Star Trek III: 35 years of “The Search For Spock”…

The end of my high school junior year (June of 1984), a question long simmering in my Star Trek-obsessed brain was about to be answered; will the late Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) come back from the dead in the new Star Trek movie? Of course, even at 17 I knew the obvious answer was yes. The title of the then-new sequel was “The Search For Spock”, implying he was temporarily out of action, otherwise it would’ve been “The Return Of Spock”, right? Despite the spoiled outcome, there was still much to look forward to. The movie would be written by Harve Bennett, the producer who helped breathe new life into Star Trek with “The Wrath of Khan” (though in fairness, I really loved “The Motion Picture” too…still do, in fact), and was being directed by none other than Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy.

Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy take charge of “the search”…

So my sister and a good friend of ours (who’d be my best man 15 years later) ditched school and went to our local mall to begin ‘the search’ on opening day (Friday, June 1st). It was a warm, almost-summer day, and we were thoroughly energized. The little glimpses we caught of the film on “Entertainment Tonight” (the North American internet, circa 1984) promised the return of the Klingons, and there was an oft-repeated clip of Kirk and his crew stealing the USS Enterprise (!).

Where to search: The old, long-shuttered mall where we first saw “The Search For Spock” in 1984.

Heading into our local mall multiplex, the theater wasn’t too crowded, as we caught the very first showing of opening day (around 11 am). We were soooo ready…


The Story.

Kirk’s got the blues…

The movie opens with a monochromatic flashback of Spock’s death and funeral as seen in “The Wrath of Khan” (“last time on Star Trek…”). Still choked me up a bit, and this was after seeing TWOK about 150 times on CED videodisc (needle-and-groove answers to laserdiscs…horrible format).

Credits in the clouds…

Soon we see Spock’s photon tube on the Genesis planet, and we cut to a credit sequence that starts in the clouds and gently glides into the stars. The energy of the new opening credits was very different. We still heard James Horner’s theme from TWOK, but at a different tempo… more melancholy. I also noticed that the credits had the same font as “The Motion Picture” (yes, even then, I noticed these kinds of things…).

You should see the other ship…

We then see a patched up Enterprise with Kirk’s somber opening captain’s log of Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner). Only weeks have passed since the previous film. A skeleton crew is now running the ship, as she heads to port at Earth orbit space dock. The ship feels, as Kirk notes, “like a house with all the children gone.” It’s a very different opening than TWOK, almost like the current “Avengers: Endgame”, whose opening also reflects upon the tragedy of the previous installment.

A house with all the children gone…

Kirk faces a hopeful young cadet (Phil Morris, son of Mission: Impossible’s Greg) who is asking if there’ll be a ‘ceremony’ when they put in. Kirk replies, “God knows there should be. This time we’ve paid for the party with our dearest blood.” Kirk is not taking Spock’s death well.

“How much for the election polling data?”

We then cut to what appears to be a seedy merchant vessel, awaiting delivery to a third party. A nervous captain asks a sultry Klingon woman named Valkris (Catherine Shiriff) “where the hell is he?” She assures him “he” is already there. A Klingon bird-of-prey vessel then de-cloaks directly above the expectant merchant ship (this is the very first time we see this design in Star Trek, by the way…). Valkris takes what looks like a clunky Betamax tape and ‘transmits the Genesis data’ (referring to TWOK’s dangerous terraforming device, Project Genesis).

Christopher Lloyd is cast WAAAY against type…and it works very well, in fact.

The illicitly gained data recipient is Klingon captain Kruge , played by “Back to the Future” costar Christopher Lloyd (cast effectively against type). Kruge receives the data, and orders the vessel (with his lover Valkris onboard) destroyed…but not before wishing her an honorable death (the first mention of ‘Klingon honor’) Why he didn’t just beam her out first remains a mystery, but okay, sure. He then orders his ship’s helmsman to set a course for the Federation neutral zone…and feed his hungry lizard-dog-thing.

Some beautiful vintage ILM miniature work punctuates the action of “The Search For Spock”...

Enterprise approaches space dock and a tired crew is tractor-beamed into the giant enclosed orbital starship shipyard facility (another first). As the weary crew glides into port, the crew take an admiring glance at the new Excelsior-class prototype, supposedly fitted with ‘transwarp’ drive. Engineer Scott (James Doohan) grunts with disapproval, preferring the old Enterprise over the fancy new starship.

