star trek: the motion picture
as a star trek fan, it’s interesting from a historical standpoint how much of the dna of the aborted television series star trek: phase ii made it into the motion picture. you have new characters like willard decker, commander sonak (the film’s equivalent of lieutenant xon), and the deltan lieutenant illia. honestly, in retrospect it’s kind of crazy that all of them were introduced in this film just so it could almost immediately get them out of the way to reset us with the original crew we all know and love. did roddenberry and company essentially think, “well, we went to all the trouble of developing these characters, we might as well use them for something”?
i do at least appreciate that the conflict in this isn’t as cut and dry as “there are other, bad spaceships and we have to shoot them with our spaceship!” there’s a lot of this film’s core that feels more authentically “star trek” than maybe even some of the other, more enjoyable films.
it’s definitely one of the most unique films in the star trek series. it’s just too bad it’s so similar to watching paint dry.
star trek ii: the wrath of khan
(cw: i read spock/kirk/mccoy into a polycule and explicitly talk about kink a bunch. i am not sorry.)
“this is damned peculiar. yellow alert.”
it was rather nice to actually have someone to hold me this time when spock’s death made me ugly cry.
i love watching movies with my partner because we’re both cool with each other nitpicking the heck out of them and we both know that isn’t what makes the movies in question “good” or “bad.” what matters is a movie’s heart. and whether or not we enjoyed them.
(also, i’m not super sure “good”/”bad” is an especially helpful framing for talking about movies in the first place anymore, but y’know.)
so! one thing i totally forgot to mention in my sttmp review is that kirk and spock and mccoy are totally a polycule. we didn’t really work out the specifics of how that polycule worked while we were watching tmp (we were also hella baked, tbf), but we had a discussion about it during this and came to the objectively correct conclusion that kirk is a switch, spock is a top, and mccoy is a brat. so, there you go. solved.
sttmp was the story of their polycule getting back together after going their separate ways, so it was basically part of the first arc of love live! sunshine!!. (you’re welcome and/or no, i’m not sorry.) wrath of khan sees brat mccoy celebrate switch kirk’s birthday with him because daddy spock is busy working, but they join him soon enough. spock even lets kirk pretend to be in charge, just like old times!!! but he’s there to keep him in line if need be, also just like old times.
also, this movie is about spock’s polycule getting to know their new metamour, saavik! she’s very brash, i think it’s reasonably likely that she and spock have a less d/s relationship, and might have designs on co-domming with each other. she certainly does bully her metamours a bunch, constantly negging kirk for not knowing starfleet regulations, and even forcing her way onto an away team mission with them so she can hang out with spock’s polycule without him and get to know them better.
things get hella awkward when kirk’s abusive ex khan shows up, though. and just to make matters even more complicated his other ex, carol, is wrapped up in the whole thing. it’s all just a lot to deal with and the entire polycule has to rally around him.
this also makes spock’s sacrifice even harder somehow? yes he’s sacrificing himself for the entire crew but you know it’s really for his subs, and hi any of my dommes who are reading this *glares* you are not allowed to do that thanks. mccoy has the misfortune of being on the scene when this happens, and spock puts him into subspace to keep him out of the way long enough to do what must be done.
when he regains his faculties, mccoy desperately begs spock to “get out of there” but it’s too late. kirk, innocent of this horrible knowledge, finds out only when he calls engineering. and that’s when he hears his co-sub’s broken voice. “jim… i think you’d better get down here.” jubilation turns to dread. “bones?” he asks with obvious concern and confusion. “better… hurry.” and then he notices the empty chair.
he rushes through the entire freaking ship to get to engineering before the unthinkable happens. he tries to fight through mccoy and scotty’s grip to save his partner, even after being warned that he’ll flood the entire compartment with radiation, putting himself and everyone else at risk. only when he’s told it’s already too late to make a difference does he relent, defeated. there’s nothing he can do.
he’s shattered by this. he sheds some of the rare tears you’ll ever see the character shed at the funeral. it’s not quite right that mccoy and saavik don’t also get to speak, so we’ll just assume that happens offscreen. either way… they have to say goodbye.
