Study Guide

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Introduction


Release Year: 1984

Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi

Director: Leonard Nimoy

Writer: Harve Bennett (screenplay), Gene Roddenberry (creator)

Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Lloyd


"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship—"

Wait, wait. Hold up. Do we really need to introduce Star Trek? It's Star Trek. It's warp speed and aliens with iconic hand gestures and beam-me-up-Scotties. It's a million-dollar franchise that encompasses thirteen feature films, seven TV series, countless video games, a mythology's worth of books, and enough plastic action figures to populate several Alpha quadrants.

It launched the dang Klingon Language Institute. And yes; that's an actual thing. For actual people. Learning actual Klingon.

But you know all this, right? That's what we thought, so let's just jump right into The Search for Spock. (And if you're a Trek newb, check out what we have to say about Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That'll set you straight.)

Released in 1984, The Search for Spock was the third theatrical film released in the Star Trek franchise and the second film of the Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy. If that sounds weird, it's because the trilogy consists of the second, third, and fourth movies of the thirteen Trek films.

And if that still sounds weird, just know the trilogy ends with time-traveling humpback whales. We recommend settling in and getting comfy with weirdness.

The Search for Spock is about, well, the search for Spock. Picking up right after The Wrath of Khan—so spoiler warning if you haven't seen that thirty-year-old gem—Kirk's depressed over Spock's death. Sarek, Spock's father, tasks Kirk with bringing his son's body and his katra to Vulcan, so his soul can rest in peace.

  

Against Starfleet's orders, Kirk returns to Genesis to discover waiting for him a resurrected friend, a murderous Klingon named Kruge and a dangerous adventure on a dying planet.

So: basically a slow Wednesday for the captain of the Enterprise.

The film proved a commercial success, pulling in a domestic gross of $76.5 million with a budget of $17 million. (Source) It was also nominated for several awards, including a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation and several 1985 Saturn Awards such as Best Director and Best Special Effects. Sadly, the film won none of them, but the competition was stiff considering The Terminator, Ghostbusters, and Gremlins were released the same year.(Source)

1984 was way more entertaining than George Orwell predicted.

In the thirty-plus years since the film's release, Star Trek and movie fans haven't been able to reach a consensus on its legacy. Darren Franich calls it a "monument to egotism" (Source) while Matt Maul ranks it as his favorite of the first half dozen films. (Source)

Some have argued it falls prey to the "Star Trek Movie Curse,"(Source) but others claim it is an underrated gem, despite some misfires. (Source)

Our point here isn't to enlist you into a decades-long fan war between pro- and anti-The Search for Spock camps. Peace has already been established…thanks to everyone find a common enemy in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Instead, we want to liberate you to explore and enjoy this film however you see fit. With no consensus on it being good, bad, or average, there is no pop-culture peer pressure to feel one way or the other.

We do have one word of warning concerning The Search for Spock, though: don't even dream of calling Sulu "tiny." You will feel pain.

What is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock About and Why Should I Care?

It was the best of treks; it was the worst of treks. It was an age of high concept ideals; it was an age of silly fashion statements.

The Search for Spock's critical consensus is hard to pin down. Some people love it, some people hate it, some choose to perch on the fence of indecision. But whatever your opinion, you should care about this film because it's the embodiment of Star Trek's core philosophy.

That philosophy is: don't call Sulu "tiny."

Or, um, maybe it's something a wee bit more complicated.

When Gene Roddenberry created Trek for TV, he devised a technical and philosophical guide for writers working on the series. Dorothy Atkins summarizes this philosophy as "a future world very like our own in which moral problems are encountered and solved through a philosophy of nonviolent, rational humanism and a reappraisal of the basic nature of human essence." (Source)

The Search for Spock checks off all of Atkins' points above and, along with its companion films The Wrath of Kahn and The Voyage Home, provides a bite-sized version of Roddenberry's philosophy. Think of it as a distilled course in humanism for those of us who don't have time to watch seventy-nine episodes of TV…or have added the series to our must-watch list right after The X-Flies, Battlestar Galactica, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and ten other TV series that people tell us we need to see right now. (Living in the Golden Age of TV is exhausting.)