Facing the future with the USS Excelsior…

Lots of Industrial Light & Magic ship porn in this sequence… all done with motion control miniatures and opticals. In a way, Scotty’s ode to simpler technology is also (unintentionally) mirrored in this sequence, as CGI visual effects would soon come to dominate the film landscape in a few years. Scotty’s dismissal of the USS Excelsior pre-echoes many old school movie fans who still prefer miniatures and opticals over slicker computer-rendered graphics. However unintentional, the scene plays a bit differently today than it did in 1984.

“I’m not crazy…there it is!”

As the Enterprise docks, Kirk is notified by Chekov (Walter Koenig) that someone has apparently broken into the late Mr. Spock’s sealed quarters. For some reason, the ship’s internal sensors can’t seem to make out just who has broken in. This scene is also the first time we ever hear Chekov speaking his native Russian (it’s not subtitled, but Chekov says, “I’m not crazy…there it is!”).

Kirk is not amused with McCoy’s impersonations…

Kirk runs down to Spock’s quarters to find two security guards there, neither of whom enters the darkened room with the admiral for some reason (and why didn’t Kirk turn on a light?). Once inside, the admiral finds a bedraggled Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) who seems to be channeling Spock’s spirt (and voice) asking Kirk to ‘take him home’ to Mt. Seleya on Vulcan, before collapsing in Kirk’s arms. A genuinely eerie moment, even if it relies on a few cliche horror movie tropes to work.

“Alright…who farted?”

Starfleet Admiral Morrow (Robert Hooks) boards the ship for inspection, and to tell the crew they’re on extended shore leave as of this moment… except for Scotty, who’s being promoted to captain of engineering aboard the USS Excelsior (the very vessel he mocked earlier, of course). Morrow also tells an expectant Kirk that the refit Enterprise is to be decommissioned. Kirk is displeased, as he was hoping to take the ship back to Genesis (for reasons unclear at this point in the story, since he had no reason to know Spock would be alive). Morrow tells him to forget it. And while they’re at it, no member of the Enterprise crew is to breathe a word of Project Genesis, which has become a galactic controversy…and a forbidden subject. Seems that Earth got a wee bit fascistic while Kirk was away.

Klingons hack into Kirk’s porn stash…

Aboard the Klingon vessel, the Klingons play their ill-begotten Genesis Betamax cassette. For some reason, Kirk now narrates the Genesis demonstration instead of Dr. Carol Marcus, but the same early CGI footage is played of a lifeless moon re-rendered as an Earth-like world. The Klingons are momentarily rendered speechless. Kruge tells his two subordinates that they are going to the Genesis planet (not sure how they plotted a course, since the tape didn’t seem to give any references…) and that they will “seize the secrets of this weapon…the secret of ultimate power!” If TWOK was about the moral ethics of playing god with Project Genesis, TSFS turns it into an analogy of the arms race with the (then) Soviet Union.

Captain Esteban, David Marcus and Saavik find an ‘unidentified life form’ where there shouldn’t be…

We cut to the actual Genesis Planet, which was created at the climax of TWOK, and where Spock’s photon tube casket soft-landed. Entering orbit of the planet is the science vessel USS Grissom (nice nod to the late astronaut, and the first time we see the Oberth-class, later a staple in Next Generation). Onboard the vessel is Dr. David Marcus (the late Merritt Butrick), the son of Admiral Kirk, and Lt. Saavik (recast with Robin Curtis). The reassigned duo are onboard the Grissom to survey the new planet. The captain is one J.T. Esteban (Philip Allen), and he’s a real wiener; he calls Starfleet if his collar doesn’t have enough starch. Saavik, scanning the planet’s surface, notes a metallic mass (Spock’s tube), along with an “unidentified animal life-form reading” (again with the so-called science ship’s wonderfully nonspecific readings…). She and David want to beam down, but Captain By-the-book refuses, until Starfleet is consulted (whatever happened to ‘risk is our business?’). Reluctantly, the captain grants permission.

Kirk, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov receive an unexpected pointy-eared party crasher.

