Star Trek III: the Search for Spock

Premièred by Paramount Pictures
Star Trek III: the Search for Spock
Written by Harve Bennett

The death-and-resurrection formula has been used in the hero’s journey so often that it’s become a labelled stage of the hero’s journey, the “Abyss”, which is considered a time of revelation for the characters involved in the mono-myth. It dates back as far as the death and return of Jesus Christ in the Gospel, and the general versions of that story’s been referenced by most stories featuring a character who returns from the dead.

In The Final Problem (Arthur Conan Doyle), Watson recalls how Hudson described Moriarty as having a face like the Devil. It climaxes with the apparent death of Sherlock Holmes, who’s believed to have fallen into the Reichenbach Falls, described as an “abyss”. In the following Holmes story, The Empty House, Holmes returns.

Biblical narrative was already a source of material for Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan (Jack B. Sowards), where Spock was last seen as he died in an act of self-sacrifice above the Genesis planet battling a fallen prince consumed by hate. His casket was labelled “Mark VI”, an obvious allusion to the description of Christ’s death and resurrection in chapter six of Gospel of Mark (Mark the Evangelist). Those Biblical allusions were part of made Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan such a substantial story; the references were woven into the story appropriately, as opposed to being included to seem interesting. Which is why it makes sense for a sequel to return to those themes – Kirk’s returning to Genesis, and to that story. The problem is, it’s difficult to do that when a story’s pre-determined. In fact, it’s difficult to really do anything original in a pre-determined story, because, unlike most stories which just follow a general format, Star Trek III: the Search for Spock already had more pre-requisites than usual: it has to explain how Spock returns, why he mind-melded with McCoy before his death, what happens to Vulcans after they die, how this fits into the aftermath to the creation of the Genesis planet, and it needs to have an antagonist. Tough order of the day to serve right.

Ultimately, though, that’s not the largest flaw with Star Trek III: the Search for Spock. Because, regardless of those things, the one thing we know is that Spock returns. That’s the goal Kirk’s trying to complete, and we know that happens, because otherwise Spock couldn’t be in a potential Star Trek IV. Paramount made no attempt to cover up that ending. Or indeed, any of it. The Enterprise’s destruction wasn’t just alluded to in the tagline –

“All that they loved, all that they fought for, all that they stood for will now be put to the test… Join us on this, the final voyage of the starship Enterprise.”

– but was even shown in the trailer:

It’s not as if you can blame Paramount. Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan had been a phenomenal success, and money makes the movies. While one title they could have used is Star Trek III: the Search for More Money, perhaps a more appropriate one would’ve been Star Trek III: the Enterprise Destructs at the End – as opposed to the previous one, Star Trek: Spock Dies at the End. Then again, Star Trek III: Spock Returns at the End is at least more accurate, because he’s barely in it. And I know he’s seen for most of the story, but all he’s doing is rapidly ageing due to the unstable atmosphere of Genesis. You know, the place he was taken after his death? Why is Kirk “search”ing for Spock? He knows where he is. Or is he on Genesis, and not McCoy’s head, having transferred him his katra. Exactly what a “katra” is doesn’t really get much development – why transfer the mind of a dead Vulcan into another, living Vulcan? I know the Vulcans are logical, but that’s just weird. So Spock is either in this in a large capacity or a small capacity, but either way, the Vulcan child we see on Genesis isn’t Spock until he does at least get his “katra” back, even if that’s an under-developed concept. Why he was even a child on Genesis is also a very arbitrary element of the plot – he was dead, so surely Genesis should just return him to life? Why did Spock even bother leaving the Mark VI without his burial robe? Especially since half of Genesis is just snow.

It’s possible I’m over-thinking this, but it’s directed by Leonard Nimoy. He is Spock. He understands Vulcans more than anyone. Personally, I think Spock should have stayed dead for it to actually mean anything, and this really proves why. Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan had set-up Spock’s death in such a perfect way that going back to it means moving forward with remaining elements. It’s basically saying “write your way out of it”, picking-up with leftover story and trying to carrying-it on. And it’s that kind of storytelling that leads to questions like “why didn’t Saavik tell Kirk Spock needed returning to Vulcan?”

And as if to make things even more confusing, it turns out that by the end, he still isn’t Spock, because his memories are still developing. He just about recognises Kirk, but we’re left on a cliffhanger. Say what you will, it’s really more of an afterthought to Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan, rather than a next chapter of the story that feels as if it needs telling.

Star Trek: the Search for “Spock”(?)

3 responses to “Star Trek III: the Search for Spock”

  1. I’m not sure if TWOK intended any Christian allusions. Jack B. Sowards had nothing to do with the final screenplay, and neither of the two actual writers (Nicholas Meyer nor Harve Bennett) came from Christian backgrounds (and neither did Leonard Nimoy, for that matter). That said, I rewatched ST III last year and enjoyed it from moment to moment. It wasn’t as great a script as ST II (and what could be?) but, in the Star Trek film franchise as a whole (including the TNG movies and the last two reboots), it’s still probably in the top third in terms of overall quality …


    • Indeed. I like to think as a film that does at least have some great moments – the emotional descent of the Enterprise, meeting Sarek, McCoy getting his own subplot and even Kirk’s coat. I just don’t consider it on the basis of everything combined.


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