Study Guide

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

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.)

Ordinary World

For Star Trek, the "ordinary world" is a decade-spanning conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire in outer space centuries from now. These two sides hate each other's guts. While on their way back to Earth, the Federation ship Excelsior witnesses a strange explosion on a Klingon moon, signaling possible changes to the status quo.

Call To Adventure

It turns out that the Klingon Empire is collapsing. Spock, first mate of Enterprise, has been engaging secretly in peace talks with the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon and has set up a big meeting on Earth. He wants Captain Kirk—who hates Klingons with a fiery passion—to be the lead envoy.

Refusal Of The Call

As you can imagine, Kirk doesn't want the gig. In fact, he can't believe that his so-called friend would volunteer him without consulting him first. And that's not even mentioning the fact that this will be Kirk's final mission aboard Enterprise. Unfortunately, however, an order is an order. Spock and Kirk join the crew of Enterprise and leave to rendezvous with the Klingons.

Meeting The Mentor

Kirk sets up a dinner meeting with the Klingon ambassadors, which goes terribly. General Chang, one of the emissaries, is openly hostile to Kirk. Kirk gains some measured respect for Chancellor Gorkon, however, who seems empathetic and sincerely devoted to fostering peace.

Crossing The Threshold

Then something shocking happens—Enterprise seems to launch photon torpedoes at Gorkon's ship, disabling it. In the aftermath, Gorkon and several other Klingons are assassinated by masked figures. Although Kirk and McCoy try to save Gorkon's life, Chang blames them for the incident and takes them into custody.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

After a quick, clearly fraudulent trial, Kirk and McCoy are sentenced to life in a labor camp. There, they meet a beautiful alien who promises to help them escape. She also makes out with Kirk because of course. Meanwhile, Spock takes control of Enterprise and begins a search for the assassins, convinced that they are aboard the ship.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Kirk and McCoy learn that the alien babe is a shapeshifter, which is both cool and creepy. They escape the prison and trudge across the planet's freezing surface to get outside the prison's shield, which blocks transporter function. Aboard Enterprise, Spock gets closer to learning the assassin's identity, determining that Enterprise did not shoot the torpedoes that hit Gorkon's ship. But if it wasn't them, then who was it?


In a (not-so-)shocking reveal, the shapeshifter reveals herself to be hired by the Klingons to get Kirk and McCoy into a compromising situation so that they can kill them and cover it up. At this last second, McCoy and Kirk are transported aboard Enterprise, which has been tracking them and has finally come within range. Spock catches the crew up on his investigation, explaining that the photon torpedoes must have come from a cloaked Klingon warship.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Finally, our heroes discover the identity of the assassin: it's Lieutenant Valeris, mentee of Spock—and his choice as his successor on Enterprise. Valeris is collaborating with General Chang and several members of Starfleet. And they're not done yet: they're going to assassinate the Federation President during a peace meeting later this day. The crewmembers contact their former comrade Captain Sulu to find the location of the meeting, and they rush over.

The Road Back

Enterprise battles Chang's powerful warship. It's impossible to land a hit on the darn thing. Luckily, Captain Sulu arrives in Excelsior halfway through the battle, giving Enterprise the window it needs track the location of the ship. Once they find it, Chang is blown to smithereens.


After defeating Chang, the crew rushes down to the planet's surface to stop the impending assassination. Afterward, Kirk shares a bonding moment with Chancellor Azetbur, the daughter of Gorkon and the new leader of the Klingons. It seems that peace will actually become a reality.

Return With The Elixir

The crewmembers return to Enterprise and are told by Starfleet to return to dock. Knowing that this will be their last time aboard the ship, however, Kirk decides to take it for one last interstellar joyride before handing it over to the next generation of leadership.

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