We are immersed in the meaning of the death of Han Solo. As we ponder how the man who skeptically called the Force a bunch of “simple tricks and nonsense” who then four decades later admitted “It’s real. All of it,” we stand in awe of the attempt to recreate that which the Spirit of ’77 gave us. But as we gather into the house of worship in which we try to relive our childhood vicariously through a demoralized storm trooper and a determined girl on a desert planet who does not know how to quit, we are forgetting that this trilogy truly is not the second trilogy. Writer-Director Kevin Smith got it right in one of his endless Q & A’s in which someone referred to Episodes I, II, and III as ‘the Trilogy’ or even to Tolkien’s dramatic crash onto the screen about the same time: “there is only one trilogy,” Smith angrily declared. There can be only one. But…you can have a second place and that place does not belong to the second set of Star Wars films in the late Ninties/early Otts. The second best trilogy ever made off this world is the one in which Captain James T. Kirk faces death in the face, loses and becomes so inconsolable with grief that he resurrects the only person in the universe with whom he had a human connection…the irony being of course that Mr. Spock is only half human.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a catastrophe produced by the finest minds in Hollywood and directed by one of the greatest directors who ever lived. After he edited Citizen Kane for Orson Welles, Robert Wise directed The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, and a multitude of others that formulate a long list that makes you say ‘oh, yeah…” But the film itself, despite its jaw dropping special effects, is only a response to the insane space opera money maker at Fox Studios down the street. Every studio looked at their inventory and brushed off whatever they had in an attempt to cash in on Star Wars. In many cases, sets and models made for one sci-fi film were simply reused with a different case and script. My favorite is a ludicrous romp in a strange ET-like spacecraft with Jon Boy from Little House on the Prairie. We can expect Paramount to stumble facing the all mighty George Lucas who had greats like Brian DePalma giving him editing notes and Steven Spielberg recommending story changes on Laurence Kasdan’s already fantastic script. How was Herve Bennett going to compete? Easy. He scaled back the production cost and let the actors have a say on the characters they were portraying.
Resurrecting Khan was no small feat. Who but the most ardent fans of the TV show would remember fifteen years later the Space Seed that brought the genetically superior being with the fatal flaw of having arrogance as Hubris? Ricardo Maltoban didn’t flinch. Next was the how to get Kirk into space if he was promoted as Admiral and the excuse of an emergency had already been used in the first film. Answer: training exercise to test the Enterprises’ new overhaul. This was all fine and dandy to go catch the villain but Kirk had met villains before and his wits had already proven him to be not smarter by any means but definitely willing to do something his adversaries could not in order to win: the special ability to defeat a no-win scenario: Kirk had a lifetime of Kobayashi Marus…the Carbomite Maneuver being one of the TV show’s most famous. But down to the wire, The Wrath of Khan had gone where no man had gone before when finally Kirk over reached himself and though he outwitted Khan in his attempt to hold hostage the federation he failed to save his crew in the nick of time. It was Spock who recognized the danger the ship faced…the hundreds of innocents on board…could be bought with a life. His life. To Spock, it was worth it: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” but to Kirk it was never acceptable to lose anyone…despite convenient red shirts left all over the galaxy…and this loss of his was most bitter. Had Kirk been quick enough in thought he would have beat Spock to the punch and sacrificed himself, as against his nature that would be, but he wasn’t. And he was ashamed. The dialogue through the speaker is one of the hardest, most emotional scenes filmed between two men on screen, and it defines the platonic love that binds men together as Spock straightens his uniform lest he appear less than an officer to his Captain.
Spock: The ship…out of danger?
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The
needs of the many outweigh-
Kirk: The needs of the few…
Spock: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru
test until now. What do you think of my solution?
Spock: I have been, and always shall be, your
friend. Live long…and prosper.
When Kirk’s voice breaks we see a man defeated in one of the most powerful deliveries in cinema. Defeated by Khan. Defeated by himself. Defeated by a career built around the notion that defeat was implausible. But all of this changed. Afraid of growing old at the beginning of the film, Kirk was now feeling younger with his older Vulcan friend gone, buried on a planet that unbeknownst to him was regenerating his body.
