Welcome back for another edition of the weekly Funpost!
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock turns 34 on June 1st. That's my weak attempt to come up with a reason to talk about the movie, but really, I don't need one, because this is the Funpost!, where we dish out EVERGREEN CONTENT on a weekly basis.
In all honesty, I recently fell down a YouTube rabbit hole watching classic Star Trek movie scenes, and was marveling at the six-minute masterpiece that is the Star Trek III scene where Captain Kirk and company steal the Enterprise. I think it may be my all-time favorite Trek movie moment. Let's break it down!
As someone says in the comments, only Star Trek can make the equivalent of backing a car out of the garage high drama. And drama it is! This is the moment where the crew goes rogue in order to save Spock's soul and fix the brain of poor Dr. McCoy, who has been walking around mumbling about logic and trying to neck-pinch people.
THESE DAYS, I say, shaking my first at a nearby cloud, Star Trek crews go rogue all the time. But back then, it was a huge deal. The crew is throwing away their careers, not to save the world (that will come later), but to save two friends—one of whom is already dead, and the other who is just acting a little weird. It's not at all clear that the ends justify the means. Genesis is PLANET FORBIDDEN, and this ragtag rescue mission is presumably going to end with the crew sentenced to mining dilithium on some obscure moon.
Spock isn't in the scene—or in most of the movie, for that matter. You might think that in order to have a top Trek scene, you need Spock. But let me blow your minds, friends: Spock is actually MORE in this scene than usual because they're doing this all for him, and he most certainly wouldn't approve. The needs of the one do not outweigh the needs of the many, right? But in their humanness, the crew is going to save Spock anyway, and that's what makes Star Trek III so great. It's an implicit celebration of friendship, and it doesn't feel cheesy or manufactured. The only major acknowledgement of all this comes in the prior scene, when McCoy says, "You're taking me to the promised land?" and Kirk replies, "What are friends for?"
The stealing the Enterprise scene works thanks to some great acting by the original cast. You can feel the drama in their expressions as the Enterprise approaches the space doors, which aren't opening. Sulu's eyes widen ever-so-slightly. Scotty is trying to work miracles, and at one point his mouth just kind of hangs open. Kirk is the steely eyed leader. McCoy looks annoyed and incredulous as always. Chekhov is... wearing some kind of peach leisure suit.
And the starship modeling work! How cool is that battle-scarred Enterprise backing out of spacedock, with the confused restaurant busser watching in the foreground? I love the movie Enterprise. It's a tasteful upgrade from the original series, with its black warp nacelles and baby-blue deflector dish. I built a model of this Enterprise as a kid, and the warp nacelles were so heavy one eventually broke off, which was okay, because I used it to re-enact battle scenes.
This scene wouldn't be half as cool without James Horner's amazing musical score. When the four iconic Star Trek notes play, and the lights come on in the bridge—come on!—that's QUALITY TREK. The music starts subdued and slowly swells, until Kirk issues his "one-quarter impulse" command (that's SPEEDING, Kirk—thrusters-only while in space dock), at which point the trumpets blare and we're off to the races. When Sulu announces "we have cleared space doors," the score crescendos defiantly as we see a majestic top-down shot of the Enterprise leaving spacedock.
There are also zingers! McCoy's "Are you just gonna WALK through them?" line always makes me laugh, as does the exchange between Kirk and Scotty about the doors:
Kirk: "Aaaaaand, now, Mr. Scott."
Kirk: "The doors, Mr. Scott!"
Scotty: "Aye sir, I'm workin' on it!"
Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the scene's antagonist, the Excelsior captain. We first see him lounging on his couch, filing his nails and getting shavings all over his uniform (boo, hiss). On the bridge, we learn this is a FANCY ship and a FANCY crew because it has transwarp drive and automatic moorings and neon-yellow chair bases. It's never a fair fight, because the Excelsior captain does everything wrong, from being too smug to saying "execute."
"Execute?" NO, sir. In a moment of high drama, Starfleet captains are permitted to say "engage," "warp speed," or "let's see what this Galaxy-class starship can do," but never "execute." Get that weak "execute" command off my bridge. "Execute" is the kind of order that leaves you and your sawn-off golf club thingy stranded a couple of klicks from spacedock, with Earth's weirdly colored Moon mocking you from the background.
That's it for this week's Funpost! If you have any questions or topics for a future Funpost!, send me an email at [email protected]
We know you love reading about space exploration, but did you know you can make it happen?
Consider a gift to our Space Policy and Advocacy program to fuel more missions, more science, and more exploration.