On Earth, Kirk and his senior officers Chekov, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Sulu (George Takei) have a drink to “absent friends” at his swank San Francisco bachelor pad. Scotty is busy working on Excelsior, and McCoy is home “pumped full of tranquilizers” after his little episode earlier. The group receives a surprise visitor, Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek (the late and stately Mark Lenard). Sarek is incensed that Kirk “left” Spock on Genesis instead of taking his body back to Vulcan. Blaming Kirk for not following Spock’s ‘instructions’, Kirk is dumbfounded and has NO idea why Sarek is so pissed at him. Agreeing to a Vulcan mind-meld to sort it all out, Kirk relives the pain of Spock’s death…and Sarek has his answer. Spock didn’t mind-meld with Kirk before he died, as is Vulcan custom. Kirk, remembering McCoy’s erratic behavior suggests, “What if he joined with someone else?”

So kind of the ship’s flight recorder (voiced by Harve Bennett) to provide closeups and dramatic angles as well…

Replaying the ship’s flight recorder (which shows an uncanny knack for dramatic angles and closeups), Kirk sees Spock meld with McCoy before his death…downloading his “katra” (Vulcan soul) into McCoy’s body. Sarek makes Kirk promise to retrieve Spock’s body so that they may be taken to Mt. Seleya, where “both will find peace.” Kirk agrees, with an earnest “I swear.”

David & Saavik find Spock’s burial robe…but no Spock.

On the surface of Genesis, Saavik and David find Spock’s empty casket, along with giant slugs which turn out to be hyper-evolved microbes on the burial tube’s surface that were fired from Enterprise (yikes…!). Saavik asks David how could they have evolved so quickly? A nervous David doesn’t answer. They hear a scream (which sounds like a man, by the way). They track the scream to its source… a young Vulcan boy shivering in nearby snow. The ‘boy’ is a regenerated Mr. Spock. Saavik calls the Grissom and relays the astonishing news. The captain refuses her request to beam the child aboard for fear of “contamination” (this captain is a real asshat).

Saavik confronts David about the ‘secret ingredients’ of Genesis, as tiny-Spock listens in.

Before long, the Klingons enter orbit, destroying the USS Grissom with one “lucky shot”; the Klingon gunner is executed by Captain Kruge, who wanted prisoners to interrogate for Genesis information. Saavik’s repeated calls to the Grissom are intercepted, and the Klingons prepare a landing party to get a few highly coveted, valuable prisoners. Saavik realizes the Grissom has been destroyed, and she and David try to seek a safe hiding spot. With the rapid evolution of the microbes (not how evolution works, but again, okay…) and the equally rapid aging of the regenerated Spock, Saavik asks David to come clean about Genesis. He admits to using a dangerous, unstable substance called ‘protomatter’, which is causing the entire planet to age at an accelerated rate. If he hadn’t, he sheepishly admits that the project would be a failure. Saavik wonders how many died for the young scientist’s impatience…

“The word is ‘no’… I am therefore going anyway.”

Meanwhile back on Earth, Kirk gently pleads with Morrow, over a friendly drink, to take the Enterprise back to Genesis. Morrow politely refuses, warning his old friend not to get too carried away with emotionalism and Vulcan ‘mysticism.’ Kirk curtly thanks him for the drink and leaves to a nearby elevator, where Sulu and Chekov are waiting. Sulu asks, “The word, sir?” Kirk replies, in the most Kirkian way, “The word is ‘no’… I am therefore going anyway.

“Place you name, price I name, otherwise bargain noooo…..”

McCoy, possessed by the Spock’s katra’s need to return to return to Vulcan, tries to illegally acquire a ship in a seedy alien-populated bar that is a clear homage to Star Wars’ own Mos Eisley cantina sequence. The scene is done as loving homage, without calculated cynicism (if you can’t beat ‘em, homage ‘em). A spider-haired, Yoda-speak alien (a scene-stealing Alan Miller) whom McCoy contacted earlier, rather loudly negotiates the irritated doctor’s terms for passage…just loudly enough to tip off a nearby security officer, who takes McCoy away for a “nice, long, rest” after the mind-scrambled doc tries to give the officer a Vulcan nerve pinch. It’s a hoot.

