Thursday, June 12, 2014


Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (TSFS) was released on June1, 1984. It was the hotly-anticipated followup to 1982's surprising hit Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I vividly recall driving up to the Colony Theater near Cleveland to see TSFS on opening night. The Colony offered what few theaters had – a showing in 70mm! My then-fiance (now wife) Paula and I sat in the balcony to witness the film on the theater's huge screen. It was the closest to IMAX you could get back then and it was thrilling.

The Search For Spock was looked on with uncertainty. First of all, it was directed by then-novice director Leonard Nimoy, who, though he knew Star Trek well, was considered a risky choice due to the fact that he had never directed a film before – a legitimate concern for all. Plus, it would be tough for any film to follow Wrath of Khan, a movie that is still considered to be the peak of Star Trek story-telling. Which meant that expectations were set high – perhaps too high? – for its sequel. When the dust settled, Search For Spock opened very well, winning the #1 spot for its debut, and got overall good reviews. But, as was inevitable, it was seen as a bit of a let-down after Wrath of Khan. And, while I have to agree that it wasn't as strong as Khan (what is?), I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable –  just as I still do now, some thirty years later.

So what is the magic of Search For Spock? For me, it contains some of the best character moments in all of Star Trek while delivering an action-filled plot that stood on its own merits. And it was   connected to Wrath of Khan by continuing where that story left off. It also added elements to Star Trek that would be used for the next twenty years over every incarnation of Trek that would follow.


Early in the film, Kirk is visited by Spock's father Sarek who demands that Kirk explain himself. The ensuing scene features a uniquely Star Trek device, the Vulcan mind-meld. During that moment, Shatner shows Kirk reliving the death of his friend Spock and takes us with him through his heartache and loss. It is a pivotal moment in all of Star Trek that defines the friendship of Kirk and Spock like never before and shows a side of Vulcans never before seen – that of grief for a loved one. Mark Lenard's stoic Sarek avoids the cliche emotional displays that most films would show and instead displays his loss and despair in a tightly-controlled performance. The novice director showed he understood this material in a very personal way.

Later, after Spock's body has been rescued from the Genesis Planet, we get yet another seminal moment in Star Trek, this time through DeForest Kelley's performance of the irascible "Bones" McCoy. Again, the director takes the character to a place we've never seen before, showing us McCoy's pain over Spock's death, showing us in an intimate, private way, just how this man feels about his lost friend. The writing, acting and direction all come together in a way that we seldom see in almost 50 years of Star Trek. It still moves me to this day.

The climax of the film – the scene on Vulcan – will always be one of the best Star Trek scenes for me. Spock relives his own moment of decision to give his life for his ship and crew who – even in that moment of confusion – are still his top priority. He's told that the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many. As Spock makes the slow realization of who Kirk and McCoy are, we see a slow awakening of our friend. He's not quite there yet, but we now know that all will be well.

The death of the Enterprise herself is a powerful, historic moment. To any Star Trek fan, the Enterprise  is a character. As McCoy said in his Next Generation appearance, "You treat her like a lady, and she'll always bring you home." But this time, the Enterprise was called on for the ultimate sacrifice – she would die so her crew would live. As the exploding disk of the main hull comes at us and her fiery mass streaked across the sky of the Genesis Planet, I couldn't help but feel the loss of a friend.

For me, these moments are second only to Spock's actual death in Wrath of Khan. They were handled with a sensitivity seldom seen in Star Trek, a feature that would define Leonard Nimoy's directing style.

There are also great funny moments for all the characters as well, from Sulu's demolishing of the security guard that is twice his size ("Don't call me tiny!") to Scotty's dismissal of the Excelsior as an inferior ship ("Up yer shaft!") and Uhura's "Mr. Adventure" scene. These little moments that could have been thrown away are, instead, played for fun to great effect. And when McCoy mutters about "That green-blooded son of a bitch!" we're given a genuine belly laugh and a memorable moment.


While the first Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, gave us an updated look to the Klingons, the film added nothing to Trek's most famous aliens beyond a new makeup job and a language. That all changed with Search For Spock. Here we were introduced to what would be the defining moment for Klingons going forward through Christopher Lloyd's awesome portrayal of Klingon Captain Kruge, a ruthless, yet, in his own way, honorable soldier for his Empire. He takes no great joy from killing – it is simply the Klingon way. The path to success for Klingons is shown to be very straight-forward: success or death. We're introduced to the now well known Klingon utterance "Q'apla!" – "Success!"  The Klingon character as presented in Search For Spock is the one we still think of today as the quintessential Klingon. The look of their uniforms and technology has also stood the test of time with TSFS influences even appearing in the recent Into Darkness.


