both sides as they try to get along but don’t have the first idea of what to say to one another. One commonality they have is an appreciation for Shakespeare, something the Klingons have managed to get a hold of and appreciate in their own way. Apparently they appreciate his plays and even encourage they be enjoyed in the “original” Klingon. Gorkon toasts “The Undiscovered Country” which in this case means the future instead of the original meaning from Hamlet being that which is beyond death. It’s a different interpretation of the line and it really works in the context of this film. For everyone at the dinner table the future as it seems to be unfolding is something that they’ve never experienced before so are unable to really prepare for it.
It was only really on this viewing that I noticed how much Chang seems to try and get under Kirk’s skin. He deliberately looks at him when proudly proclaiming “We need breathing room!” which echoes something said by Hitler. Kirk does rise to this bait due to his impatience and a generous amount of Romulan Ale consumed by him and immediately regrets saying it. Spock looks noticeably disappointed in Kirk’s behaviour and rightly so.
The following scene in the transporter room is equally awkward as the Enterprise crew can’t wait to get rid of their guests so that they can express their delight at having that over with. It’s all actually fairly shocking stuff coming from the crew who don’t seem to be very progressive at all. It’s understandable given the context of the situation but humanity should have risen above such prejudices. I get the feeling that the crew know that themselves but living up to an ideal is harder than most people think it is.
It all goes a little unexpectedly from here and a couple of photon torpedoes strike the Klingon ship causing artificial gravity to fail on there. A couple of guys in Starfleet EV suits beam aboard and start shooting at the weightless Klingons who don’t seem to even try to fight back or have had any sort of Zero G combat training. They just sort of float around and wait to be shot, it’s a bit bizarre really.
It looks like the Enterprise fired the shots but Scotty insists that their inventory is fully loaded. Complicating matters is the fact that the data banks say the opposite. I feel that Spock could have picked a better time than when there was a Klingon on the view screen to hear it but Kirk surrenders anyway. This is something he never does but he is so sure of their innocence and wants to show the Klingons he means no harm so it’s a meaningful gesture from him. I’ve always wondered what the torpedo fire would look like from the Klingon perspective. We’ll learn later that the shots were fired from a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey sitting beneath the Enterprise so wouldn’t it just look like the torpedoes came from nowhere to their sensors? I guess Chang would cover that up but it should at least be mentioned. I also wonder if there would be a Klingon weapons signature associated with the firing of those torpedoes. Again, probably could easily be covered up but nobody even thinks to mention it. Seems like something Scotty would have picked up on.
He and McCoy go aboard to try and sort things out but are less than welcomed. McCoy does what he can to save Gorkon’s life but it’s not enough. McCoy has never treated a Klingon before so doesn’t know enough about their anatomy to do anything about it. It’s a shame that Dr. Phlox didn’t keep any records when he was treating Klingons or curing a plague for them a hundred years earlier. Gorkon’s last words to Kirk are prophetic, it’s a plan statement “Don’t let it end this way, Captain!”. I’ve thought a lot about this and can only really come to one conclusion. Gorkon really can’t have thought Kirk tried to kill him because otherwise he’d be furious that any hope for peace has been lost. Maybe he suspected that people might betray him in some way and was prepared for this to happen. If you play the game Star Trek: Klingon Academy you learn that Chang and Gorkon were only thrust together because Chang owes him a life debt so trust between them must be tenuous. Yes I’m aware that the game is non canon but it damn well should be since it has all the actors and is generally a really great story.
Kirk and McCoy are put on trial and Michael Dorn plays Colonel Worf their defense attorney. It’s a nice nod to Star Trek: The Next Generation and let’s face it, it’s always good to see Dorn. Unfortunately as a lawyer he’s about as incompetent as it gets having done apparently 0 research into this case. His best defense is a speculatory remark about the assassins merely wearing Starfleet uniforms and a question over how people in Zero G could be walking. He has nothing else after this is shot down by the obvious answer of wearing magnetic boots and even resorts to pleading with the court. It really is a dazzling display of incompetence.
The Klingon court is visually really cool. It’s an intimidating atmosphere and the odds are firmly stacked against Kirk and McCoy. It is identified as a show trial and that’s exactly what it seems like. Chang is the prosecution and plays on Kirk’s apparent hatred of Klingons even using the log entry he made against him. The facts are distorted in such a way that Kirk has no choice but to basically admit guilt through the fact that a Captain is technically responsible for those under his command. In effect if it was someone on his crew that was behind this then that would constitute a failure on Kirk’s part.
Thankfully they aren’t sentenced to death in the interests of the peace talks but are given something arguably a lot worse. They are sentenced to serve out the rest of their lives on Rura Penthe, a Klingon dilithium mining colony of which there is no escape unless your name is Jonathan Archer and the Klingons are too embarrassed to admit it. We immediately get a good flavour of the reputation of this place as the characters give some really scathing accounts that they’ve heard.