Sulu helps Kirk break McCoy out of the clink: “Don’t call me ‘Tiny’…”

The sequence that follows, what is known as ‘Stealing the Enterprise’ on the James Horner soundtrack, is an utter delight. It best exemplifies the crew working in tandem not as shipmates, but as family. Kirk and Sulu (“Don’t call me ‘Tiny’”) break McCoy out of hack.

Scotty is reminded to put a cover sheet on those TPS reports.

Aboard the USS Excelsior, Capt. Scott runs into his new commanding officer, the arrogant Capt. Styles (“Doogie Howser” alum James B. Sikking), who tells his new engineer that he’s looking forward to ‘breaking the Enterprise’s speed records’ in the morning. A patronizing Scotty bids him good night, and orders the voice-interface turbolift to take him to the transporter room. As the interface thanks him, he tells it, “Up yer shaft.” (The voice of the computer interface in the elevator is none other than director Nimoy).

“You wanted adventure, how’s this?”

Once free, Kirk and the officers take McCoy to an old Starfleet transporter station, where Commander Uhura has strategically requested assignment. Her young coworker is a yuppie ensign whom she dubs “Mr. Adventure” (Scott McGinnis). The bratty ensign teases her about about her ‘winding down’ career (the look Nichols shoots him for that one is priceless!), and goes on about he yearns for “just a surprise or two”. Uhura’s temporary assignment gives her old shipmates transporter access to the boarded-up USS Enterprise, and Mr. Adventure gets the surprise he’d wished for when Admiral Kirk and company show up, and Uhura casually disregards about a dozen regulations to beam them back onto their old ship again, promising to meet them again “at the rendezvous.” One regret: despite this utterlydelightful scene, Uhura is out of the action for much of the movie afterward.

Kirk gets by with a little help from his friends.

Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov meet on the bridge of their beloved ship, which Scotty has just finished automating to run with just the four of them (a project he’d began at the start of the film before his reassignment to Excelsior). With the old starship powering up, Kirk gives his loyal comrades a final chance to change their minds. They don’t. Kirk orders Scotty to “clear all moorings” and to give them “one quarter impulse power…”

The USS Excelsior gives chase to the runaway starship Enterprise.

Kirk’s casual theft of his ship doesn’t go unnoticed and soon the entire spacedock complex is on alert. As the USS Enterprise approaches the spacedock’s interior doors, Scotty desperately hacks them juuuuust in time for the ship to squeeze through without a scratch. Excelsior powers up with orders to pursue. Styles opens a channel to Kirk, advising him not to throw his career away, to which Kirk responds, “Warp speed!” The Enterprise zooms away, and Styles, confident in the Excelsior’s superior abilities, orders activation of the ‘transwarp drive’… which sputters and fails. Scotty the crafty saboteur has taken care of the new vessel’s travel plans for the moment (“The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain”). Kirk orders them to make “best speed for Genesis.”

“Uh, Mrs. Saavik, you’re trying to seduce me…aren’t you?”

Back on Genesis, things are getting tense. Saavik, David and a now adolescent Spock are trying to outrun a Klingon landing party (led by Kruge). David, feeling responsible for their predicament, takes Saavik’s phaser (with permission) in an attempt to halt the Klingon invaders’ advance. Meanwhile a raging pubescent Spock, in lockstep with the aging Genesis planet itself, is tormented with the extreme Vulcan mating drive known as “pon farr” (see: TOS’ “Amok Time”). In a scene that is more than a bit creepy out of context, Lt. Saavik er…. ‘reaches out’ to the tormented Vulcan teen and um, ‘relieves his suffering’ (offscreen, of course). Note: There was to be a scene in the next film where Saavik lets slip that she was pregnant with Spock’s child, but that scene never made the final cut of “The Voyage Home.” Some non-canonical Trek novels have since suggested that the pregnancy did, in fact, happen.

The bird of prey, a very popular Trek ship design made its debut in The Search For Spock.

The next morning, Spock and Saavik are violently awakened to Kruge and his band of Klingon soldiers who have captured and beaten David. The dismissive Kruge is disappointed in his somewhat paltry choice of prisoners (“a Vulcan boy, a weakling human…and a woman”). Just then, he gets a call from his orbiting Bird of Prey; a Federation starship has just entered orbit. He orders his vessel to beam him up. Over Kruge’s comm David and Saavik hear the voice of none other than Admiral James T. Kirk, hailing the USS Grissom, and a bruised David offers a weak smile of hope to Saavik…daddy’s home.

