Study Guide

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Quotes

  • Warfare

    ADMIRAL CARTWRIGHT: If we dismantle the fleet, we'd be defenseless before an aggressive species [...] The opportunity here is to bring them to their knees.

    Admiral Cartwright has a militaristic mindset: he sees the Klingons' unfolding disaster as an opportunity to gain the upper hand. Who needs compassion when you have big guns? Of course, our understanding of this exchange is complicated greatly by the later revelation about Cartwright's true allegiances.

    KIRK: We volunteered?

    SPOCK: There's an old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China."

    This is a reference to President Richard Nixon's 1972 trip to the People's Republic of China—a first for an American president. Spock is comparing Kirk to Nixon because both are seen as "tough" against the group they're negotiating with, which gives them greater credibility and leverage.

    CHANG: I have so wanted to meet you, Captain.

    KIRK: I'm not sure how to take that.

    KERLA: Sincere admiration, Kirk.

    CHANG: From one warrior to another.

    We have a hard time telling whether Chang wants to kick Kirk or kiss him—there's a weird love-hate thing going on. On the one hand, Chang must surely hate Kirk, because dude has killed beaucoup Klingons. On the other, he respects Kirk as a kindred spirit—a fellow warrior. It's complicated.

    CHANG: Tell me, Captain Kirk, would you be willing to give up Starfleet?

    SPOCK: I believe the Captain feels that Starfleet's mission has always been one of peace.

    Kirk, as it turns out, disagrees with Spock's assessment of their mission. To be fair, however, he's not exactly an unbiased party: Kirk has spent his entire adult life fighting Klingons—and losing loved ones to them—so is it really fair to expect him to turn on a dime and accept peace?

    KIRK: Far be it for me to dispute my first officer, but Starfleet has always been—

    CHANG: Captain, there's no need to mince words. In space, all warriors are cold warriors.

    They just had to drop a direct shout-out to the Cold War in case the metaphor wasn't obvious, right? Basically, the peace process depicted in the film mirrors the one between the U.S. and Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Nifty, huh? In addition, however, this exchange reaffirms the strange bond between Kirk and Chang.

    KIRK: We'll not be the instigators of a full-scale war on the eve of universal peace.

    Despite his hesitations, Kirk reveals his true colors once the dilithium hits the fan. That's the difference between Kirk and Chang: Chang fights against peace because he loves war, while Kirk only does so because he fears change.

    AZETBUR: War is obsolete, General. As we are in danger of becoming.

    Azetbur doesn't see the value of war. Good for her. Like her father, her main concern is establishing a safe future for her people, even if that future is vastly different from the reality they currently know.

    KIRK: Who is "us?"

    VALERIS: Everyone who stands to lose from peace.

    Sadly, there are plenty of people who profit from war—even (especially?) here in the real world. It's just that there are fewer laser beams here on Earth, which is one plus. Besides that, however, the rule holds true.

    KIRK: Peace is worth a few personal risks.

    That's a far cry from describing Klingons as untrustworthy animals, huh? Through the example of Gorkon, Kirk has learned that the prejudices inspired by war aren't actually based on reality. To cling to such outdated mindsets is to make peace impossible.

    CHANG: Be honest, Captain. Warrior to warrior. You do prefer it this way, don't you? As it was meant to be. No peace in our time. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

    Do you folks have time for one more Shakespeare quote? Of course you do. Once again, Chang argues that he and Kirk are more similar than they are different—both of their lives have been defined by conflict. While Chang has fallen in love with this way of life, however, Kirk clearly wants something more.

  • Prejudice

    ADMIRAL CARTWRIGHT: To offer the Klingons a safe haven within Federation space is suicide. Klingons would become the alien trash of the galaxy.

    The fact that Cartwright calls Klingons "alien trash" tells you everything you need to know about human prejudice against the species. That being said, this passage takes on completely different connotations once the truth about Cartwright's allegiance is revealed.

    KIRK: The Klingons have never been trustworthy. I'm forced to agree with Admiral Cartwright. This is a terrifying idea.

    We'd expect Kirk to be gung-ho about making peace, but he has too much personal animosity toward Klingons to even consider it. As we see over the course of the film, this animosity blinds him from truly understanding the crisis going on.

    KIRK: I've never trusted Klingons and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy.

