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.
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.
THE TECHNOLOGY AND EFFECTSStar 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.
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!