“Sulu! We just killed a bug on the windshield…”

Back aboard his cloaked ship, Kruge orders his new gunner to wait for his order to fire…or, it is implied, he’ll wind up like his predecessor. On the Enterprise, Kirk and Sulu note an odd shimmer on the main viewer which they both instantly recognize as the visual signature of a vessel under cloak. The automated starship goes to red alert, and Scotty mans the torpedo controls. Realizing the Klingon ship is briefly vulnerable as they de-cloak to fire, Kirk orders Scotty to fire the moment the shimmer changes…he does and it delivers a blow to the Klingon vessel. Kruge retaliates, and his torpedoes overload the Enterprise’s overworked automation system.

A damaged Enterprise confronts the smaller, scrappier Klingon vessel.

With both ships are temporarily crippled, Kirk hopes to buy time by bluffing. He opens a channel to Kruge and orders the Klingons to surrender…or be destroyed. Seeing right through the bluff, a clever Kruge realizes that he has the upper hand…with his prisoners on the planet. Kirk is outraged that the trespassing Klingon has the gall to take prisoners, but Kruge dismisses his indignation.

For once, an enemy who can tell when Kirk is bluffing.

Turning the tables, Kruge tells the admiral to surrender or he will begin killing hostages. He allows Kirk a moment to speak with Saavik and David. When Kirk is slow with his response to Kruge’s offer, he orders David killed. Saavik, struggling maintain her veneer of Vulcan control, shakily reports, “Admiral, David is dead”.

“Admiral… David is dead.”

In a rare moment of vulnerability, Kirk collapses toward his command chair, landing on the floor. The son he’s just come to know (in TWOK) is gone. He seethes with rage against the Klingons (“You Klingon bastard, you’ve killed my son!”). Struggling to regain his command presence, he tells his friends, “I swear to you, we’re not finished yet.” He orders Sulu and McCoy to the transporter room. He then hails Kruge, appearing to accept the Klingon’s offer of surrender. A generous Kruge offers Kirk two minutes for the admiral to abandon his vessel. Two minutes is more than enough time for Kirk, Scotty and Chekov to set the ship’s self-destruct for a one-minute countdown…!

Kirk and company abandon ship.

As Kirk and his men beam out, the Klingon boarding party beams aboard to find the empty USS Enterprise. They open a channel back to Kruge aboard their vessel and report what appears to be a deserted starship, and curious computer voice….counting backward (!).


Kruge, realizing his men are trapped aboard a soon-to-be-destroyed ship, screams at them to “GET OUT OF THERE!!” It’s too late.

Almost as wrenching as the death of Spock…

The Enterprise blows herself apart, deck by deck as the shattered remains of the ship burn high up in the atmosphere of the Genesis planet, like an evening comet…

Scotty, Kirk and Bones watch as their beloved vessel burns up in the atmosphere.

… Kirk and his men safely arrive on the surface of the Genesis planet, just in time to see their once-elegant starship streak across the sky. The ship’s destruction is almost as keenly felt as the loss of David or Spock. That ship was their home. Interrupted by tricorder readings, Sulu points Kirk in the direction of the life forms, and they arrive in time to zap a Klingon soldier who was caught off-guard. Saavik watches as Spock continues to age, literally right in front of her eyes, as the dying Genesis planet becomes a fiery inferno around them. Kirk places his jacket over his dead son, and then angrily calls up to Kruge on his communicator in an attempt to goad the Klingon into beaming down for an outnumbered confrontation.

Kruge accepts Kirk’s goading invite, but takes a few prisoners back up to his undermanned ship.

Kruge accepts the invite, with his weapon already drawn. Calling his ship, Kruge orders his new prisoners beamed up, save for the rapidly aging Vulcan (“Maltz…choooooyyyyy chuu!”). Kirk tells Kruge he should take the Vulcan as well. Kruge refuses, just to be bastardly. As the planet tears itself apart around them, the two begin to fight. The planet’s convulsions give one party or the other momentary advantages, with Kruge ultimately left hanging off of a freshly-sheared cliff. Kirk offers a hand to the Klingon, who greedily grabs his leg instead, hoping to drag Kirk to his death as well in the molten canyon of lava below.