    Although Kirk's hatred of Klingons is rooted in his past conflicts with them, the real reason behind it is the death of his son at their hands. Is that a rational reason to hate an entire species? Not really. But we can certainly understand why it's worked out that way for him.

    KIRK: [to Gorkon] Would you and your party care to dine this evening aboard the Enterprise with my officers as guests of the United Federation of Planets?

    Okay—it's not much, but it's a start. Although the dinner date between the Federation and Klingon Empire goes worse than a post-election Thanksgiving meal, it shows that Kirk is at least open to patching things up with the Klingons, even if there are still barriers.

    UHURA: Did you see the way they ate?

    CHEKOV: Terrible table manners.

    Even the crew of Enterprise isn't exempt from prejudice against Klingons. As outside observers, we can see that the main issue with dinner was a difference in customs, but the crewmembers aren't necessary able to step outside of themselves and see that.

    COLONEL WORF: I wish to note, for the record, that the evidence against my client is entirely circumstantial. I beg the court to consider this when pronouncing its sentence.

    Although this isn't explicitly stated in the film, we think that the legal representation of Colonel Worf (supposedly the ancestor of Worf from The Next Generation) changes Kirk's perspective on Klingons. Here's a guy risking his reputation for the sake of a human. Would Kirk do the same for a Klingon?

    KIRK: I was used to hating Klingons. It never even occurred to me to take Gorkon at his word.

    After being sent to prison, Kirk realizes that his hatred of Klingons blinded him from seeing the possibility of peace. He might still have some personal prejudices, but he's made the first step toward replacing them with a more accurate view.

    VALERIS: Klingons cannot be trusted. Sir, you said so yourself.

    Here we see how prejudice can spread like an infection. When leaders like Kirk succumb to this lazy way of thinking, it's only a matter of time before someone lower on the totem takes such beliefs and makes them even worse.

    KIRK: Gorkon had to die before I understood how prejudiced I was.

    It's a bummer that it took such a tragedy for Kirk to come to his senses, but sometimes that's the only thing that can force us to reexamine our belief systems.

    AZETBUR: You've restored my father's faith.

    KIRK: And you've restored my son's.

    Aw, stop it, guys—we're going to be overwhelmed by the feels. This is a great moment because Kirk and Azetbur are looking past their differences and seeing each other as individuals—specifically by empathizing with each other's grief.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    SPOCK: This will be my final voyage on board this vessel as a member of her crew. Nature abhors a vacuum. I intend you to replace me.

    Although The Undiscovered Country primarily views the "future" in a broad, geopolitical way, the theme also resonates within the characters themselves. That's certainly true here: Spock, like the rest of the original crew of Enterprise, is about to be decommissioned, so he's thinking a lot about the ship's—and his own—future.

    GORKON: I offer a toast. [raises glass] The undiscovered country. The future.

    The phrase "the undiscovered country" is taken from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Although in the text it alludes to life after death, Gorkon uses it as a metaphor for the unknowability of the future.

    McCOY: To you, Chancellor Gorkon, one of the architects of our future.

    [...]

    SCOTT: Perhaps we are looking at something of that future here.

    Although the crew of Enterprise is skeptical about the Klingons, they're optimistic about the momentous peace brewing between their people. This dinner is a prelude to that peace, even if it doesn't go exactly as planned.

    GORKON: You don't trust me, do you? I don't blame you. If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.

    Gorkon isn't dumb—he knows that Kirk doesn't like Klingons. Despite this, he also knows that Kirk is a good dude, and he hopes that this means they will eventually see eye-to-eye. What's more, he understands that the members of their generation—with their many prejudices against one another—will struggle the most with this shift.

    GORKON: Don't let it end this way, Captain.

    These are Gorkon's final words. Even on the brink of death, he's more concerned with securing a peaceful future for the galaxy than his own well-being. That's a solid dude right there.

    AZETBUR: You want the conference to go forward and so did my father. I will attend in one week on one condition.

    Azetbur might not be as idealistic as her father, but she wisely sees the only possible future for her people as a peaceful one. She could have gone out guns blazing, as most action movie villains do, but she instead takes the long view of the situation and realizes that her pops was right.

    McCOY: What terrified you, specifically?

    KIRK: No more Neutral Zone. I was used to hating Klingons. It never even occurred to me to take Gorkon at his word.

