OK, first thing you’ve got to know is that like in comic books and TV, when characters die in the movies, they should stay dead…But they don’t. Star Trek II was a resounding success (going on to be most people’s favorite of the franchise). And in the aftermath, there was no way they were going to stop making Trek movies. So, along comes Star Trek III. But, one of the three core characters, one of the folks who made Trek what Trek was, lay dead in a photon torpedo casket on the new Eden of the Genesis Planet. What to do? Hey, remember that weird shot from the end of II, where Spock grabs McCoy’s head and whispers ‘remember?’ Yup. Spock ain’t all dead. Just mostly dead. If he were all dead, there’d only be one thing to do. Go through his pockets for loose change. But being mostly dead, he’s partly alive. Thus, The Search for Spock.
With this movie, we start to see more Klingon culture, which would go on to be developed much further a few years later in The Next Generation TV series. We saw their red lights and bumpy heads, and heard the first snippets of their guttural language in The Motion Picture. But here we see more of their nature. And, we learn more about the Vulcans and their weird mystical beliefs (for logical people, they’ve got some pretty illogical things going on). And finally, there are the secrets of the Genesis Planet. And we have Kirk’s son David back, and Savik the Vulcan (played by a new actress). David seems like less of a twit this time around, but instead, becomes a tragic hero with a flaw inherited from his father.
While obviously, the quest to find Spock (well, reassemble him) is central to the film, it also continues Star Trek II’s examination of age, friendship, and mortality. What I notice more now are the moments between the characters, the old friends and companions. These are the bits I enjoy most. And I’ll admit the last sequence, with everyone together after the ceremony; it gets the lump of coal I have in place of a heart to twitch, if just a bit. This film is the second of the ‘trilogy within the series.’ It builds on the events of The Wrath of Khan, brings back a friend but destroys so much. Kirk loses someone else, the crew loses something important, and the Genesis Planet…well, it just loses. And that all sets up for Star Trek IV. I don’t know if it’s hindsight (or foreknowledge?) or the effects of having Spock reborn so easily, but watching the movie now, I feel like the losses don’t have the impact they should. Does Kirk even think about his son again before that brief moment in Star Trek VI? Nobody mentions poor Carol Marcus from the previous film. Where’s she at? And the Genesis Planet? Shouldn’t its loss mean something? Even the Enterprise gets little more than a ‘well, stuff happens.’
The frustrating thing about this movie is that it takes the positive, optimistic scientific development (the Genesis Planet) and turns it into a Frankenstein’s Monster, a corrupted creation that will eventually destroy its creator. So, in Star Trek II, the morally challenging and interesting question of genetic engineering is turned into an unquestionably anti-science thing, making specific allusions to the Nazis’ Aryan myths with all the blonde, blue-eyed, pretty people (Watch Space Seed. The super-people were ethnically diverse.). And then with Star Trek III, the hopeful technology for terraforming is turned into a specifically anti-science thing, an allegory for nuclear weapons. Sigh. With the exception of V’ger (which raises its own questionable ethics), are there any non-negative portrayals of science in this series? Can we get some pro-science stuff in Trek? That would be swell.