Face? Meet boot: “I…HAVE HAD…ENOUGH….OF YOUUU!”

Officially sick of Kruge’s s#!t, Kirk takes his free leg and booted foot and repeatedly kicks the stubborn Klingon in the face (“I…have had…enough…of YOU!”). Kruge plunges to his death.

Kirk & Spock, together again.

With moments to spare before planet Genesis explodes into a new planetary nebula, Kirk grabs an unconscious Spock, opens Kruge’s communicator and mimics Kruge’s command of“Choooooyyyyy chuuu!” The trick works, and the two are beamed aboard.

Luckily, Kirk and company meet the wussiest Klingon soldier in the Empire.

Once on the Klingon vessel, Kirk and his men easily disarm the sole Klingon officer, Maltz (“Night Court” veteran John Larroquette), with a promise to kill the disgraced soldier later. The crew struggles to gain control of the alien vessel, and in almost no time, Scotty and Sulu are able to warp the Bird of Prey safety to Vulcan…away from the dying Genesis planet. Kirk solemnly bids David goodbye, and orders Chekov to “take the prisoner below.” The Klingon is incensed, reminding Kirk of his promise to kill him. Kirk retorts, “I lied.”

“You stuck this damn thing in my head, remember? Remember??”

On approach to Vulcan, McCoy sits by the unconscious Spock in the Klingon version of sickbay, pleading with him to regain consciousness. Slumping back in his chair, the tired doctor tells Spock something that he’d never thought he’d ever hear himself say, “It seems I’ve…missed you. In fact, I don’t know if I could stand to lose you again.”

Kirk and his crew are met by Sarek at Mt. Seleya on Vulcan.

Arriving in Vulcan, Sulu carefully lands the Klingon bird of prey atop Mt. Seleya, where Ambassador Sarek and Commander Uhura meet them. Vulcan was the clandestine ‘rendezvous point’ mentioned earlier. It is assumed that Sarek was able to offer Uhura some kind of protection from Starfleet persecution with his diplomatic immunity (I believe this happened in the late Vonda McIntyre’s novelization, in fact).

Dame Judith Anderson is squeezing temples in the Temple…

They take Spock’s body to an elderly Vulcan priestess, T’Lar (played by “Rebecca” star Dame Judith Anderson….no kidding!). T’Lar performs an ancient ritual known as the “fal tor pan” (the re-fusion) in order to separate Spock’s katra from McCoy and reintegrate it back into Spock’s body.

The humans wait anxiously while all of the Vulcans in attendance close their eyes in quiet communion… a nice touch.

Over the course of the long ritual (a series of beautifully composed closeups and fades), the group nervously waits for news of their friends McCoy and Spock. The humans are wide-eyed in anxiety, while the Vulcans quietly close their eyes in communion with T’Lar (it’s an interesting aside). McCoy, looking utterly exhausted, tells Kirk he’s alright. We see Spock off in the distance, flanked by Vulcans who are dressing him in fresh robes. Sarek thanks Kirk for keeping his promise, even at the expenses of his ship and son. Kirk replies that if he hadn’t tried, the cost would’ve been his soul. Spock, still disoriented after his ‘re-fusion’ of mind & body, steps down to meet his friends. One by one he eyes them until stopping at Kirk.

“All this for me?”

Spock timidly asks, “My father says that you have been my friend…that you came back for me. Why would you do this?” Kirk, reversing Spock’s line from TWOK, says, “Because the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many.” This jogs Spock’s memory, and he begins to quote himself from right before his ‘death’. Finally, a bolt of recognition strikes. Spock looks Kirk in the eye, “Jim…your name…is Jim.” He then turns to face his smiling friends, and raises that familiar eyebrow…

The End.

Needless to say, my then 17-year old self was very happy to have ditched school to catch this film on opening day. Though being married to a teacher these days, I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do the same.

The Search Finds Much More Than Spock.

With a warmer-than-usual focus on the core Trek family of characters and unusually high dose of humor, TSFS has less of TWOK’s sophistication and literary allusions, though it also has a lot more heart, which makes it an equal trade in my book.

