Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. What a horrible title. Putting the name of the guy who died in the last movie right in the title of its sequel can mean only one thing: he’s coming back. Just imagine Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Search For Han Solo, or Zombieland 2: The Search For Bill Murray. And the fact that Leonard Nimoy would be directing this entry probably didn’t keep a single “Trekkie” in suspense for very long. A more appropriate subtitle may have been The Vulcan Mind, or something that didn’t specifically refer to Spock. Or maybe they should have done another sequel to a popular episode from the show like last time. But it doesn’t matter now. Spock’s passing was a pivotal moment, and it would have been illogical not to build on that momentum.
Picking up immediately where The Wrath of Khan left off, the crippled Enterprise returns to Starfleet where it’s expected to be decommissioned. But Bones (DeForest Kelley) begins exhibiting erratic Spock-like behavior, prompting investigation by Admiral Kirk (William Shatner). Meanwhile, on planet Genesis, a group of Klingons (whose leader is played by Christopher Lloyd) have arrived with plans to steal the Genesis technology for destructive purposes. Despite orders from Starfleet against it, Kirk and his old crew steal the Enterprise and head back to planet Genesis in search of their dear departed friend.
Expecting the quality of The Wrath of Khan to repeat itself here would have been unrealistic. Not that this entry is bad, but it falls very neatly into the “good-not-great” category. First-time-director Leonard Nimoy handles the brand name with care, giving each of his castmate’s at least one memorable scene, however brief. Sulu’s (George Takei) “Don’t call me tiny” scene remains a highlight. The rest of the cast proves their worth, happily reminding fans what makes them such a strong team. And William Shatner even gets one of his most memorable scenes ever when a certain realization causes him to break down in front of his entire crew. It’s very un-Kirk-like, which is what makes it so perfect.
The biggest problem with this entry is that it’s one of those sequels that completely undoes the consequences of the previous movie. Things like Spock dying, the Genesis technology able to produce life from non-life, etc. It’s kind of like hitting the reset button before you’ve saved your game. You feel so cheated, like: all that progress for nothing. I don’t know what Leonard Nimoy was hoping to achieve by doing this, but the whole thing feels so… illogical. More than that, the whole movie just seems to lack the intensity one might expect. It feels more TV-movie-ish than the last two entries. Dramatic scenes don’t have enough impact, rendering a certain tragic moment significantly less powerful than it could otherwise have been. (Although it is unexpected, which is always nice.) But after it’s over, you can’t help but wonder if it could have been something more.
Many third entries are expected (at least at the time) to be the final entry in a trilogy, and Star Trek III certainly has such a feel. Having Kirk essentially forfeit his career with Starfleet, not to mention what happens to their ship (no spoilers), gives the viewer a sense that the Enterprise crew’s space adventures are coming to an end here and now. If they thought the best way to end the franchise was to hit the reset button, they should have remembered that time travel is a thing in the Star Trek universe. (Like in the next movie.) The Search For Spock is neither great nor terrible, just incredibly average.
3 out of 5