From here the plot progresses into what is basically a whodunit as everyone tries to puzzle out the truth of what happened. Spock is given the clue he needs from the mention of gravity boots so his efforts on the Enterprise are concentrated on finding those as it’s the only piece of evidence he can guarantee on finding.
This part of the film is great as all of the characters play to their strengths. Kirk is in the middle of things getting into fights and using his wits to handle the situation with McCoy both challenging and supporting him. Spock is methodical and logical as he pieces the mystery together a bit at a time. No stone is left unturned but nothing is rushed either. Through this part of the plot we find that Spock is apparently descended from Sherlock Holmes despite him being a fictional character in the Star Trek universe. It is conceivable that Spock could have had a Vulcan ancestor who also said “If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains no matter how improbable must be the truth” but the film is clearly referencing the fact that the Spock character is at least partially inspired by Sherlock Holmes.
I love how the search plays out with Spock calmly telling people what they need to do and Scotty responding with massive irritation. The scene that always comes to mind is when Spock tells him to inspect the torpedoes visually to prove that they are all accounted for. I always get the impression that Scotty sees that as a waste of time despite the fact that it makes a lot of sense. Maybe the old Scotsman is looking for an easy time before he retires.
There are some really great character beats from Spock here as well. Those who know the franchise well will know that Spock is a very by the book sorta guy and follows the orders he is given. In this case he is being ordered to return the Enterprise to Spacedock but he chooses to ignore that. It’s a simple yet effective sign of how far he’s come since the Original Series. In his mind his loyalty to his friends transcends his sense of duty so he chooses to ignore his orders at the risk of his career because his friendship with Kirk and McCoy is more important to him. It’s great how he manages to justify lying since Vulcans aren’t supposed to. He walks around pretending that he doesn’t know that other people are lying and encourages others to lie to him by reminding them where their loyalties should be. There’s a lot to be said about Vulcan technicalities. As his younger counterpart says in Star Trek Into Darkness his people embrace technicality.
As effective as the mystery and investigation plots are there are some major leaps in logic in some cases. Through some deduction and the process of elimination Spock concludes that since the Enterprise didn’t fire those torpedoes after a visual inspection confirms that they still have a full complement another ship must have. Naturally no other ship was seen or detected so the only thing that could have fires the torpedoes is a cloaked ship. It’s well established in Star Trek lore that a ship can’t fire weapons while cloaked so it makes sense that this wouldn’t occur to them right away. The leap in logic comes when the assumption is made that the cloaked ship must be a Bird of Prey. I’ve never understood why that assumption is made because the Klingons have many different classes of ships. Even more confusing is that Valeris is the one to suggest it which makes no sense from her perspective given that she’s in on the conspiracy. Maybe she thinks that Spock would sniff out any deception on her part but on the whole it’s an oddly specific assumption. Also, as I said above why does nobody question what this attack would have looked like on sensors? It would be pretty obvious that the Enterprise isn’t firing.
Anyway, moving on to Kirk and McCoy on Rura Penthe. Naturally they aren’t sitting around waiting to be rescued. There’s a great transitional shot where Spock says “If I know the Captain, he is already deep into planning his escape.” followed by a cut to Kirk in a fight with some giant alien. It works as both a joke and as being very typical of the sorts of things Kirk gets caught up in when off the ship.
Kirk and McCoy have some interesting scenes in Rura Penthe. It’s something of a humbling experience for Kirk who is reminded of just how dangerous prejudice can be through the conspiracy to kill Gorkon and has a wake up call about his own prejudices. His voice is filled with regret when he says “Gorkon had to die before I realised how prejudiced I was”.
This is part of an extended conversation between the two old friends where they reflect on what has happened so far. Kirk asks McCoy if he’s afraid of the future which McCoy takes to mean the certainty of death that comes with their current situation but Kirk is referring to something much larger. He’s afraid of a situation where the Federation and Klingons are at peace and is ashamed of the way he feels about it. He asks the question “How can history get past people like me?” and discovers in himself that grudge he holds that he now has to let go of in order to do what Kirk does best and save the day. In this scene he realises that he needs to be the better man and set an example for future generations.
It’s also a great scene for giving the audience the best of the Kirk and McCoy friendship. At many points during the series and the movies Kirk would start to doubt himself a little for whatever reason. Notable examples include Balance of Terror and The Ultimate Computer as well as some really powerful moments in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock but those are for another review. In this scene Kirk doubts his ability to live in a future where the Federation and Klingons are allies and in this case McCoy assumes the role of making him realise how ridiculous he’s being in his usual wry and sarcastic way. You can actually see the point where Kirk talks himself out of his funk and then becomes focused on escaping. It’s one of the best examples of their friendship put in front of a camera.