    Like many folks, Kirk lets the past blind him from seeing the present—and, by the same token, the future. He's your classic racist, really. His prejudice against a specific group of people prevents him from even imagininga future in which that group of people could be pals with him. Now, however, he's seeing the light.

    SPOCK: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?

    Not a particularly funny one, Spock, but the bar is low where you're concerned. Of course, Spock's also totally right: he and Kirk have done great things in their careers, but there comes a time when we all must pass the baton to the next generation and empower those people to build the future.

    KIRK: Some people think the future means the end of history. Well, we haven't run out of history just yet.

    Inspired by Gorkon, Kirk now realizes that he has the opportunity to change the future. That's a heavy responsibility. Luckily, our boy Kirk works out like a fiend. Never skips leg day. Don't you remember the rock climbing scene in Star Trek V?

    KIRK: This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future.

    This will be the final mission for the original crew of Enterprise. While we longtime fans are bummed by this (read: undergoing mental breakdowns), it's encouraging that Kirk has such an optimistic view of the future. As for us, we're just happy we have The Next Generation. Let's just forget about Star Trek VII, though, okay?

  • Old Age

    KIRK: Spock says this could be an historic occasion and I'd like to believe him. But how on earth can history get past people like me?

    This is the question that consumes Kirk throughout The Undiscovered Country. How are people like him supposed to adapt to a new world in which everything they take for granted isn't true anymore? That'll really throw your head for a loop…

    SPOCK: This will be my final voyage on board this vessel as a member of her crew. Nature abhors a vacuum. I intend you to replace me.

    Spock is going through his own personal crisis, though in his case it revolves around the future of Enterprise. Like the rest of the crew, Spock will be saying goodbye to the ship he's long called home, and he's concerned about who will replace him. But who can replace Spock? That's impossible.

    GORKON: You don't trust me, do you? I don't blame you. If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.

    Gorkon knows exactly what's going through Kirk's head. Both men are relics of an era that's about to go kaput. The only difference is that Gorkon is working to build a better future, while Kirk is content sitting on his butt. Regardless, they can both be described as "grumpy old men," if that's what you're wondering.

    McCOY: Three months before retirement. What a way to finish.

    KIRK: We're not finished.

    McCOY: Speak for yourself. One day, one night—Kobayashi Maru.

    The "Kobayashi Maru" scenario is an infamous test in Starfleet Academy that is literally unwinnable. As legend goes, Kirk beat it by hacking the program. That's top-tier trolling, if you ask us. Context aside, McCoy is grousing about how ironic it is that their future was torn away from them just as it was within their grasp.

    KIRK: I was used to hating Klingons. It never even occurred to me to take Gorkon at his word. Spock was right.

    Finally, Kirk understands what Gorkon was trying to say all along. Their generation is marred by prejudice and distrust, but future generations don't have to travel down the same path. (Sound a bit like the Cold War generation to you?)

    SPOCK: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?

    His humor might be ehhhh, but his analysis of the situation is spot-on. Spock and Kirk have a great deal of wisdom and experience worth treasuring, but these same qualities also sometimes limit them from appreciating alternate points of view. This is a natural consequence of aging, to some extent.

    UHURA: We're to put her back into space dock immediately to be decommissioned.

    SPOCK: If I were human, I believe my response would be, "go to hell." If I were human.

    Most Star Trek movies include a moment in which Spock uncharacteristically utters a cuss word, and The Undiscovered Country is no exception. In this case, it's used to illustrate the crew's camaraderie on the eve of their obsolescence.

    CHEKOV: Course heading, Captain?

    KIRK: Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.

    This is a small moment, but it shows that Kirk has not given up his adventurous streak just yet. He might be older, but he's still the same rogue he always was.

    KIRK: This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew.

    For Trekkies like us, Kirk's final audio log is quite moving. Through the log, he finally makes peace with the fact that the world—and his place in it—is going to be very different in the near future. But that's okay. The important part is trusting the people who pick up the reins.

    KIRK: They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man, where no one, has gone before.

    Here, Kirk echoes Gorkon's thoughts on the "undiscovered country" of the future. This is a great way of emphasizing the respect he's developed for his former foe. It also cleverly references Star Trek's opening monologue to remind us that this is not actually an ending, but a new beginning. Maybe even...a next generation. Nailed it.