Sybok talks about pain more than most doctors. In fact, his understanding of emotional suffering—especially that of the repressed variety—is the core of his idiosyncratic belief system.
Here's how he frames it to his first convert at the beginning of the movie:
SYBOK: Each man hides a secret pain. It must be exposed and reckoned with. It must be dragged from the darkness and forced into the light. [...] Share your pain with me and gain strength from it.
Let's be real—this isn't too different from the approach taken by modern therapy. Both examine our relationship with the past in order to help us understand how it shapes our present. By looking at past traumas and better understanding them, we can—as Sybok eloquently states—"gain strength" from our suffering.
Later in the film, Sybok unearths the pain buried in the Enterprise crew's past. He unearths Spock's shame regarding his human heritage. He also explores the devastation McCoy suffered due to his father's terminal illness. In both of these instances, neither man was fully aware of the toll these memories were taking.
So, on the one hand, sure, Sybok seems like a total madman. On the other, though, he makes total sense, and he's good at what he does. What are we supposed to make of that? No matter how you answer, Sybok's ideas about "secret pain" are compelling enough to warrant further examination.
According to our Vulcan sources, Sha Ka Ree is a legendary location in Vulcan mythology. It's a very special planet located at the center of the universe—the place "from which creation sprang."
As noted by the film, places like Sha Ka Ree are ever present in mythology. Christians have Eden. Klingons have Qui'Tu. Romulans have Vorta Vor. Despite his adherence to a specifically Vulcan brand of spirituality, Sybok notes that all of these belief systems refer to the same real place.
This isn't an entirely controversial idea. While they don't comment on the "reality" of belief systems, many mythologists have argued that all religions share certain base elements and structure their mythology in similar ways. Sybok is simply updating this idea for a hip alien audience.
Of course, the key distinction is that Sybok believes that Sha Ka Ree (and, consequently, all religion) is literally real. This is proven untrue by the end of the film, at least in this instance. But even so, the idea that religions have more common elements than disparate ones is worth studying outside of an intergalactically minded theological debate.
Talk about a buzzkill. Sybok thought he was traversing the universe to meet God, but it turns out that he was just a mark for the greatest con artist in the galaxy.
Here's the deal: at some point, Sybok received a telepathic communication from a dude he believes is God. This apparent deity asked Sybok to travel to the center of the galaxy and find him on the planet Sha Ka Ree, presumably to bask in his glory and all that jazz. Being a bit of a whack job, Sybok takes the bait hook, line, and sinker.
At first, God fulfills his expectations. He's represented by a mass of blue energy with images of various deities floating inside, symbolizing Sybok's belief in the validity of all religions. The deity finally settles on the traditional Western conception of God: an old man with white hair and a bushy beard.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon is cut short when God blasts Kirk, McCoy, and Spock with glowing energy because they dare question him. Someone needs anger management.
From there, we learn that God is, in fact, an intergalactic prisoner—and Sha Ka Ree is his prison. That certainly changes things. Putting aside the notion that this guy can communicate across the galaxy but can't escape a planet, this suggests that attempts to find the "literal" meaning behind religion are foolhardy.
In the film's closing moments, Kirk seems to back up this idea when he says that even if God doesn't exist "out there" somewhere, he exists within the human heart.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Please note that "ordinary" is relative. With the crew of Enterprise enjoying shore leave, a strange man appears on the desert planet Nimbus III, talking with poor colonists about their "secret pain" and convincing them to become his loyal followers.
After rallying enough followers, the stranger takes over the planet's capital, Paradise City, kidnapping the three ambassadors who reside there. The crew of Enterprise hears about this and is forced to cut the vacay short. Meanwhile, a Klingon captain named Klaa receives the same message and heads to Nimbus III.
Unfortunately, things aren't going well with Enterprise—she's in rough shape. The crew members have no time to fix her up, however—they'll have to work on repairs on the way over. Doesn't seem like the wisest move, but all right. After seeing a video of the hostages, Spock realizes that he knows the strange leader from his childhood—he was a Vulcan banished from society because he favored emotion over logic.