In a brilliant callback to the Original Series Kirk meets the only beautiful woman in the prison who naturally seems all too willing to help him. It even results in the kissing for some reason causing McCoy to ask him “What is it with you, anyway?”. Before this, at no point in the series or films has anyone ever questioned Kirk’s innate ability to attract women from just about any species. Nobody else on the crew were really able to match his magnetism so it is a question that needed asked. It’s never answered either which makes the whole thing quite a bit funnier.
Kirk and McCoy’s escape is a little underwhelming as they simply just wander out and then go for a walk in the frozen wastelands. Basically the whole thing hinges on the fact that Spock must be looking for him. Fair enough from the point of view of Kirk who can trust Spock so completely. He also has the added reassurance that Spock slipped an innocuous tracking device onto his shoulder earlier in the film just in case. You can even see him do it earlier in the film. As McCoy says, “why that cunning little Vulcan!”
We all know it’s going to be fine as their escape attempt connects with Spock taking the Enterprise into Klingon space to attempt said rescue. There is a really questionable scene here where the crew sit around using books to talk to a Klingon listening post in order to convince them that nothing suspicious is going on. First of all it makes no sense that Uhura wouldn’t know how to speak Klingon given that she’s a communications officer and the Klingons are a big threat to the Federation. Apparently Nichele Nichols also objected to this but as overruled.
Also, there’s the question over why the Klingon’s don’t detect a Federation warp signature but I suppose they look really drunk and seem like they hate their jobs so that makes a kind of sense. It is quite a funny scene I’ll give them that it just lacks in logic. Seriously check out some of the translations such as “We am thy freighter…Ursva” and “we is condemning food…things and supplies”, it gets me every time.
I really like the scene on Rura Penthe where things start to come together. Kirk suspected that Martia was about to betray them given how convenient the timing on their escape was and how many supplies she had managed to get. There’s a clever use of her shapeshifting ability as she turns into Kirk and they fight for a bit. It gives us a great exchange that seems almost 4th wall breaking. Kirk says to her/him “I can’t believe I kissed you!” and Martia as Kirk replies with “Must have been your lifelong ambition!”. Apparently there was some concern that Shatner would take offence to that dialogue but reportedly he loved it. HE does seem to have a good sense of humour so I am not at all surprised.
When they are found by the warden he is dead set on killing them but feels there’s no harm in explaining the whole thing but doesn’t get the chance to before Kirk and McCoy are beamed out by the Enterprise. We see this sort of scene a lot but usually it’s the bad guy telling the plan for no reason and therefore giving the hero time to thwart him by exploiting some sort of weakness. It’s clever here as Kirk finds out nothing because of his rescue mere seconds too soon. They find themselves back at square one and it creates a good joke where Kirk is furious at having been rescued at that point.
Now that Kirk is back on board the mystery is pretty much solved from here. Kirk and Spock devise a way to trick the traitor into revealing themselves and it turns out to be Valeris. Spock encourages her to shoot him otherwise her plan is over but for some reason she chooses not to. This leads to quite a shocking moment where Spock angrily knocks the phaser out of her hand. Not only has Valeris betrayed the Federation but she has betrayed Spock’s trust. Spock doesn’t give his trust to anyone so it’s a personal betrayal for him on many levels. The guy doesn’t always show emotion but when he does it’s perfectly handled.
It gets a little dodgy after this as Spock is forced to perform a mind meld on Valeris without her permission. For those who don’t know what a mind meld is, it’s basically a method Vulcans use to share thoughts with others. Naturally it’s a very intimate thing so forcing it on someone is tantamount to rape in many ways. Obviously the situation demands it but the invasiveness angle isn’t covered at all.
Naturally after this it’s time to spring into action and save the day. Kirk gets the information on where the peace conference is being held from his old pal Sulu who also agrees to join them if he can make it in time. It is impressive how everything comes together at once without it feeling contrived. It’s almost as if without Kirk and McCoy around the crew were incomplete and now that they are whole again things get a lot easier.
Of course with this being old school Star Trek it takes a while to get places so we are given lots of time for contemplation. Kirk goes to visit Spock in his quarters and basically sums up the main character beats for the film. Spock is starting to see things from Kirk’s point of view and admits arrogant presumption on his part that almost lead to the deaths of Kirk and McCoy. It could be said that Spock is feeling a little guilty over what he’s had a hand in causing. On the other side of that Kirk is coming around to what Spock is thinking. He’s had time to reflect and he now sees clearly what needs to be set aside before the future can happen. He knows it and is willing to let that happen.
