The third film in the Star Trek saga, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, was released in 1984 under the direction of Leonard Nimoy and it’s essentially the second chapter of an actual trilogy that began with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). This is the main reason behind its flaws, to be honest, as it’s clearly a transition film whose sole purpose is to reconstitute the Starfleet crew we are used to after Spock’s death in the previous film.
Here’s a quick recap of the plot. Immediately after the events of the previous film which are summarized at the beginning of the film, a brief funeral ceremony is dedicated to Spock on the Enterprise before his body is put inside the case of a photon torpedo and launched towards the planet Genesis where life is flourishing after Khan detonated the Genesis device in the Mutara nebula. Back on Earth, Admiral Morrow (Robert Hooks) informs Kirk (William Shatner) that the Enterprise will be dismantled, as it’s now time for more advanced ships such as the Excelsior commanded by Captain Styles (James Sikking) equipped with a transwarp engine.
Then, Sarek (Mark Lenard) informs Kirk that there’s still hope for Spock thanks to a complex Vulcan ritual. At the same time, a Klingon commander named Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) wants to take possession of Genesis, which he considers a very powerful weapon. If it weren’t for the very evil Kruge, the story would be limited to showing Kirk and his friends challenging Starfleet to go and rescue their half-Vulcan companion, but due to the interference of the insane Klingon, things get complicated.
What about this film? Let me start from the critical points and then get to the positive things later, and the latter are numerous! But here are the things that don’t convince me about the film:
- The story feels very forced: without Kruge, there wouldn’t even be a story, and his motivations are weak at best. Everything seems little more than an excuse to get Spock back on board, a fundamental character for the saga to say the least.
- Saavik’s character is played by Robin Curtis who can’t adequately replace Kirstie Alley who for some reason didn’t want to reprise the role she had played so well in Star Trek II.
- There’s little sense of humor and those moments which should be supposedly funny fail completely, like when the Excelsior is sabotaged by Scott (James Doohan) and stops in space making a ridiculous Looney Tunes-style noise.
- Finally, the planet Genesis sets don’t look great and the apocalyptic destruction caused by the failure of the project on which Kirk’s son David Marcus (Merritt Butrick) worked so much is far from spectacular. Furthermore, the film doesn’t have a real ending, so much so that it closes with the announcement of the continuation of the story in the following installment.
But… this doesn’t mean that Star Trek III isn’t a good movie in many ways! Its strengths are numerous:
- Mark Lenard’s return as Sarek (after TOS second season episode entitled Journey to Babel) is nothing short of great.
- McCoy forced to live with a part of Spock is a brilliant idea, since the two did nothing but argue with each other, albeit as great friends.
- The destruction of the USS Enterprise cannot fail to surprise and it’s a truly exciting moment: we never saw anything like that before! I love the scene in which Kirk and the others see the shipwreck on fire entering the atmosphere of the planet Genesis after the explosion.
- While the story of little Spock growing very fast is not really convincing, it’s nice that elements of the Star Trek mythology are respected here, such as the pon-farr created in the TOS episode entitled Amok Time.
- Marcus’s death isn’t handled particularly well and fails to thrill as it should, but it lays the groundwork for interesting plot developments that would be explored in Star Trek VI: The Voyage Home (1991) .
- Visiting Vulcan aboard a Klingon Bird-of-Prey is priceless!
So, I conclude by saying that, if taken for what it is, which is essentially a middle movie of a trilogy, Star Trek III is definitely enjoyable and offers many good moments. It deserves to be watched and rewatched in combination with II and IV, with which it forms an amazing trilogy. Ciao!