… look. let me reiterate that i’m not sorry.
i do have to say though… as much as i was mostly joking about khan being kirk’s abusive ex dom, wow his character has even more dommy energy in the episode where he’s introduced (“space seed”) than he does in this feature film???
his entire seduction of mcgivers is SO bdsmy. at one point he demanded that she “go, or stay, but do so because you WISH to” at which point i joked she should “get on her knees because she wishes to” NOT EXPECTING HER TO ACTUALLY LITERALLY DO THAT??? and at that point he says “it is no longer enough for you to wish to stay, you must ask me.”
WOOF. you basically just saw power exchange negotiation happen in a star trek tos episode, y’all.
star trek iii: the search for spock
(cw: abuse, sexual assault, and yeah i do that thing again where i read spock/kirk/mccoy as a polycule, kink/power exchange)
i’ve been a huge star trek fan since i was quite young, so i was familiar with a lot of the broad strokes of the narrative behind the show’s (and movies’) production. it’s only recently that i learned that i was familiar with a sanitized version of that story. one that mentioned roddenberry was a pilot, but not that he was a cop and a soldier. one that mentioned that star trek was saved by a heroic “letter-writing campaign” by fans, but not that that letter-writing campaign was patient zero for weaponized toxic fandom.1
one that didn’t mention that gene roddenberry was heard bragging about casting women he wanted to have sex with in minor roles.
one that didn’t mention that roddenberry was accused of being verbally abusive by scores of people (mostly women) he fired. or that he was physically abusive to his first wife.
one that didn’t mention that grace lee whitney was sexually assaulted by “an executive” on the set,2 and that it is rather strongly suspected by many that the “executive” was roddenberry himself. which kind of goes a way to explain why a show that otherwise made space for women to have greater agency than many of its contemporaries had so many damn rapey subplots for this character. and after all that, she was fired.
and whereas x-men was a case of singer just kind of picking up the reins of a franchise that meant a great deal to him as a boy, star trek is roddenberry’s brainchild and most of the most essential elements of it are ones that he had to fight tooth and nail for.
which is why i appreciate that the video i link to in the endnotes makes the case that star trek was never just roddenberry’s. there was a highly dedicated team of professionals working behind the scenes to make the impossible possible. as the video calls out, people like d.c. fontana. people like leonard nimoy, who directed this film and its successor. (and who, it’s worth noting, was apparently grace lee whitney’s main source of support when she was at her lowest point.)
i used to think it was a bad thing that gene got “kicked upstairs,” that “his” franchise was taken away from him… but it was never his. it had become something bigger. and a big part of that was the effort of other people cleaning up his messes.
(the part of the broader strokes narrative that i was familiar with in the past that i still agree with is that rick berman can go to hell, but that’s a rant for another day.)
anyway, this is the movie where jim and bones have to try to make their polycule whole again while bereft of their dom’s guidance. i do have to say that i find it disheartening that when it became clear that jim didn’t have spock’s katra, he and sarek didn’t just automatically assume that the third member of their triad had it. c’mon, jim. have some faith in y’all’s mutual boyfriend.
i liked robin curtis as saavik pretty much to the same extent that i liked kirstie alley in wrath of khan. i don’t really feel like anything was lost there, and i wish the character had remained more integral to the series.
it might be my imagination but the enterprise seemed extra gorgeous in this? like, i just loved a lot of the angles they shot it from, i guess? idk. i also think the excelsior class is rad as heck. and the scene where the bridge crew steals the enterprise has always been one of my favorites in the series.
i get that this isn’t wrath of khan or anything, but i’ve always had a soft spot for search for spock, and i think it’s at least good enough to disprove the whole “the odd-numbered ones are always bad!!!” thing.
star trek iv: the voyage home
i can never decide whether this or wrath of khan is my favorite. right now i feel like it’s wrath of khan but idkkkkkkkk they’re so hard to compare to each other. (the undiscovered country used to be my favorite just to be contrarian. actually i’m pretty sure it’s because wrath of khan was the first trek movie i saw and i saw it over and over because it was the only one we had on vhs and i started to take it for granted.)
