Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

star trek iii the search for spock

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

The Scoop: 1984 PG, directed by Leonard Nimoy and starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelly, and Christopher Lloyd.

Tagline: Join the search.

Summary Capsule: Putting all the chips on the table, Kirk must reunite Spock’s brain (in McCoy’s head) with Spock’s body (newly regrown on the Genesis planet) with Spock’s ironic sense of humor (provided by the scriptwriters).

Justin’s rating: So long, and thanks for the bloodworms!

Justin’s review: As this is my last Star Trek review on the site (barring the release of another feature film, which seems unlikely in the near future), I wish to put on my Old Man spectacles and harumph a bit about the Even-Odd Theory of Star Trek films. Everyone knows the conventional wisdom: the even ones are the good ones, the odd the bad. Except, of course, for the chain being broken by Star Trek: Nemesis, which bit all kinds of butt in its attempt to kill the franchise.

However, I’d like to hop back a bit and defend Star Trek III: The Search For Spock from being lumped into the same category as the dreary The Motion Picture, the frighteningly awry Final Frontier, and the muddled Generations. Search For Spock… isn’t that bad. And parts of it are quite good.

Okay, sure, I know the accusations. The entire movie is basically an exercise for writers to claw back out of a corner they wrote themselves into when they killed one of the most popular Trek characters in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And their solution for Spock’s revival — that the newly-formed Genesis planet renewed his corpse, while a mind-meld in Wrath of Khan with McCoy saved Spock’s memories — was unwieldy and almost ridiculous. And the fact that the main villains are a small handful of Klingons who have the personalities of matza bread.

Most just see Star Trek 3 as a stepping stone in the II-III-IV trilogy arc that completes a larger Trek story. And if that’s the way it is, fine. It’s not Shakespeare or even a highly-rewatchable film, but like Han Solo, who piloted the Enterprise for six seasons, it “had its moments”:

The Death of Kirk’s Son: Yeah, no one really liked David. He was a foreshadowing of the whiny incompetence of Wesley Crusher or Anakin Skywalker, and we’re not that sad to see him depart stage left. But what makes this a momentous event is Kirk’s connection with his murder, and his reaction to it. Kirk, near-invincible and arrogant through many Trek adventures, has his world shot out from under him in a single moment. And William Shatner here actually underacts beautifully — he staggers, his face goes blank, and he crashes down to the deck, missing his chair. In his reaction, David’s death meant something to us.

The Destruction of the Enterprise: Even the destruction of the NCC-1701-D in Star Trek: Generations didn’t have this kind of weight. The Enterprise had been THE symbol of Star Trek for decades, the intrepid ship that explored the galaxy and is easily recognizable to millions worldwide. While it might seem to some that Kirk’s decision to self-destruct as the Klingons prepare to board a cavalier decision, it fits in perfectly with the self-sacrificing theme of the movie. For the sake of a friend, they were all prepared to give up everything — careers, shiny new positions, family — and Enterprise is chosen to trade her life for the greater good of their survival. The sequence that follows has appropriate weight on its shoulders: the entry of the codes by the senior officers, all sharing responsibility; the countdown, the empty corridors, the Klingons boarding, and the final kablammo. For the first time in Trek history, the crew was without their ship.

McCoy Freaking Out: With Spock’s memories warring for McCoy’s subconscious, DeForest Kelly gets the opportunity of his career to go back and forth in personalities while eerily getting Leonard Nimoy’s mannerisms down pat. Plus, McCoy tries to do a Vulcan nerve pinch and ends up giving the guy a modified shoulder massage. Priceless.

Trans-Warp Drive: The first and last time you’ll ever hear about this “new” type of warp in Star Trek. I love weird little nerdy stuff like this.

Robin Curtis Makes A Cute Vulcan: Um… yeah.

I’ve also got to throw out a brief tribute to Christopher Lloyd, who plays the key Klingon baddie in this movie. It might not be the most terrifying role, but something in me always warms up to Lloyd and the variety of characters he’s thrown himself into over the years. I jones on that reedy, raspy voice of his, and it’s great to see him get a bit of the Star Trek pie.

Bon voyage, Star Trek. It’s been a wild ride full of bumps and Shatner pauses. Live long and prosper.

What kind of crappy, butthole planet is this? (with apologies to MST3K)


  • The self-destruct codes for the Enterprise apparently haven’t been changed in decades, as they are identical to those in the original series episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”.
  • Tribbles make a cameo appearance during the bar sequence where McCoy tries to hire a ship.
  • The USS Excelsior’s computer voice (heard in the turbolift when Scotty mutters “Up your shaft”) was supplied by director Leonard Nimoy.
  • On the bridge of the Enterprise, when Chekov detected an energy reading in Mr. Spock’s quarters, the display on the computer terminal are that of the Enterprise from the original series, not the movie version Enterprise. [Thanks Robert H.]
  • Leonard Nimoy’s character, Spock, died at the end of the previous movie. He agreed to reincarnate the character in exchange for directing the new movie.
  • The villains of the film were originally intended to be Romulans, but upper studio management wanted Klingons to be used since they were better-known enemies. By the time the decision was made, the Romulan ship was already made and they didn’t want the expense of replacing it. Fortunately, the TV show had already established that the Klingons and Romulans had shared technologies and ships in the past (for exactly the same real-world cost-cutting reasons) so the idea of Klingons using a Romulan-style vessel was not a problem.
  • The Excelsior was supposed to debut in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and be identified as newly-promoted Capt. Sulu’s first command. This plot line was dropped and Excelsior saved for this film. Sulu would finally take command of her in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
  • The U.S.S. Grissom bridge was the U.S.S. Enterprise bridge rearranged with pink chairs, and the Bar where McCoy tries to charter the spaceflight is the Enterprise sickbay redressed.
  • The scene in which Kirk stumbles into his chair after hearing of the death of his son was an improvisation by William Shatner, who was told by Leonard Nimoy to do whatever reaction Shatner wanted to do. Shatner has never told whether he meant to miss the chair and slip to the ground, or if he had meant to simply hit the seat hard but missed going backwards.

Groovy Quotes

Sulu: The word, sir?
Kirk: The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.

Kirk: My friends, the great experiment: The Excelsior. Ready for trial runs.
Sulu: She’s supposed to have transwarp drive.
Scotty: Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon!
Kirk: Come, come, Mr. Scott. Young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant!

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

Kirk: My God, Bones, what have I done?
McCoy: What you had to do; what you always do: turn death into a fighting chance to live.

Sulu: Don’t call me “Tiny.”

Captain Styles: [on the comm speakers] Kirk, you do this, you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again.
Kirk: Warp speed.

Scotty: 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.

Excelsior First Officer: [on communicator] Yellow alert! Captain to the bridge! Yellow alert!
Captain Styles: Bridge, this is the Captain. How can you have yellow alert in spacedock?
Excelsior First Officer: [on communicator] Sir, someone is stealing the Enterprise!

Kirk: Klingon bastard! You killed my son!

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

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