In The Search for Spock, characters are flawed individuals (is there any other kind?) who may inadvertently harm others through their actions. But they try their best to find moral, humanist solutions to what problems may arise—except for Kruge, who's just a dirtbag.

Kirk manages to steal the Enterprise and stop the Excelsior without resorting to violence. He even tries to resolve his conflict with Kruge several times by nonviolent means. And Kirk's entire quest for Spock is about putting the human essence above other concerns like politics.

But why is Star Trek's philosophy worth caring? The answer: it's had a huge impact on our culture.

Many philosophers have viewed their field of study through the lens of Trek—no, we're not joking—and written books upon books on the subject. (Source)

And while you won't get your PhD by watching Search For Spock, you will get a chance to explore philosophy while also enjoying space battles, fist fights, and fatal tumbles into pits full of lava. (If PhD programs offered that, we'd all be doctors.)

Trivia

Lieutenant Saavik looks rather un-Kristen Alley like in The Search for Spock, doesn't she? It's not because of the Genesis effect, but a cinematic law we've dubbed the transuniversal monetary morphologic effect—a sci-fi sounding way to say it's all about the Benjamins. Alley's contract for The Wrath of Khan didn't include options for sequels, and her agent demanded way too much for her return. Rather than pay up, Paramount replaced her with Robin Curtis. (Source)

True Fact: Leonard Nimoy invented the famous Vulcan hand salute. He devised the salute for the Original Series episode "Amok Time" when he felt the character needed a special way to greet his Vulcan matriarch, T'Pau. He based the gesture on one used by the kohanim (read: Jewish priests) when they perform a certain blessing over the congregation. The congregation is supposed to turn its back on the priests when the blessing is performed. As a child, Nimoy curiosity got the better of him and he couldn't resist a peek. (Source)

The USS Grissom is named after real life astronaut Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom. He was with the U.S. manned space program since its beginnings in 1959 and was the first man to fly in space twice. Tragically, Grissom died during a pre-launch test for Apollo 1. (Source)

You might have noticed fur balls chilling on a table in the lounge scene and thought, "Well, that's can't be sanitary." These creatures are called Tribbles, and they are a fan favorite in Star Trek lore. First seen in the Original Series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," the tribbles are a small race of furry critters that multiply at a rate rabbits would find scandalous. They emit calming, mewing sound when petted which has a "tranquilizing effect on the Human nervous system," which could explain why they'd be at a lounge. You think they have a Tribbles and Tonic special on the menu? (Source)

The voice of the Excelsior's turbolift was provided by none other than Leonard Nimoy, meaning James Doohann was telling off his director and friend with the line, "Up your shaft." Nimoy is credited under the alias Frank Force. (Source)

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Resources

Websites

All Your Data Base Are Belong to Spock
A trip to The Search for Spock's IMDB page can quickly lead you down a trivia-hole. Apparently Frank Welker voiced Spock's screams (just the screams). In turn, Welker is the voice of Megatron in Transformers, and that character guest starred…

Total Recall
Memory Alpha is the fan wiki of all things Star Trek. And we mean all things.

You Say "Tomato," I Say "Rotten"
The Search for Spock's Rotten Tomato score is certified fresh, but has the freshness been preserved for the modern cinematic palette?

The Odd Films Out
There's a theory among Trekkies that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are cursed to be bad while the even-numbered ones are good to great. This site puts that theory to the test with the most trustworthy of statistics: the review aggregate score.

Book or TV Adaptations

It's Not Logical
Here's the Goodreads entry for The Search for Spock novelization by Vonda N. McIntrye. We guess it's for students who want to read the book for their movie essay—if those people even exist.

No Introduction Necessary
The Original Series started it all. We wouldn't just be out The Search for Spock if not for these seventy-nine episodes of science fiction greatness. We'd be out fifty years of pop culture references and flame wars over whether Star Wars or Star Trek is the superior franchise.

Articles and Interviews

The Middle Child
Here you can find Roger Ebert's 1984 review for The Search for Spock. In summary, it's a movie that finds room for the three Fs: fun, philosophizing, and fistfights.