the political situation in the galaxy is pretty confused in this? like, the klingon ambassador is yelling at the president of the federation because a rogue klingon ship got blown up in federation space? and the vulcan ambassador makes a dramatic entrance like a wrestler rushing in to interfere with a match and the klingon ambassador is like UH THE VULCANS ARE THE PUPPETS OF THE FEDERATION and like… excuse me??? the vulcans are IN the federation??? which is who you’re negotiating with? for… some reason?
this gets even more confusing in the undiscovered country when the romulan ambassador is CLEARLY written/played by people who have no idea that romulans aren’t vulcans AND is treated like a trusted ally by the federation president??? idk this aspect of the movies is kind of a mess.
WHY DID YOU PUT GIANT BAY WINDOWS IN YOUR SITUATION ROOM. I DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE STORM, THAT’S JUST A BAD IDEA IN GENERAL.
… hey. hey. who cares? this movie was clearly written by someone who was VERY, VERY high. like. HEY MAN. WHAT IF. WHAT IF THERE WAS THIS… THIS LIKE ALL-POWERFUL PROBE. AND IT WANTED TO TALK TO THE WHALES, MAN.
why is everyone wearing the clothes they wore in star trek iii. surely you can get some new clothes on vulcan? it’s the second most important planet in the federation. please change. you probably smell.
HEY WHEN YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE CREW MEMBER OR THE OTHER MAYBE DON’T LEAVE THE RUSSIAN ON THE NUCLEAR-POWERED NAVAL SHIP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COLD WAR.
i actually kinda wish the crew had been given the excelsior like the ending head-faked at. the setup was definitely there for it (from a movie ago, even!), the excelsior is COOL-looking, and it wouldn’t make casual fans have that head-scratching moment of like “wait how did they make a ship that fast.” then again, you might not get the enterprise registry number lettering scheme thing, which becomes a feature of the franchise, and is a thing i rather like. maybe they coulda just recommissioned the excelsior as the enterprise-a though? idk.
(for the record, roddenberry said they recommissioned the yorktown. which is hilarious because you see that ship’s captain in one of the starfleet command scenes calling for assistance, and you’re like “hey bud, i don’t want to make your day worse or anything but…” but that isn’t canon and there is an alternate explanation floating out there so who knows. but i just love the yorktown explanation because it makes that part of the movie just very tragically funny.)
i’m guessing one of the reasons this was so great was that nicholas meyer helped with the script. like, it’s basically time after time? and time after time is suuuuuuper underrated. it freaking rules. i want more movies like this.
spock’s polycule is having a hard time dealing with his memory loss though. i hope they pull through ok. spock gets the BEST lines in this, though.
on a personal note, living in the bay area now makes me appreciate the setting of this movie even more. like, i’m literally thinking OH COOL I’VE BEEN THERE at times, and also wondering how the HECK they’re going up and down those hills like they’re nothing.
… oh shit, they have to quarantine the earth and no one has any idea how things are going to turn out and they all have to shelter in place. that kind of hits differently right now.
let’s end on a good note. uh. i like whales.
star trek v: the final frontier
(cw: drug use, explicit allusions to sexual acts)
i joked to one of my girlfriends while watching blade runner about how like “they forgot to put the MOVIE in there. like, they forgot the MOVIE part of the movie.” that’s actually also star trek v’s problem in a nutshell, which… congrats to me for probably being the first person in human history to compare star trek v to blade runner. i’m not sorry.
my partner and i got EXTREMELY high for this in the hopes that it would make it better and it didn’t, y’all.
i hated this movie so much even before i knew that bill “i say cuck & sjw on the internet because im edgy” shatner was a terrible human being, and i hate it even more now. it only exists in the form it does now because billiam saw nimoy direct the last two movies, stamped his foot, and whined “no fair!!! i can do that too!!!” and you can’t, billiam.