With Spock gone it gave what some producers at Paramount jokes was the reality of a MAD Magazine title Star Trek: In Search of Plot. Leonard Nimoy, an actor with great stage experience and who had written numerous plays threw his weight behind getting the directing role and showing the human commitment one can have to reverse the collective thought of the rational mind that justifies so many evils in favor of the triumph of the individual. The Search for Spock is a powerful rebuttal to those who assume that a majority always rules, that human rights are negotiable, that everything must be balanced and no thought given to the idea that a sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Spock’s friends and Starfleet colleagues cared so much about him they violated a dozen laws that could land them in jail, hijacked a starship and disabled another in their effort to retrieve Spock’s body. The purpose of the effort was only possible because of a last minute thought Nimoy had at the end of Khan that was thrown in as a ‘just in case.’ It worked brilliantly. Before dying, Spock copied his memory into McCoy’s brain, hoping that Kirk could find an answer from Sarek, Spock’s father, on how to release it. McCoy/Spock in contrast brought humor to a dark situation when Klingons, desperate to take control of the genesis device, lay waste to all before them, including a young scientist trying to keep the device out of the hands of the Klingons. David was Kirk’s son, and he died a hero, believing that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.
In another powerful moment that rivals most Shakespearean plays (which makes sense because Shatner is a Shakespearean actor), Kirk collapses in absolute grief and anger, repeating to the bridge: “Those Klingon bastards have killed my son.” McCoy tries to intervene but he doesn’t have to. Kirk used his moment of grief to escape another Kobayashi Maru. Luring the multitude of Klingons onto the Enterprise, Kirk detonates it as they escape to the genesis planet hoping to lure the Klingons to the surface in a trap to take control. The Klingons know it is a trap, but like Khan they are arrogant and cruel, misplacing the belief that clever equates smarts. They took his son, they took his ship. But they couldn’t take Kirk. Retrieving Spock’s body, the crew has an ancient Vulcan ceremony performed to take Spock’s imprint out of McCoy’s head and back to his own. It works, but it is not perfect, and it is right that it should not be. Nothing can be the same again after sacrificing so much.
The new Spock parallels his colleagues in The Voyage Home – Earth is not his home but they are his home and he must find his way. The 25th Century being what it is, the crew must use the intense gravity of the sun to slingshot around to a speed that will take them back five centuries in time to find a water mammal that can answer a foreign probe that threatens to destroy the future Earth. The crew is beset with problems, not the least of which is they stand out like a sore thumb. It is no wonder. These actors are in their 50’s by The Voyage Home. One has to remember that Scotty doesn’t have a full index finger on his right hand because the actor, James Doohan, had it shot off on D-Day.
Environmentalism has always been controversial and it has been hard for Hollywood to tackle the subject with a clear morality not spoiled by numbers and figures that muddle the mind or power point programs that seem way too obvious to believe. But The Voyage Home works like most films with causes work: because they are subtle and don’t preach to a people who want the message but not at the cost of entertainment. This is why The Voyage Home is such a successful film and Michael Crighton’s State of Fear has never been made into a movie. Punctuating this message is a tense schedule to get the crew home and laughs, laughs, laughs and lots of laughs that Trekkies never forget, always repeat from a masterful script and an overall cheap production. The film is so good that Kirk sitting in his chair giving directions to his crew as they fly back to the sun should be a model for all future films dealing with military rank and protocol execution. It’s quick, not overbearing, and gets you to the next scene without sacrificing screen time which would confuse the audience that such cut would treat as too stupid to follow. And…in the end Kirk got to win his Kobayashi Maru. The crew put themselves at risk in order to save the ‘many’ at the expense of the ‘few’ but they knew their captain would never let them down. He didn’t even let Spock down. The kicker is that nothing less but saving the world would save Kirk and his crew from all of their violations in The Search for Spock but lucky enough for them they’ve done it – twice now in the movies – and are relegated back to where they should be, as Kirk says at the end: “second star to the right, and on ‘till morning.”
This trilogy is amazing. It has everything you could possibly want in a dramatic space opera without involving light sabers or princesses. The heavy themes of life, death how not to live one (gallivanting around the universe doing what exactly?) and how to cheat them both in order to preserve them for all mankind. Star Wars is fun. It’s exciting. It’s Flash Gordon on steroids, but it is not Shakespeare. Trek is Shakespeare. You can hear it in the lonely trumpet that wails a long trail of notes in the main theme of the film. It is the individual shouting out the need to save the many but recognizing that sometimes sacrifice doesn’t pay off. Such themes are why The 80’s Stark Trek films are the real ‘Second Trilogy.”