The crew mounts a clandestine rescue effort that fails when the hostages pull guns on their rescuers. They're under the stranger's spell, too. The crew finally meets him face to face, and his name is revealed to be Sybok. He and Spock clearly know each other well. With the crew members in tow, Sybok takes their shuttle and makes for Enterprise, kicking off the next stage of his mysterious plan.
While they're in transit, Klaa and company arrive. They learn that Captain Kirk is around, after which Klaa immediately changes his plan from rescuing the hostages to killing Kirk because it'll score him a lot of glory. All righty, then. Somehow, the shuttle manages to make it inside Enterprise in the middle of this assault, and the ship immediately jumps to warp speed. Everyone aboard the shuttle is knocked unconscious.
After everyone comes to, Spock gets hold of a gun but shockingly allows Sybok to take it from his hands. What the hey, bro? Sybok puts the other crew members under his strange spell and takes over the ship, throwing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into the brig. There, Kirk and McCoy learn something shocking—Sybok is Spock's half-brother. Holy smokes. Before this has a chance to sink in, however, Scotty, the ship's engineer, arrives to break them out of the brig. Attaboy, Scotty.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy head to an emergency communications room to contact Starfleet. Unfortunately, the message is intercepted by Klaa, who continues his pursuit. Meanwhile, Sybok finally announces his plan: he will go to the center of the galaxy, pass through the Great Barrier, and discover the planet Sha Ka Ree, which in Vulcan mythology is where creation began. Oh, yeah, and God will be there, too.
Sybok manages to capture our trio of heroes. He performs his "secret pain" ritual on McCoy and Spock, which basically amounts to a therapy session with a side dose of telepathy. McCoy completely falls under his spell, but Spock resists. In contrast, Kirk won't even give Sybok the time of day. Meanwhile, they reach the Great Barrier and…pass through it with ease. That was surprisingly simple.
Before them sits a single planet. Could it be Sha Ka Ree? Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Sybok descend to the surface, exploring for a bit before finding a rock formation. Suddenly, a swirl of blue energy appears, with images of various deities floating through it. This must be God. After Kirk questions the entity, however, God starts blasting energy willy-nilly, ultimately revealing himself to be an intergalactic prisoner locked away on the planet. He's tricked Sybok into breaking him free.
Sybok sacrifices himself to take down the impostor, but he only succeeds in buying McCoy and Spock enough time to be transported up to the ship. Poor Kirk is left on the planet all by his lonesome. To make things worse, the Klingons arrive and arm their weapons just as Spock and McCoy board Enterprise. Jeez. Can't anything go right?
God is ticked, and he's got his eyes set on Kirk. The same goes for his blasts of blue energy. Just as all hope seems lost, the Klingon vessel suddenly appears on the planet and blasts the supposed deity to bits. To his amazement, Kirk is beamed aboard and learns that Spock has struck a deal with the Klingons, saving his life and making peace in the process.
All of the formerly conflicting parties get together for a big shindig. It's really nice. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock talk to each other about the familial bond they all share, while the rest of the crew enjoys the fruits (and drinks) of a hard-won peace.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise, folks. You know the drill. We spend the bulk of our time aboard the USS Enterprise, with the other most notable locale being Sha Ka Ree, the mysterious planet at the center of the galaxy.
As with most Star Trek films, most of our time is spent aboard Enterprise. But this isn't your usual spick-and-span starship: Enterprise has been out of commission so long that it's running worse than your weird uncle's VW bus. In fact, the crew is forced to begin their mission well before repairs are complete, meaning that vital systems—such as the transporter—are unavailable. Not the best way to start off an intergalactic adventure, right?
In a way, this can be seen as a subtle commentary on the series itself. Given that the film was released in 1989 and the original series debuted in 1966, these people had been playing these characters for 23 years—and that number would only continue to grow. Could the state of Enterprise be a cheeky way of commenting on this longevity?
Our other main locale is the legendary Sha Ka Ree. The planet, covered in swirling blue energy, is located in the center of the galaxy, beyond the Great Barrier. Sounds more like fantasy than sci-fi to us. Either way, Sybok believes Sha Ka Ree to be the place "from which creation sprang"—and consequently the home of God. Talk about prime real estate.