The entire cast of The Search For Spock is well-served.

Every actor gets their moment in the spotlight in this film, with the possible exception of Walter Koenig’s Chekov, who at least gets to speak a line in Russian at the very least. George Takei has his delightful “Don’t call me Tiny” moment where Sulu kicks the ass of a prison guard twice his size (the guard is played by Gary Faga, the same actor Leonard Nimoy’s Spock neck-pinched in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”; he sure gets beat up a lot). Nichelle Nichols owns her “Mr. Adventure” scene with the snot-nosed Starfleet ensign. The late James Doohan has fun sabotaging the USS Excelsior. The late DeForest Kelley is both powerful and moving during his monologue next to the unconscious Leonard Nimoy, arguably Bones’ finest moment until the euthanasia scene of “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989).

Shatner offers a glimpse of Kirk’s raw pain over the shocking loss of his son.

William Shatner plays the hell out of Kirk’s unhinged breakdown following the death of David Marcus. It’s one of those moments that makes the viewer a bit uncomfortable…as if we’re witnessing something too personal, too raw. Shatner plays it to the nines, and despite some hamminess throughout the rest of the film, this is one of Kirk’s best moments ever. Mark Lenard also returns as the stately Sarek, a character previously seen in TOS’ “Journey To Babel” before this film. Lenard had played a Klingon in Star Trek: The Motion Picture 5 years prior (and the original Romulan commander in TOS’ “Balance of Terror”).

Robin Curtis is Lt. Saavik, version 2.0.

Robin Curtis’ Saavik is a very different interpretation than Kirstie Alley’s, though no less valid. It’s arguably more “Vulcan” as well. There are emotions brewing beneath the surface that you catch on repeated viewings.

The late Merritt Butrick’s David returned to the Star Trek fold only to meet with a terrible fate. While David is given a few nice moments with Saavik, it’s a shame he didn’t have a final face-to-face meeting with his father before he was killed off.

Philip Allen, Merritt Butrick and Robin Curtis on the bridge of the USS Grissom (a not-too-subtle redress of the Enterprise).

If there are any actors in the film who don’t quite cut the mustard, it’d have to be Philip Allen’s Captain Esteban, who is played far too broadly to register as either a real leader or a real human being. I couldn’t see him in charge of a local Mini-Mart, let alone a Federation science vessel surveying a highly classified planet.

Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) goes redhead for “The Search For Spock.”

There is also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo by Grace Lee Whitney, reprising her TOS role as Janice Rand, watching her old starship come into port at the spacedock. Another nice nod to the original series and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979). Rand would also return in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991).

Search Results.

TSFS has a sometimes wild oscillation between heaviness and humor, with the film feeling a little schizophrenic at times, but the payoff is ultimately worth it. The late Leonard Nimoy’s direction is colorful, humorous and brimming with energy (his directing acumen would assume greater confidence with “The Voyage Home” in 1986). This was not Nimoy’s first time behind the camera (he also directed episodic television, such as “Night Gallery” and “T.J. Hooker”), but it was his first time directing a feature film, and he did remarkably well by Harve Bennett’s entertaining, if sometimes plot-hole punctured script.

Nimoy: “I’m captain now…”

Nimoy struggled mightily to make the most of the entirely indoors shoot, with scenes of the Genesis Planet that sometimes look only slightly more convincing than an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” (the DVD commentary states they wanted to shoot those scenes in Hawaii, but couldn’t afford it). The final scene on ‘Vulcan’ looks to be shot against a painted wall. One gets the impression the most was done with what was on hand. Nicholas Meyer’s direction of TWOK might have been more economically conscious, but Nimoy’s direction certainly works well enough.

The late Oscar-winner James Horner (“Braveheart” “ALIENS” “Titanic” TWOK) returned to score TSFS, the second of his two Star Trek movies. Repeating some of his cues from before, but with a bit less of the nautical ‘high seas’ feel and more of an emotional and intimate core.

What the film lacks in production value it also more than makes up for in heart, humor and sincerity. This is arguably the closest the movies ever came (before or since) to capturing the warmth and camaraderie of the original Star Trek TV series. As a culmination of the love these characters have for each other, “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock” is a far smaller-scaled (but no less heartfelt) precursor to current character-driven action movies such as “Avengers: Endgame.”