Kirk has some excellent dialogue that really sums up the complex relationship between Kirk and Spock. He says “You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to treat. We’re both extremists, reality is probably somewhere in between.” Kirk and Spock have always been larger than life characters who are very set in their ways. If left unchecked then their boldness would mean that nothing gets done. This is where McCoy usually comes in. He is that “somewhere in between” who calls them out when they are both being uncompromising and offers them that third alternative that they sometimes are unable to see. It’s a shame that the third point in their relationship triangle isn’t covered to any significant degree in this final outing as it definitely was the core of the original series.
This scene also has Spock questioning himself which is something he rarely does. He ponders whether Kirk and Spock have outlived their usefulness due to age and wonders if thinking that counts as a joke. Kirk naturally reassures him and they get to work. I can’t overstate how amazing this scene is and how well it explores this friendship that has been built on over decades. It’s a definite masterpiece of writing.
After this we are rewarded with some action. It basically amounts to the Enterprise getting shot at by General Chang’s invisible Bird of Prey as they try to figure out a way to return fire. The Excelsior shows up quite late into the action and gets shot at a lot too. It’s an impressive display of fireworks and Chang maniacally quoting Shakespeare as he gestures for more torpedoes to be fired makes for some great scenery chewing.
As always Spock has the answer and suggests modifying a torpedo to home in on the plasma trail of the torpedo. We even get the simplification of the science when Uhura compares the plasma exhaust to a tail pipe. Spock needs McCoy’s help to do it though because apparently there’s nobody in the crew of 400 that can help him out with this or even do if for him. Who cares though since it let us have a final moment between these two characters. McCoy even gets to say the word “fascinating!” when agreeing to help.
I love this scene as it’s high energy and has lots of the characters we love doing the things they’re good at. Kirk’s barking orders and keeping Chang guessing by remaining unpredictable, Spock is puzzling it out while McCoy helps and comments on the whole thing. Scotty gets to yell about how much damage they’re taking. It’s great stuff and a lot of fun to watch.
Once Chang is dealt with they beam down to the planet to stop the derailing of the peace conference. It always amuses me that Kirk sends Scotty to go subdue the assassin that he shouldn’t really have known was there. The reason it amuses me is that Scotty isn’t the slimmest gentleman by this time in his life and Kirk basically orders him to climb a lot of stairs very quickly. Might have been a job better suited for Chekov who is a lot younger than the rest of the crew and -let’s face it- a lot thinner.
Kirk gives a rousing speech about embracing the future and accepting change before returning to the Enterprise to wrap things up. There’s something very Original Series about this scene where the crew sit around the bridge talking to one another about what has happened and how it has affected them. The fun is broken up by an order from Starfleet to return to Spacedock to be decommissioned. Kirk’s expression gives us a clear indication of how he feels about that order. At the start of the film he was ready to retire and enjoy his retirement but getting to experience an adventure again has awoken certain instincts within him and made him feel ready to do it all again. Starfleet ruin that dream for him and he’s noticeably upset. Also his career has officially ended and that’s probably the first time this has occurred to him. It’ll feel real at that point as opposed to being something that will happen at some point.
Spock’s reaction is absolutely priceless. He says “If I were human, I believe my response would be ‘Go to hell!’, If I were human”. It goes down as one of the top Spock lines of all time and playing the fanfare over this statement works superbly. Seems like Kirk’s not the only one having second thoughts about standing down.
To really hammer home that Kirk feels eternally young again he orders their course to be “Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning”. His final log entry is very much with a heavy heart. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to pass the torch to anyone else but knows he has to. It’s a bittersweet ending as we all want to see more adventures with this crew.
Remembering Leonard Nimoy
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t at least say something about him especially since this is going out on his birthday. Obviously I didn’t know the guy and never had the pleasure of meeting him but his loss is a significant one to me personally and a great many others. If it weren’t for him then Star Trek wouldn’t be what it is today. He did so much to help inform the Vulcan culture and even came up with the iconic salute that people nearly broke their fingers learning how to do.
I’ve been watching Spock since before I can remember and have always loved the character. Leonard Nimoy brought such a level of class and intelligence to the role that it was easy to believe that he’s the smartest guy in most rooms and his commitment to the development of that character is truly inspiring.
There’s not much more I can say that hasn’t already been said and words definitely can’t express how significant he still is to a franchise I have loved since before I can remember. I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t looking to Spock for guidance on something to aspire to and I don’t imagine there will ever be a point in my life where I stop doing that.
To quote McCoy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan “He’s really not dead, as long as we remember him.” I’m not sure what Vulcans say upon death so I’ll leave off with the cheesy sentiment that he certainly lived long and prospered. Now he gets to explore the original meaning of the undiscovered country.