Well, the truth shocks Sybok—Sha Ka Ree is, in fact, a prison and God a mere con man. How embarrassing. This is Star Trek's way of suggesting that trying to find the literal truth behind religion is a fool's errand because spirituality is primarily an internal experience.
This strange planet is indeed majestic, but it's not the Eden anyone expected it to be.
Only a rocket scientist could understand the physics behind Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it doesn't take one to comprehend its plot. A straightforward affair, the film focuses on one primary storyline, with a few parallel side plots peeking through at times.
For the bulk of the film, we follow the crew of Enterprise. We see them on shore leave, we see them attempt a hostage rescue on Nimbus III, and we see them journey to the center of the galaxy. This primary plotline progresses in a straightforward fashion, and though there are a few twists and turns along the way, it rarely deviates from this course.
There are a few parallel side plots, however. Before the crew reaches Nimbus III, for example, we watch Sybok spread his intergalactic cult across the planet. Likewise, we meet Klaa at the beginning of the film when he decides to hunt Enterprise, even though he doesn't factor in to the plot until its closing moments. In both instances, however, these side plots relate back to the main storyline in obvious ways.
Here's a controversial opinion: Star Trek is science fiction. Gasp.
We're being sarcastic, of course—the Star Trek series is an iconic example of hard science fiction, with its emphasis on real scientific ideas rather than fantastic ones. That being said, this movie does involve a quest for God, so take all of that with a grain of salt.
The other main ingredient in the Star Trek recipe is adventure. Since the original series, Star Trek has sported heavy influence from classic adventure stories, in particular those of the swashbuckling and Western variety. At this point in the series, that influence is mostly present in the character of Kirk, who's still as adventurous and freewheeling as any pirate captain of yore.
Finally, The Final Frontier features aspects of a parable. Though used less prominently here, parable has always been a part of the Star Trek series. Many episodes and films create elaborate metaphors for current-day issues, hiding social commentary beneath sci-fi complexity. That's certainly present here: The Final Frontier uses Sybok's quest to analyze the terrestrial evangelical religious movements of the day.
Okay, so on the one hand, the title of The Final Frontier is simply effective branding. In the opening narration of the original Star Trek series, Captain Kirk refers to space as "the final frontier." Why not turn that sweet phrase into a title, right?
On the other hand, the idea of a final frontier does resonate nicely with the film's plot. The whole movie is about Sybok's quest for God, which, in Star Trek's conception of things, would definitely be the final frontier of human knowledge. Future humans know everything there is to know about science—but they know a lot less about metaphysical matters.
Of course, that quest is ultimately revealed to be a farce, but the title still enriches our understanding of the characters' motivations—and maybe our own, as well.
After all of that, the dude found at Sha Ka Ree is revealed to be a con artist—it's like The Wizard of Oz all over again. This guy behind the curtain blasts the crew of Enterprise after they dare question his divinity, revealing in the process that he tricked Sybok into coming there to break him out of his planetary prison. Devastated by this deception, Sybok sacrifices himself in an attempt to stop the impostor.
These events coincide with the Klingon assault on Enterprise. While Kirk battles the impostor on the planet, Spock negotiates a truce with the Klingons and enlists their help in saving Captain Kirk's life. It's a surprising twist as the Klingon captain Klaa spent most of the film trying to kill the man he's now rescuing.
With its climax achieved, the film ends with a big party. The guests include the crew of Enterprise, Klaa's posse, the colonists from Nimbus III, and even the three ambassadors. Scotty gloriously comments that he "never thought" he'd be kicking back brews "with a Klingon."
While this party is obviously played as a joke, it also represents the unity reached between these warring factions. After all, that was the original purpose of Nimbus III, right? To usher in a new era of peace among the races of the galaxy? Although that goal might not have been achieved in the way its creators expected, the crew of Enterprise has somehow managed to yank victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Final Frontier is some family-friendly sci-fi goodness. Kirk doesn't even make out with any blue ladies in this one. Similarly, although the film is more action-heavy than previous Star Trek films, the violence depicted is far from realistic.