Star Trek: The Motion Picture, presented a new, upgraded Starship Enterprise to the world of Trek. But Search For Spock would give us more defining Star Trek elements than any other single entity since The Original Series.

The Klingon Bird of Prey – Prior to TSFS, we were only shown one type of Klingon ship, a design that went back to The Original Series. The Motion Picture updated the details, but it was still fundamentally the same ship. But TSFS would introduce us to what would become the most ubiquitous of Klingon ships, the Bird Of Prey. This was definitely a new and awesome Klingon weapon. It looked deadly and dramatic as it made attack runs and deployed it "wings" for battle. Other than the Enterprise herself, no other ship design stands out more in all of Star Trek than the Klingon Bird of Prey. It would be used in every incarnation of Trek after TSFS.

Starfleet Spacedock – The Motion Picture gave us a latticed orbital drydock facility in which the new Enterprise was shown. But that wasn't enough for TSFS! An entirely new orbital facility was introduced, this one on a gargantuan scale – Spacedock. Spacedock was so large that it could house several starships at once. It introduced a larger, grander scale to Star Trek than we had ever seen before. We thought the orbital office complex shown in The Motion Picture was something, but that was dwarfed by this immense structure that could swallow starships whole. Spacedock would be used throughout the TOS movies and into The Next Generation where it was featured as a Starbase.

The USS Grissom As cool as the Reliant had been in Wrath of Khan, so too was the Grissom in TSFS. It would introduce us to an all-new starship configuration, identified in the story as a science ship. Grissom became the third starship configuration ever seen in Star Trek. Dozens more would follow it over the decades, but she was all-new to audiences and ANY starship addition was seen as cool! Grissom didn't disappoint and the model would be used again to represent other starships in later Treks.

The USS Excelsior Yet another new ship, this time one meant to supplant the Enterprise. Sort of. In the film, Excelsior is presented as the latest, greatest in starship development, a craft with an experimental system called "trans-warp drive". And while the model was used over and over in later Trek incarnations and was even the basis for the Enterprise-B in Generations, I've always felt there was something odd about her. I always thought that the designer's intent was to portray Excelsior as an overdone, bloated whale of a starship, a trait that is accentuated by Scotty's easy sabotaging of her. She sputtered and groaned like an old car. I know a lot of fans love the Excelsior and think of her as a worthy addition to Starfleet, but I've never agreed. Even the bridge was overdone. Regardless, she sure got around, making countless appearances in later episodic Star Treks.

Klingon Technology – Along with defining a new ship and backstory to the Klingons, TSFS also gave a new approach to Klingon tech. Gone were the shiny props from The Original Series. In their place were weapons and tricorders designed to look very utilitarian and very used. They were weathered and rusty and looked great! Again, this design approach would define Klingon design forever after. Pieces included Disruptor pistols (which still emulated a "flintlock" pistol shape like those seen in The Original Series), a rifle that could be assembled from the pistol by adding a stock, a tricorder with lights and a communicator. All were painted a brownish rust color to unify the look.

The Planet Vulcan – The Original Series actually showed us Vulcan once, in the classic episode "Amok Time". But that portrayal was done on the shoe-string budget of 60's television. This time we were presented with a larger, grander Vulcan, one steeped in desert life and tradition. Dozens and dozens of Vulcan extras helped present the world in a new, sweeping scale. For the first time, Spock's home world was truly defined for us in a visual way.

The Search For Spock also gave us new Starfleet uniform variants, a new take on civilian clothes in the 23rd century (not all of which were successful ( can you say "Pilgrim Chekov"?), bars (and waitresses), new phasers and communicators, an insight into Starfleet hierarchy and a zillion other little things that helped round out the story.

Over the years there's been a lot of talk about the "Odd Star Trek Movie Curse", meaning that the odd-numbered films weren't as good as the even-numbered. I've never found that to be true. Though I certainly agree that the first and fifth film are the weakest (with a special mention for Star Trek V), The Search For Spock has always been an able entry and one of my favorites of the entire film series. While it was not as fast-paced as Wrath of Khan, it was certainly not slow. And the emotional moments along the way were more-than-adequate payoffs for any slow-downs along the way.

If you haven't seen Star Trek III: The Search For Spock lately, I recommend you give it a shot. Keep in mind that tons of the things that you see had never been seen before. It's a lot of fun, very inventive, and might just be better than you thought it was!



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