“If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it”
“Captain’s Log, stardate 9529.1. 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. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. 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.”
I am eternally grateful that the TOS cast got this movie as a final sendoff instead of Star Trek V. It’s a political thriller, a murder mystery, and a prison escape movie all in one, and it’s got a WHOLE BUNCH of Shakespeare references, which makes me happy.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
The Ship: U.S.S. Enterprise A (Constitution Class refit) in her final voyage (which would be sadder if we had gotten to know her better) and the U.S.S. Excelsior *hugs the Excelsior*
The Captain(s): Kirk and Sulu, respectively
The Premise: After a huge boom-y explosion (which is quite possibly the greatest first scene of any Star Trek movie ever), the Klingon Empire is in dire straits, so Spock, good guy that he is, sets up an unthinkable peace treaty between the Klingons and the Federation, which has everyone going “eeeeehhhh…”
Of course, Kirk is the ONLY ONE who can facilitate this meeting, because reasons. But after the most awkward diplomatic dinner ever (in which everyone is either quoting Shakespeare or making racist comments), the Enterprise fires on the Klingon ship and two masked crewmen assassinate the Chancellor (David Warner) as well as a bunch of his crew. But Spock doesn’t think that’s actually what happened (even though the ship’s records disagree), so he goes all detective-y and, with the help of his new protege, Valeris (a pre-Samantha Kim Cattrall), he tries to uncover a massive murder conspiracy that stretches throughout the Federation and the Klingon Empire before Kirk is executed for Gorkon’s murder by the Klingons.
The Best Moments: The opening credits are magnificent. An ominous overture turns violent and pounding and then as soon as it ends, the explosion of Praxis fills the whole screen. It’s pretty metal.
There are many beautiful dramatic scenes filled with complex character development and rich nuance, but I’ve got to say, the scene where Uhura is frantically learning Klingon so she can make up a response to the border patrol dude cracks me up every time (even though Uhura is amazing and totally would have already known how to speak Klingon, being communications officer for so long). Nonetheless, if you ever want to get me giggling like a crazy person, just come up to me and say “We am thy freighter Ursva.” Use this knowledge well.
Aside from all the amazing character stuff, I’m a big fan of the prison escape and the final battle. The former is beautifully shot and the latter is wonderfully paced and a lot of fun. Plus we get McCoy’s “I’d give real money if he’d shut up” line which is a very useful axiom for day-to-day life, especially this year in America where we are undergoing the
Presidential Idol Reality Show Presidential election..
I also loooooove the signatures before the end credits. It’s such a classy send-off to the crew that got this franchise going. I wish later crews had gotten a similar farewell.
Why It’s Awesome: The cast is really terrific. David Warner, who we’ve seen before, is classy AF as Chancellor Gorkon. He only has ten minutes of screen time, but he acts the hell out of those ten minutes.
Kim Cattrall, in her pre Sex and the City days, plays a complex character, a brash, passionate (for a Vulcan) traitor who goes from likable to despicable throughout the film. She was initially going to be Saavik, but I’m glad Cattrall was able to create her own character. I really couldn’t see Saavik betraying the Federation, anyway.
We also get Iman (David Bowie’s widow and an accomplished model as well as an actor) who plays an alluring shapeshifter who is both friend and/or foe. This movie has a lot of morally ambiguous grey characters and Martia is a great example.
And then, of course, there’s General Chang (Christopher Plummer). He’s sort of a more mature iteration of Khan, with a Shakespeare quote for every situation. He’s reactionary, obsessive, lethal, cunning, and grandiose, but he’s also charming and intelligent. I love his character progression as his many layers fall away. He’s the sort of person who is very good at changing his personality to suit the situation, so it’s fun to get at his radical core. He’s not necessarily the most iconic villain Trek has ever seen, but he is definitely a fascinating character.
The score for this one rocks as well. Cliff Eidelman only did the one score, but it has a unique quality to it that really stands out. Initially, Gustav Holst’s modernist suite The Planets was going to be used for the music, but that idea was nixed when the royalties proved prohibitively massive. Instead, Eidelman took inspiration from Holst in creating his own score. While it’s not the greatest Trek score ever, it’s pretty darn close. If you ever want to make a big entrance, play the thundering opening credits theme while you do so. Don’t laugh. Do it.
Also, it’s nice to see the Excelsior being all sexy and amazing without feeling guilty for liking it so much. Screw pictures of boybands or wrestlers, I want a huge poster of the Excelsior on my wall. *heart eyes emoji*
At least until the Sovereign class comes out…but that’s for later.
I do also want to add that there is a director’s cut which I always assumed was the theatrical cut. I never got to see this one in theaters, so I always assumed that Colonel West (played by Rene Auberjonois who would later play Odo in DS9) was always in the movie. Apparently his scenes were cut from the theatrical release but restored for the VHS release. They also show up in the special edition DVD set (but not the newer blu-ray releases). It’s not a huge change, but it would feel weird having the shorter run time without those scenes when one has grown up with that particular version.
We’ll see folks from the TOS era in later Star Trek iterations (especially TNG and DS9), but this story is their last big outing, and I’m so happy that it’s as good as it is. It’s not perfect, of course, and there are some plot holes here and there, but all-in-all, it’s an entertaining, smart story that hold up pretty well, even if you’re not a Trek fan.
After this, we’ll be leaping forward from the 23rd century to the 24th century, so break out the new uniforms! It’s time for the next generation!