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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Kirk: "The needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many."

Fans refer to this movie as "The search for a plot", and yes, they have a point. The Search for Spock suffers from the high crime (or possibly just a misdemeanor) of being the middle movie in a trilogy, a bridge between the outstanding Wrath of Khan and the outstanding Voyage Home.

And yet, I realized during my rewatch that this is not a bad movie. There's a lot to like about it.

It's great fun to see the characters we love pulling off a starship heist. And like The Wrath of Khan, this movie features a major upsetting death, and I'm not talking about poor David, a good character who met a pointless (or pointy) end. It was the death of Enterprise herself. I can remember the first time I saw this movie, the destruction of our beloved ship really got to me. It echoed the theme of loss and rebirth in The Wrath of Khan.

But (and you knew there was a 'but' in there) as much as I love Spock, and I love him so very very much, bringing him back from the dead after killing him off so spectacularly was just a little bit wrong. So was retconning the beautiful, symbolically pure Genesis planet into a hopelessly screwed up mess. It was sad that it was all David's fault for using 'protomatter', as if they were giving the writers a reason for killing him off, although it did work as a device to make Spock's body age somewhat believably. If they hadn't started with regenerated Spock as a child, the other option would have been Vulcan zombies, and we can't have that. And I liked that Genesis turned into a "galactic controversy" because in real life, it would absolutely happen. It was interesting and somewhat disturbing that Starfleet was being just a little bit Gestapo about the whole thing.

But (and you knew there was another one a'comin') the fact that Vulcans had mind-meldable transferrable souls had never been mentioned before. You'd think that in all the years Spock served in Star Fleet, his comrades would have known that, just in case something happened to him. You'd think that Saavik, who was right there at the funeral, would have mentioned it in passing in between bars of "Amazing Grace." Okay, it was a fun plot point having Spock, already a divided being, with a disconnected body and soul to put together. But it did sort of come out of nowhere.

It was a cool plot point that the recovery of Spock was tied to saving McCoy as well. (Imagine if Kirk had lost Spock, McCoy and David all at the same time.) Loved DeForest Kelley mimicking Leonard Nimoy, up to and including an attempt at a Spock pinch. And of course, it was lovely in the end seeing Spock repeat his own dying words to Kirk: "The ship. Out of danger?" And Kirk giving him that "Needs of the one" response.

There were other bits that I loved, too. Even in his overwhelming grief over David, Kirk kept thinking and planning, very in character. The way he finally lost it with Kruge is still satisfying, not matter how many times I've seen it. "I... have had... enough... of YOU." One of my favorite bits was Scott, Sulu and Chekov trying to figure out the Klingon controls of the Bird of Prey, too, also wonderfully in character. And the self-destruct sequence was virtually identical to the same scene in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

So it's not The Empire Strikes Back. The Search for Spock got us where we needed to go. Good enough.

Casting bits:

-- Merritt Butrick (David Marcus) also appeared in an episode of Next Gen. And he died way too young.

-- It seemed a bit cheap of them to redo the Genesis presentation because they didn't want to pay Bibi Besch. Seriously. What happened to Carol Marcus? She wasn't even mentioned.

-- Christopher Lloyd did his usual good job as Kruge, a slimy Klingon who (of course) had a slimy dog.

-- Dame Judith Anderson played Vulcan matriarch T'Pau... excuse me, T'Lar. And with jarringly bright lipstick and and way too obvious eyeliner that I just couldn't see a Vulcan matriarch wearing.

-- Robin Curtis got the difficult job of replacing Kirstie Alley as Saavik, plus she had to talk about pon farr, too. I remember wondering at some point if she had remembered to bring her birth control to the Genesis planet.

-- We got a glimpse of Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) at the space station.

-- And we got Sarek! And he even mentioned his lineage -- son of Skon, son of Salkar. I thought Vulcan society was matriarchal?

-- Five actors played Spock. And Leonard Nimoy directed.

Bits and pieces:

-- Star date 8210.3. We visited Earth, the Federation Science Vessel Grissom (which was destroyed), Enterprise (which was destroyed), Excelsior (which was screwed up), the Genesis planet (which was destroyed) and Vulcan. Which ... I'll shut up now.

-- Why a red alert if there were only five of them on the entire ship?

-- Why didn't Uhura get to go along and nearly die, too?

-- McCoy went to a shady bar full of freaky aliens to hire a ship. I don't know why they didn't just call the place "Mos Eisley."

-- The Excelsior with its new transwarp drive was introduced, but all we saw was it failing.

-- Why did Sulu decide on a Peter Pan cape as a fashion accessory? Only marginally worse was Chekov's shirt, which I bet came from the Little Lord Fauntleroy collection.

-- If Mount Seleya is the only place for a Vulcan's soul to go, you'd think it'd be a very busy place.

-- This movie is surprisingly quotable. So there's that.


Kirk: "It seems I have left the noblest part of myself back there on that newborn planet."

Kirk: "Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?"
Scott: "Certainly, sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?"
This is one of my favorite Star Trek quotes ever.

Kirk: "My friends, the great experiment: The Excelsior. Ready for trial runs."
Sulu: "She's supposed to have transwarp drive."
Scott: "Aye. And if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a wagon."

Kirk: "If there's even a chance that Spock has an immortal soul, it's my responsibility. Just as surely as if it were my own."