Star Trek III’s core story of friends banding together after suffering tragic loss reminds me of the current Marvel blockbuster, “Avengers: Endgame”, despite Star Trek III’s far less lavish production values. Both are chapter-movies that are incomplete on their own, yet carry a lot of emotional weight.

Don’t believe the myth of the odd-numbered Star Trek movies. Star Trek III is well worth the search, and is arguably the warmest and most family-feeling of the original series’ movies.

Screencaps/images courtesy of

29 Comments Add yours

  1. lomedae says:

    Great write-up.
    The Myth is real though, even though this movie is the best of the odd-numbered movies, it still ranks below all even ones…

    1. Thanks for reading!

      STIII is one of the reasons I don’t even try to rank the ST movies (or episodes) anymore; it’s too arbitrary. I’ve long ago decided that my ‘favorite’ ST movie is usually the one I’ve decided to pop into my blu-ray player at any given moment. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a something a bit more cheesy, other times I want something more eclectic. Personal enjoyment is subjective for too many reasons at any given time.

      Rankings are just so…final.

  2. Doctor Wholittle says:

    Quite an exhaustive retrospective, and nicely done. One thing: the reason Kruge didn’t beam Valkris off the merchant ship is because she had seen the Genesis material, which apparently is a Cardinal no-no (‘You’ve seen it then?’ ‘I have, my lord.’ ‘Unfortunate.’ ‘Understood.’). It’s implied that whoever authenticates the material is now expendable; unfortunately, it was his love.

    1. First, thanks for taking the time to read all of it (haha).

      Secondly, I understand that she saw the data, and therefore ‘had’ to die, but what I don’t quite understand is the ‘why.’ Kruge’s two lieutenants also saw the tape, yet they lived (of course, because who’d carry out his orders, right?). So, if Kruge were worried about Valkris being captured or compromised, wouldn’t taking her aboard his ship have the same effect as immunizing her from such compromise? She’d be under his protection and no longer at risk of spilling the beans.
      Just saying…

  3. Paul Bowler says:

    I don’t know much about all the different Star Trek shows , but the original series and crew, and their movies are the one’s I like best. I’m probably in a minority, but Star Trek 3 is one of my favourites so it was nice to read this retrospective piece about it. Sure, its not so flashy or bold as the films either side of it, but its a fun adventure, I love the bit were Kirk and Co steal the Enterprise and outrun the Excelsior, and the showdown on the Genesis plant is very dramatic. Yes, Star Trek 3 is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, great film, always enjoy rewaching it 🙂

    1. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, but it was still fun revisiting it for this piece.

      1. Paul Bowler says:

        LOL, it a great Star Trek moment, and a lot of fun 🙂

  4. Mike F says:

    Tsfs is actually my favorite Star Trek movie. It was the first one I ever saw, and like you said, it has so much heart! I even prefer it to twok! And as such, I think this odd-numbered movie myth is the stupidest thing and needs to die a painful death. It’s just wrong.

    1. LOL! Couldn’t agree more. It’s myth-information… ;-D

  5. George says:

    Grew up watching these on VHS. The box set where the six original movies form the USS Enterprise when put together side-by-side. I’m suddenly sentimental. Thanks for this wonderful write-up!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, George. I remember that box set, too!

  6. Jacob says:

    “CED videodisc (needle-and-groove answers to laserdiscs…horrible format)”

    Always fun to read about dead tech. Thanks for that!

    TSFS is a good movie. It’s certainly better than its reputation in my mind, though it does have its flaws. The biggest one for me is David’s naive response to the Klingons wanting the secret of Genesis. He tells Kirk over the communicator that Genesis doesn’t work and he can’t believe the Klingons would kill them for it. Previously in TWOK he noted that Genesis could be perverted into a dreadful weapon and ranted to his mother about scientists being pawns of the military. David as a character wasn’t served well in TSFS and that’s too bad.

    1. Thanks for reading!

      In David’s defense, maybe (?) he was trying to devalue Genesis as best he could to avoid execution. A bluff. Kind of like someone being robbed saying, “Go ahead and take it…it’s a cheap watch anyway.” Just speculating, of course. Personally I’m sad they killed him off without a last face-to-face with his dad.

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