Study Guide

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Introduction

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Introduction

Release Year: 1986

Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi

Director: Leonard Nimoy

Writers: Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennett

Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Catherine Hicks, DeForest Kelley

Here's something only a true Trekkie could tell you: The Voyage Home is the conclusion to Star Trek's unofficial trilogy. Beginning with 1982's The Wrath of Khan and continuing through 1984's The Search for Spock, this low-key trilogy represents the best Star Trek has to offer.

You might be surprised, then, to find out that The Voyage Home defies every Star Trek convention under the sun. There's no villain. There's no Enterprise. Oh, yeah, and did we mention that it takes place in 1986? Yes, we know what you're thinking—The Voyage Home is the only Star Trek film to be set in an era when Huey Lewis and the News was an active band.

Forget about A.D. or C.E., or however you mark your time periods. We prefer A.H.L.N.—After Huey Lewis and the News.

Anyway, this baby was directed by Leonard Nimoy, who plays Spock. Nimoy's directorial approach emphasizes naturalism over epic sci-fi insanity, and that's a factor that further contributes to The Voyage Home's unique status in the Star Trek franchise. It might also have contributed to its overall success: it was the most profitable film in the series, and it even earned four Academy Award nominations.

Here's the lowdown: in 2286, a giant space probe is detected heading toward Earth, disabling nearby ships using a strange audio signal. When it finally reaches Earth, it causes widespread power outages and weather disturbances on the planet's surface. It seems like the end is near.

Luckily, Admiral James T. Kirk and his crew are here to save the day. They determine that the strange audio signal is, in fact, a recording of—drum roll, please—humpback whales, a species that has been extinct for hundreds of years.

So what do our heroes do? They pull a Dr. Frank-N-Furter and do the time warp again. Ending up in San Francisco in 1986, the crew must locate humpbacks and bring them to the future, all the while trying to make sense of the primitive 20th-century world. Live long and prosper? Not in 1986, apparently.

In this way, The Voyage Home doles out incisive social commentary like candy on Halloween. Our use of language? Barbaric. Our technology? Shockingly primitive. Our system of medicine? Indistinguishable from medieval torture. In these and many more ways, The Voyage Home forces us to reexamine our preconceptions about society.

Hey, it might not feature as many space battles as you're used to, but The Voyage Home is a whale of a good time…


What is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home About and Why Should I Care?

Did cavemen know they were cavemen? Did barbarians know they were barbarians? Did medieval barbers realize that it was insane to slap leeches on their patients?

Basically, we're asking if people in the past knew the limitations of their perspectives. When looking back at humanity's history, it's hard not to be horrified by our former practices, whether we're talking about slavery, warfare, or even basic hygiene. How could those people not realize that what they were doing was wrong?

The Enterprise crew members ask themselves the same questions when they travel back to 1986. Did people really use so much profanity? Did they really think that "money" was a smart system? And why, oh, why did they abuse the environment with such reckless disregard for their own future?

These questions, unfortunately, don't have easy answers—but that's the point. In the same way that superstitious medieval villagers didn't see anything wrong with burning "witches" at the stake, we don't see anything wrong with these clearly negative aspects of our society.

That's what The Voyage Home is here for. Through humor and satire, the film unpacks our society and lays its failings out for all to see, ultimately giving us a better understanding of our era's place in the context of history. We've never heard of Star Wars doing something like that. Just sayin'.


In a move that would have radically changed the movie, The Voyage Home was originally set to feature the great Eddie Murphy. Murphy ultimately turned down the role because, as a true fanboy, he just wanted to play a Starfleet officer. His part was rewritten and became Gillian Taylor. (Source)

An early draft of the script featured the crew's Klingon ship flying over the Super Bowl. That would have been some halftime show. (Source)

Remember the scene when Chekov asks passersby if they know where to find nuclear "wessels"? This scene was shot with hidden cameras to give it a "cinéma vérité" feel. In addition, the woman who responds to Chekov wasn't actually supposed to say anything, but the filmmakers liked the moment so much they left it in the film. (Source)

When he first joined the original Star Trek series, George Takei (who plays Sulu) was skeptical of its chances for success. And why? He thought that it was too high quality. We've seen enough long-running bad TV shows to know that the dude wasn't entirely wrong. (Source)

The rude punk rocker is Kirk Thatcher, one of the film's producers. The filmmakers even wrote the song he plays and gave it a lovely title: "I Hate You." (Source)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Resources


The Star Trek Homepage
True Trekkies already have this page bookmarked.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Because we know you want to save the humpbacks.

Book or TV Adaptations

The Voyage Home, the Novel
No Star Trek movie would be complete without a schlocky novelization. It's part of the magic.

Articles and Interviews

"How to Make Music With a Whale"
This fascinating piece provides insight into the concept of whale songs, which is key to The Voyage Home.

"A Star Trek Future Might Be Closer Than We Think"
Yes, please. We're tired of cooking food. We just want replicators already.

President Obama on Why Star Trek Is Important
When's the last time a president talked about the Force, Star Wars fans? Yeah, that's what we thought.


Humpback Whales Could Be the Superheroes of the Ocean
See how humpback whales have been observed defending small ocean animals from brutal killer whales. D'aww.

Behind the Scenes of The Voyage Home
Although this is pretty much just a slideshow of production shots, it's still a must-watch for any hardcore Star Trek fan.


Remembering Leonard Nimoy
This moving piece remembers the life and career of the one-of-a-kind Leonard Nimoy after his death in 2015.

Star Trek Turns 50
This NPR piece honors the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, in 2016.


Humpback Whale
This is a humpback whale. It is the key to your future. Protect it well.

Spock and the Punk Rocker
Wait—they're friends in real life? Everything we know is a lie.

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