Alien with huge ears: "Oh, Mutara restricted! Take permits many, money more."
McCoy: "There aren't going to be any damned permits! How can you get a permit to do a damned illegal thing? Look, price you name, money I got."
Alien with huge ears: "Place you name, money I name, otherwise bargain, nooooo."
McCoy: "All right, dammit! It's Genesis! The name of the place we're going is Genesis!"
Alien with huge ears: "Genesis?"
McCoy: "Yes, Genesis! How can you be deaf with ears like that?"

Kirk: (showing the Vulcan salute) "How many fingers do I have up?"
McCoy: "That's not very damn funny."

Kirk: "You're suffering from a Vulcan mind meld, doctor."
McCoy: "That green-blooded son of a bitch! It's his revenge for all the arguments he lost."

Elevator voice: "Level, please."
Scott: "Transporter room."
Elevator voice: "Thank you."
Scott: "Up your shaft."

Scott: "All systems automated and ready. A chimpanzee and two trainees could run her."
Kirk: "Thank you, Mr. Scott. I'll try not to take that personally."

Scott: "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."

Kirk: "Gentlemen, your work today has been outstanding and I intend to recommend you all for promotion. In whatever fleet we end up serving."

McCoy: "His mind is a void. It seems, Admiral, that I've got all his marbles."

Kirk: "Klingon Commander, this is Admiral James T. Kirk. I'm alive and well on the planet surface. I know that this will come as a pleasant surprise to you. But our ship was a victim of an unfortunate accident. Sorry about your crew, but as we say on Earth, c'est la vie."

Kirk: "You! Help us or die!"
Maltz: "I do not deserve to live!"
Kirk: "Fine. I'll kill you later."

Three out of four of Spock's marbles,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Don't forget that Maltz was played by John Larroquette. Quite a switch from his role on Night Court.

    I much preferred Kirstie Alley for Saavik.

    You nit-picked about the Fal-Tor-Pan not being mentioned before, but the movie did address it to some degree.
    Priestess: "What you seek has not been done since ages past -- and then, only in legend. Your request is not logical."

  2. Mark, I took what the priestess said as a response to the request to reconnect Spock's soul with his body.

  3. I love this film! I think I'm the only one who thinks it's genuinely good. Not as good as The Wrath of Khan, because nothing is, but very good.

    I thought blowing up the Enterprise was a great way to balance out getting Spock back, and tying his resurrection to the Genesis planet and then destroying it was a great way to make sure this was a one-off event (the biggest problem Trek and other SF has with resurrecting people - making sure you can't feasibly do it for every expendable ensign!). Killing off David was a bit much, though. Poor David :(

    I remember when I was a kid I was always a bit thrown by the seedy bar full of very non-humanoid aliens McCoy goes to, which just felt really weird and not-Star-Trek. I was 18 before I saw Star Wars and finally understood where that came from!

  4. I like Search for Spock. It's the one odd numbered Star Trek movie that feels that it's a good (not a great movie.) If its only crime is that it feels like the middle movie in a trilogy, it's doing good. It's operatic in its scope, and Leonard Nimoy really had a deft hand when it came to directing.

    DeForest Kelley was originally considered for the role of Spock, so it's kind of fun to see him impersonate Spock's mannerisms.

    I do love it!


  5. I'm always impressed on how well this movie holds-up over time. "The Voyage Home" really sticks-out as a product of it's time, but "The Search for Spock" is still very enjoyable.

    My favourite scene... Kirk stumbling backward and tripping on his own command chair at the news of David's death.

    My least favourite scene... the "escape from Space Dock" event is completely ruined by the clunking and chugging sound effects of the Excelsior failing.

  6. I just recently re-watched this movie as well, as part of the blu-ray collection. The extras are worth watching - apparently when Saavik and young Spock go through pon farr (do pon farr? get pon-farred?) there was a plot point, that was apparently going to show up in the next movie, that the result was Saavik ended up pregnant. Interesting, but I'm sorta glad they dropped that idea. I still really like this movie, but to me there were always a lot of questions - why does Saavik suddenly look different? If the Genesis planet is aging quickly, and Spock was essentially regenerated by the same process, why does he stop aging quickly just because he leaves? Something in the air? Why was it so simple to automate a mind-blowlingly complex machine like a starship and have it run by 5 people? Where was Uhura hiding? They just finished shooting at the Klingon ship, then decided to blow up the Enterprise and beam to the planet - what if the Klingon ship was seriously damaged? But, seriously, I still enjoyed it, and I still enjoy it. It was a solid middle entry in between II and IV.

  7. Despite its many flaws, this is still one of my favourite Trek films. In fact, the stealing of the Enterprise is my favourite scene of the entire franchise.

  8. The sight of the crippled Enterprise limping into space dock really impresses on me how we care for the Enterprise as a character. It was a great touch to have Janice Rand there to watch it and to give expression to the audience's feelings about the ship. It wasn't just some nameless Starfleet person watching some ship come it. It was a character we knew who had served on the ship. It made it all the more touching and memorable.

    Poor Robin Curtis. I wonder what my feelings about her portrayal of Savvik would be if she had been cast in all three movies instead of as a replacement for Kristie Alley.

  9. Watching this film right now. The helmsman's reaction when Saavik theorizes that the lifeforms they've found is a regenerated Spock is still one of my favorite movie reactions. I've been trying to find it in GIF form for years.

  10. I think Mark Grieg's comment is very much inline with my own thoughts on this one, and your review is both fair and accurate Billie. It has some glaring plot holes that bring it down some, but I feel that it being considered mostly 'meh' is due to it being between 2 much better movies, and that it's still a good movie for all that.

    And I prefer Robin Curtis to Kristie Allie, but I think I'm in the minority there.


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