Trekking Backwards With Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

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SpockThe Search for Spock was the movie that first suggested the whole “even movies good, odd movies not so much” pattern, but give the poor sequel some credit. It was following on the heels of The Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the Trek films, and one of the best science fiction movies of all times. That’s a lot to live up to, so I can’t hate on it too much for not rising to the occasion. But while it’s not nearly as bad as, say, Star Trek V, it is pretty forgettable.

Picking up hot on the heels of Star Trek II, The Search for Spock finds the Enterprise returning to Earth so they can hammer out all the dents Khan put in the ship. They can forget about enjoying a little shoreleave, however, because they soon discover Bones is walking around with a bit of Spock crammed in his noggin. Kirk realizes they must recover Spock’s corpse and take it to Vulcan, where they might be able to reverse that pointy-eared bastard’s noble death. Unfortunately, the Genesis planet is now a hot-button political issue and has been quarantined except for approved scientific researchers. So Kirk does what any self-respecting maverick starship captain would do: he steals the friggin’ Enterprise.

This whole sequence is fun, but it feels like it could have been “bigger.” That’s not saying I need a Michael Bay setpiece or anything, but the whole scam just seems a little too easy. If nothing else it suggests that Starfleet security may be trained by the same people who instruct Stormtroopers. I’m pretty sure Starfleet security would have got their asses kicked by ewoks too. There’s also a scene where a Spock-possessed Bones tries to hire a ship to take him back to Genesis, which involves him negotiating with an annoying alien who talks in Yoda cadence. It’s like somebody decided to drop McCoy briefly into the Star Wars universe, but it’s not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. The bit where Scotty sabotages the snazzy new ship Starfleet sends to pursue them, however, is worth a laugh.


Grand Theft Starship

Once they escape Starfleet, it’s on to Genesis. Unfortunately a Klingon vessel has heard about the Genesis device and wants it for use as a weapon. The captain of that vessel is Doc Brown in Klingon makeup — okay, his name is actually “Kruge,” but with all due respect to Christopher Lloyd, he’s a pretty lousy villain. Again, it doesn’t help that he’s inevitably compared to Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, but Kruge is very much the stereotypical, mustache-twirling capital-B capital-G Bad Guy. You know the sort. He kills officers at the drop of hat (do Klingons even wear hats?), but for no good reason. At least when Darth Vader force-chokes a dude to death, it’s because they seriously screwed up. Kruge will vaporize a guy just because he might suggest that perhaps Kruge’s plan isn’t the most thought-out. And that’s a pretty damn valid point, given that Kruge will need scientists who know about the Genesis device to help him recover/rebuild it, and he promptly blows up an entire ship full of them immediately upon arriving at the planet. It’s sheer blind luck that Saavik and Kirk’s son, David, are on the surface with a rapidly maturing resurrected Spock. What would Kruge have done if they weren’t down there? My guess? Start shooting his crew one at a time until they mutiny and toss him out an airlock.

You can tell that The Search for Spock desperately wants to reach the high bar set by The Wrath of Khan, and every time, it fails. Instead of Khan, we get Kruge. Instead of Spock’s heroic sacrifice, David dies attacking one of his Klingon captors. Even though Shatner’s performance upon learning about David’s death is decent, there’s no way it can live up to the gut-punch of that final scene between Kirk and Spock in the reactor room. Theoretically the emotional spine of the movie should rest on the fact that we get Spock back, but for the vast majority of the movie, Spock is played by a progression of kids, and it’s hard to have that same connection to the character when he isn’t being played by the masterful Leonard Nimoy.


“Your kid, Kirk. Something’s gotta be done about your kid!”

The one truly effective and memorable moment from The Search for Spock is when Kirk auto-destructs the Enterprise, followed by an emotional moment where he watches his ship burn through the atmosphere and asks, “What have I done?” Bones’ response is actually one of my favorite lines from the series: “What you had to do. What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.”

Star Trek III is an awkward middle child of the loose pseudo-trilogy begun in the epic Wrath of Khan and concluded with the sheer fun of The Voyage Home. Rather than focusing on telling its own tale, it too often tries to follow the previous movie’s bullet-points, to its detriment. In the end, The Search for Spock is noteworthy primarily for restoring the status quo so that Leonard Nimoy could make me bust a gut laughing during The Voyage Home. Does that make it worthwhile? The hell it does.


  1. Jim Starkweather says:

    Very well written and you make a lot of valid points about the film. This movie falls into the ‘too many contrivances’ mode for me. I hate when writers try to tug us this way and that all because they think that just because they write it that way it makes sense. There were so many “That is not logical” moments in this movie. Of course the fifth movie does make this one look like art. Odd that in both of these movies the one great scene is between Kirk and McCoy (in ST5 of course I am referring the the “I need my pain” exchange between Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Surak).

  2. Trek2188 says:

    you actually have it wrong on a few points. ” he promptly blows up an entire ship full of them immediately upon arriving at the planet.” he didnt want to blow up the ship he wanted prisoners. The tactical officer on the Klingon ship made a mistake and blew up the USS Grissom. That is why Kruge Kills him. because the tactical officer was inept at his duties and almost cost them their mission. Other than that blatant error good article. Try watching the whole movie next time.

  3. Jesus: version buddha 3.9 says:

    Spot-on. I said it in one of my comments for TMP, but it bears repeating: The downfall of the series was Nimoy’s ultimatum that if he wasn’t allowed to direct, he wouldn’t come back. He had to do III just to learn how to do IV, unfortunately, which was great, but then you have Shatner begging to direct V – He still hasn’t gotten over his sibling rivalry with Nimoy to this day. Threw a fit when Spock Prime was in Abrams’ film, but not Kirk Prime.

    It’s not like III didn’t have a shot at being a good film. You could tell there was half a good script. Spock’s being alive by virtue of the Genesis device was great and seemed planned all the way from Khan (it wasn’t – Spock WAS supposed to actually die). Thought-provoking themes of sacrifice and rebirth run throughout the film, but are never executed as well as they could be. McCoy getting possessed by Spock is the ultimate irony of ANY Trek, and other than the Star Wars cantina scene (Klingon hats off for pointing that foible out), they did a good job with that. Plus, by coincidence of unavailability, there was no Kirstie Alley, thank god.
    But what a waste of Christopher Lloyd… To me the ultimate pain of Star Trek III is that there was a promise of what the movie could have been at every turn. And in most cases, an immediate let-down.

    I didn’t like how Spock was so out of sorts when he came to be the Spock we know and love finally either. That’s kind of how this movie felt, too… A little too foreign, a little too off the mark to quite be recognized as our old friend.

  4. JT says:

    I think Star Trek III is the most underrated Trek film. It’s definitely the best of the odd numbered movies, by far and better than a couple of the really awful even numbered Next Gen ones. I kind of like Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge. You have to remember that at the time the Klingons weren’t really developed much as a species. We didn’t know a lot about them. These weren’t the Klingons you get in Star Trek VI yet.

    It does a few things wrong… I think Kirk’s hand to hand fight with Kruge on the dying Genesis planet, for instance, is really bad. The special effects just aren’t very good and it seemed like the had a much bigger, cooler, idea than they could really afford.

    But it does far more things right. David’s death isn’t super meaningful… but it is meaningful in the way it effects Kirk and I think that was the point. The whole Enterprise theft at the beginning is just perfect and the destruction of the Enterprise is brilliant and heartbreaking.

    Star Trek III is a really good movie. It’s not the best of the Trek movies, but it deserves to be remembered better than it has been.

  5. DAVID WALSTON says:

    My favorite Christopher Lloyd Bad Guy is on the PBS show Cyberchase!