You Look Like a Movie, You Sound Like a Song
Alex Carter revisits The Search for Spock, and like a high school flame, decides he might not have appreciated it the first time 'round.

The Search for Spock-Esteem
For a different take, consider Darren Franich's essay on the film. At one point she writes, "The Search for Spock is not any of those things. It is a monument to egotism, Nimoy's and Shatner's." Need we say more?

You Don't Know Spock
Warped Factor provides ten trivia tidbits for The Search for Spock. For those with a serious trivia hankering, they provide similar lists for each Star Trek film and TV series.

A Rose By Another Other Subtitle
Writing for Tor.com, Ryan Britt proposes a new way to catalogue the Star Trek movies under the "good" and "bad." Forget evens and odds, Britt says it's all in the subtitle.

Pattern (Un)Recognition
In his review for the film, Ben Rakofsky argues that The Search for Spock doesn't fit the pattern set by the first two films, and he's pretty happy about that.

A Wrinkle in Time
Matt Maul places The Search for Spock in his personal Star Trek history and argues why he thinks it's the best of the first three films.

Video

Spoiler Warning!
The Internet is the greatest force in the history of spoiling things, but professional spoilers were no slouches in the pre-Internet dark ages. Consider the trailer for the Search for Spock, which shows the destruction of the Enterprise without any warning given. How could they?!

Spockumentary
Leonard Nimoy shares with us his favorite moments from the original Star Trek TV series. They offered a similar special to William Shatner, but they couldn't find a way to stretch "made out with a green-skinned hottie" into a full hour of TV.

To the Final Frontier and Beyond!
This documentary on the history of all things Star Trek was created for the series' 40th Anniversary. Ironically, it has more actual history in it than most other things on the History Channel.

Techno Babble
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss considers if the technology on Star Trek is theoretically possible, proving once and for all just how cool nerds can be. That, or we're just super-nerdy in our love of all things Krauss.

Techno Babble v2.0
Another documentary discussing the technology of Star Trek from 2016—just in case you're into that sort of thing. Obviously we are.

BBC Documentary
This BBC documentary celebrates Star Trek's cultural impact. It chronicles the good, the bad, and the historic…but now with 75% more charming accents.

Captains to the Bridge
Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Shatner, William Shatner, Johnathan Franks, and Patrick Stewart walk onto a soundstage. No, that's not the start of a weirdly specific joke; it's the beginning of a forum where these stars discuss their unique Trek experiences.

Audio

Lived Long and Prospered
I Am Spock is the second autobiography written by Leonard Nimoy and you can hear the audiobook, read by Nimoy himself, here.

Adventure Time!
One of the most iconic themes ever, the Star Trek theme gets you in the right mood for adventuring through space.

Death Growl Free Zone
With track titles like "Genesis Destroyed," "Bird of Prey Decloacks," and "Spock Endures Pon Farr," you might expect The Search for Spock's original motion soundtrack to be loaded with Heavy Metal bands. You would be wrong.

Images

Spock Face
The original poster for The Search for Spock features a psychedelic Spock overlooking a space battle and the crew of the Enterprise. The 80s, man.

A Bridge Too Far
Kirk, Sulu, and Scotty take command of the Enterprise in this frame from the film. It's the perfect shot for pondering, "Just what's up with Kirk's pleated shirt anyway?"

USS Jalopy
A great shot of the USS Excelsior breaking down in front of Spacedock. At least the towing fees won't be astronomical…

Klingon Brawn
Commander Kruge and Maltz do battle with the Enterprise in this scene while Maltz secretly wonders if he should introduce Kruge to his eyebrows guy. Dude's an artist with tweezers.

BFFs?
McCoy admits to Spock that he misses him and counts him among his truest friends. Of course, Spock is in a dead-yet-not-dead state at the time, so McCoy will never have to own up to it.

Awkward
In this behinds the scenes picture, Leonard Nimoy shows Saavik how to perform pon farr with his younger Spock-self.

Enterprise Has Fallen
The Enterprise goes down in a blaze of fiery glory. RIP.