there are just. so many ways in which this is bad. there’s SOME good stuff with the polycule hanging out at the beginning but even parts of that are kinda meh. the whole “oh no the enterprise is broken!!!” angle is aggressively dumb both in concept and execution.
when i was a kid i appreciated all the shuttlecraft stuff and like the bird of prey sneak attacking the enterprise late in the movie, but it just doesn’t make up for the rest of the movie.
the entire tone of the movie feels vastly different than any other star trek movie. it feels a little similar to some of the worst episodes of tos, and like… i guess you could almost defend it as a worthy successor on those grounds??? i guess??? but like… in movie terms it’s just a really awkward, sloppy comedy that isn’t funny??? like… it’s just… it’s just NOT funny??? and that just really sinks it.
i can’t say for sure that this movie missed its target, but it was a BAD target and it should feel bad.
star trek vi: the undiscovered country
it’s the end of the space cold war. this movie’s perspective is so american and weird. spock gives a speech at a podium and afterwards talks to jim and says the vulcans have a saying “only nixon could go to china.” somebody says something about “the end of history.” it’s just so anachronistic and weird hearing these words coming out of these characters’ mouths.
the end of the space cold war is ushered in by a moon blowing up. a misfortune that comes from inside the borders of the klingon empire and wasn’t anybody’s fault. in reality the cold war ended thanks to decades of unremitting economic warfare and callous sabotage by the imperialists, coupled with an overly top-heavy government that increasingly took more responsibility out of the hands of their citizens. by the time the soviet union fell, its rank and file citizens were basically no longer actively participating in the revolution and could only stand by and watch helplessly as bystanders while the collapse of their way of life unfolded.
despite it having always been their subtextual function, the klingons just aren’t that useful as an analog to the soviet union because they aren’t communists. the cold war was a stark, obvious ideological conflict between those who wanted the exploiters to continue being in charge of society to the detriment of its people & the planet we live on and those who wanted to build a better world. and that’s just not the case here at all.
the conflict is divorced from its real-world motivations, turned into this fantasy of an “apolitical” conflict where everyone was paranoid and what side you’re on is supposedly based on some arbitrary geographic accident of your birth. and it’s solved by everybody just… sort of deciding to get along. definitely not by the side that was objectively in the right if we’re going to survive as a species being defeated by underhanded means.
in spite of it all, i do still enjoy the weird, incongruous gravitas the space cold war is treated with. if you can detach yourself from the ideological conditions that make the movie look this way, it’s just pretty damn funny hearing these characters talking like this. i don’t know. i’m just surprised it never used to strike me as weird. it’s weird it’s really, really weird.
but y’know, there’s still part of me that only cares about this as a star trek movie. there are so many great character moments. standouts include the conversation between kirk and spock in spock’s quarters, and the conversation between kirk and mccoy on rura penthe. i also really love getting to see sulu in the captain’s chair of the excelsior, and basically every scene with him is delightful. probably my favorite moment in the movie, though (and i’ve noticed i’m not the only one to call this one out) is when the investigation into the conspiracy seems to hit a brick wall and scotty announces mournfully, “then we’re dead.” the moment is held just long enough for us to feel its weight, and then spock breaks it by calmly declaring, “i’ve been dead before.” it’s a very small dramatic turn that lasts barely more than 30 seconds, but the movie is just peppered with little moments like this that really make it what it is.
the undiscovered country also managed to be very self-aware of its status as the last film featuring the original crew and gave them a very tasteful sendoff. we get to see our beloved crew sail off into the somewhat literal sunset. kirk provides a voiceover that never fails to make me tear up a little because the entire moment feels like such a culmination of all the shared history of three seasons of television, six movies, and countless lives touched. the original star trek crew took us on a journey that we never wanted to end, but despite our unwillingness, they found a way to end it on a satisfying note. that is no small feat.
captain sulu spinoff when.
1. neumann, mikey. “movies with mikey: the story of star trek.” youtube, uploaded by filmjoy, 21 february 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA7OTFp_kDI2. whitney, grace lee and jim denney. the longest trek: my tour of the galaxy, quill driver books, 1998.