From Original Series‘ episodes like A Private Little War and A Taste of Armageddon to The Next Generation‘s powerful two-part Chain of Command and nigh on the entirety of Deep Space Nine, Star Trek has always been strongly political. It should therefore come as little surprise that as the original crew bow out with their final voyage in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, they do so knee deep in a contemporary allegory mirroring the death throes of the Soviet Union.
With a Chernobyl like disaster on the Klingon energy producing Moon of Praxis exposing the mistake of their massive defence spending; it becomes clear to many in Klingon high council that hostilities with Starfleet are impossible to sustain. Suing for peace and proposing a dismantling of the Neutral Zone, the Klingon’s send Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to a peace conference on Earth under the escort of the aging but politically notable crew of the USS Enterprise and it’s incredulously prejudiced captain: Kirk. When the Chancellor is assassinated in transit, Kirk (William Shatner) and Bones (DeForest Kelly) are arrested for the crime and incarcerated on the penal gulag of Rura Penthe, leaving Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to uncover a conspiracy that threatens the historic peace efforts.
Star Trek VI doesn’t exactly stretch the art of storytelling, but instead presents us with a picture perfect paint by numbers. Ironically, the predictable plot plays into the film’s hands as it frees Nicholas Meyer to focus more on the characters and the message without the confusion of cryptic foreshadowing or nuancing. This is especially important given the swan-song nature of the film, as it really allows us to absorb ourselves in the personal journeys of the crew on this, their final voyage.
As usual Captain Kirk drives the film and with the attention on human/Klingon relations he provides the perfect vehicle to explore the dangers of prejudice through his bitterness over the death of his son in Star Trek III. In challenging his preconceptions he is liberated from his bigotry, finding peace from the harrowing event in a manner that mirrors Star Fleet’s acceptance of the Klingon truce and indeed The West’s acceptance of Glasnost. This peace brings an essential end to the tension between Kirk and the Klingons and leaves us with a sense of freedom and liberation perfectly embodied in his final command second star to the right¦ and straight on ˜til morning.
After a powerful opening dialogue between Kirk and Spock, bravely replete with explicit racism that lays down their respective stances in no uncertain terms, we are permitted to relax and enjoy the story. As in traditional Star Trek style, these heavy political messages are masked beneath a veneer of equal parts humour and fantasy.
The humour is evident; from an awkwardly stilted dinner with the Chancellor and his retinue, including Shakespeare quoting antagonist General Chang (Christopher Plummer), to Uhura’s (Nichelle Nichols) humorous attempts to bluff a Klingon outpost with the aid of her bridge crew and a handful of paperback phrasebooks in a feat of linguistic legerdemain and intrepidity, there are plenty of opportunities to smile. Indeed, a strong sense of self-awareness is evident as all the tropes are here; McCoy’s curmudgeonly demeanour, straight man Spock’s logic debates, this time with new officer Lieutenant Valeris (Kim Cattrall), Kirk’s amorous liaison with an alien (Iman, a tribute to the first on screen kiss for a black female and white male between Kirk and Uhura) and a fight with an ˜evil twin him’, are all throwbacks to character elements we’ve come to love and would certainly miss if they didn’t visit one last time.
While the action is not as evident as in other elements of the franchise, the pacing of the film is dramatic and a sense of haste is evident, resulting in the slightest action taking on a strong sense of tension. With a limited budget resulting from the disaster of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, space battles are subordinated to bridge action and inter-ship combat is forced to give way to crew members rolling around the set. Again however the constraint plays right into the movie’s hands, enhancing the charm and nostalgia that would otherwise have been lost with an exuberance of CGI conflict.
Riding the ˜even good, odd bad’ sine wave, this sixth film in the saga is an excellent offering. Indeed, with The Wrath of Khan’s personal and thematically neutral emphasis one could go so far as to say Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the strongest ˜Star Trek’ film; typifying the franchise in its allegorical political narrative, while exploring the setting and its aliens and challenging its characters’ interrelations therewith. In relating to the setting it goes further to realise Roddenberry’s creative vision of Star Trek’s science fantasy future than the otherwise cinematically superior Star Trek II.
While failing to match The Wrath of Khan as a stand-alone film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is however magnificent as the climax to 25 years under the command of Captain Kirk and to the NCC1701A iteration of movies. Rounding off this era, Star Trek VI sees peace with the heretofore perennial villains: the Klingons, as well as catharsis for Kirk, a fitting farewell to all the crew of the original series and a fantastic save from the ignominy of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In tying these myriad strands together it’s hard not to agree with Sulu’s (George Takai) closing sentiment: “nice to see you in action for one last time, Captain Kirk.”
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)… Coming Soon