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Film / Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

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Don't worry. They find him.

Sulu: The word, sir?
Kirk: The no. I am therefore going anyway.

The one where the original Cool Starship Enterprise is Killed Off for Real.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the third movie in the Star Trek film series, released in 1984.

Incoming Late-Arrival Spoiler: in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock was killed, meant to be Killed Off for Real. But Nimoy changed his mind and decided he didn't want to leave the series, as working on that film was such a great experience. Thus room was left at the very end of that film for him to come back, and this film was all about this. Spock himself sat in the director's chair this time and did so again for the next film.

You see, Spock put his katra into McCoy before he died, so now the good doctor is Sharing a Body with the late Science Officer. Now, if only Spock's body could be raised as well. No, wait, his body landed on the Genesis Planet, so now it's a living empty shell! The Rapid Aging down there means he has to repeatedly go through Vulcan PMS and Mate or Die. Fortunately, Saavik happens to be there. Now, the obvious thing would be to reunite Spock's body and soul, but the Obstructive Bureaucrats say no. The crew sets off for Genesis anyway, of course, where the Klingons are waiting, headed by Commander Kruge.


Of the six "original cast" films, this one is the closest in style to the original television series—for better or for worse. It's a modestly budgeted Continuity Pon-Farr story about people standing around on very obvious soundstages, featuring TV-quality frame composition, wonky science about "protomatter" bringing dead bodies back to life, and a climactic, badly staged grappling match between Kirk and a cunning villain of the week. It is literally a big-screen version of a TOS episode, and at times it does look and feel fairly cheap because of it. However, it is ultimately salvaged by a cast of twenty-year veterans who take advantage of the limited scope to truly shine, some amazing effects work and action sequences courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic punctuating the flat direction.

Overall, it's best classified as So Okay, It's Average, and it's about the only Star Trek film that elicits neither strong love nor strong hate from people. Unless they're Kirk/Spock slashers, in which case the film is not only universally adored but solid proof that the subtext is actually just plain text.


Star Trek III is the second part in a loose trilogy arc that began with The Wrath of Khan and concludes with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Tropes seen in The Search for Spock include:

  • AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: This is the first Star Trek production to feature the full Klingon language, and so a lot of the word pronunciations are different to how they would sound in TNG onwards—for example, listen to how Kruge says Qapla (with a more phonetic sound) just before Torg's boarding party leaves for the Enterprise. The most common explanation for this among fans is that Kruge just has an odd regional accent.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Although the Klingons are shown speaking their own language at first, for simplicity's sake they speak English to each other for the majority of the film. Only Kruge, Torg, and Maltz are shown to actually be able to speak English, though. This becomes a brief plot point when the Klingon troopers board the Enterprise and don't recognise the computer counting down from 9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...
  • All Deserts Have Cacti: One of the indications of the instability of the Genesis planet is patchwork ecosystems in close proximity; a desert region next door to a lush jungle is visually signified not by expanses of sand but rocky terrain and tall cacti, which look eerily beautiful when snowed upon.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • Kruge's Bird of Prey has more in common style-wise with a Romulan ship (bird-like) versus a Klingon ship (boxy and utilitarian). As a way to use invokedProp Recycling in the original series an episode suggested a brief Klingon–Romulan treaty where they shared technology and ship designs; it allowed them to represent the Romulans by using a (previously made) Klingon D-7 cruiser. This brief alliance (the two factions are later very antagonistic to each other) is also the source of Klingon cloaking technology and the Bird of Prey ship design first seen in this movie. Incidentally, that ship style became far more recognizable as a Klingon vessel later in the franchise.
    • The novelization reveals that Saavik and David became lovers after the events of Star Trek II, making his murder doubly tragic and his sacrifice even more meaningful (he gives his life to save the woman he loves when he realizes the Klingon is about to kill her).
    • Sulu's comments about how awesome the Excelsior is, as well as Scotty calling her a piece of junk, are part of a subplot concerning Sulu being promoted to Captain of the Excelsior (Styles is in command temporarily until Sulu returns from the training mission). Scotty's comments are good-natured ribbing at Sulu, saying that the new ship is a lemon.
    • ''Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise'' states that there are two methods of self-destruct: explosive charges throughout the ship, or warp core overload resulting in a matter-antimatter explosion. The last digit of the self-destruct code determines which method (zero for the charges, one for the warp core). This helps explain Kirk's pause before saying the last "zero": he's deciding which way to go.note 
    • The Blu-Ray releases include the Library Computer, an interactive database that will appear on screen as the movie plays offering entries on characters, ships, places, etc. with additional information on them.
  • And Starring: Leonard Nimoy's name doesn't appear in the opening credits, to preserve what surprise there might be about his return; to balance it, the roll of stars at the head of the closing credits ends with "And, as Spock:" followed by the names of all the actors who played the revived Spock and finishing with Nimoy.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The end caption is exactly these words.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Though no one dies in this case, the Excelsior and her crew suffer rightly for treating Scotty like crap when he sabotages her experimental transwarp drive and the Enterprise leaves her in the dust.
    • The Klingon gunner that destroys the USS Grissom against the wishes of Commander Kruge. Disobedience is one thing, but talking back at your officer when he tells you off? He just signed his own death warrant.
    • Another non-fatal example: a hulking security guard calls Sulu "tiny" and tries to intimidate him. Sulu later beats him up.
      Sulu: Don't call me "Tiny".
  • Avengers, Assemble!: The scene where the crew get back together and beam aboard the Enterprise.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other:
    • Spock and Sarek were always at odds with each other, but when T'Lar questions Sarek's logic in resurrecting Spock through fal-tor-pan, Sarek answers, "Forgive me, T'Lar. My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned."
    • The same goes for Bones and Spock, but the former gives a quiet little speech to Spock's body that he missed him while the latter was dead.
  • Back from the Dead: Spock. What, did you think they weren't going to find him? They know where they left him!
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: Kirk vs. Kruge as Genesis rapidly collapses during the film's climax.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Uhura says this word-for-word to her adventure-seeking co-worker in the transporter room, moments before shoving him in a closet at phaser-point while she beams the crew to the Enterprise.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Upon his detection of McCoy's life signs in Spock's quarters, Chekov exclaims, "I'm not crazy!" in Russian ("Я не сумасшедший!").
  • Bittersweet Ending: Yeah, they get Spock back, but Kirk loses his son David and destroys the Enterprise in the process, leaving the fate of himself and his immediate crew in serious doubt.
  • Blown Across the Room: On the Genesis planet, when Kirk shoots a Klingon with a phaser.
  • Body Horror: Spock's Rapid Aging is not a pleasant thing to watch. And the screams he yells out add more to the effect of what is happening to him.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Kirk asks for a minute to inform his crew of his surrender. Kruge gives him two minutes, more than enough time to first enable the auto-destruct sequence.
  • Brandishment Bluff: After the weapons fire exchange between Enterprise and the Bird of Prey, Kruge is surprised that his ship hasn't been put away, knowing he'd be heavily out-gunned. Of course, Enterprise had been hobbled since the Bird of Prey's one torpedo shot took out the automation center keeping it running with its skeleton crew. When Kirk comes on and demands a surrender, Kruge determines it is a bluff, and calls it, countering with the surviving Grissom crew as hostages.
  • Broken Aesop: But replaced in a good way. Sometimes the needs of the one actually outweigh the needs of the many.
  • Call-Back: Several:
    • The destruct sequence used is the same one mentioned in the TOS episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield".
    • And of course Spock at the end repeating his dying words from the end of Star Trek II.
    • Kirk's "how many fingers am I holding up" comment to McCoy while making a Vulcan Salute could be seen as one to "Journey to Babel", in which McCoy has trouble making one.
    • A bit of a Brick Joke also: in Wrath of Khan, after the Kobayashi Maru scenario, Kirk asserts that Klingons do not take prisoners. In this film, Kruge ordered the attack on the Grissom with the specific aim of taking prisoners.
      • Was Kirk asserting that they never take prisoners, or recommending to Saavik to pray for a mercifully quick death? "Prayer, Mr. Saavik, that the Klingons don't take prisoners." It is a bit harsher in hindsight when Saavik is indeed taken prisoner by Klingons only several weeks later.
    • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Bones growled at Spock, "You green-blooded, inhuman..." In III, he gets to complete the insult.
      Bones: ...Son of a bitch!
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Carol Marcus disappears entirely after the conclusion of Wrath of Khan. When Kruge watches the report on the Genesis Device, Carol Marcus's lines were re-recorded with Kirk, with the Hand Wave of Kirk giving a report on the project to Starfleet.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: While Kirk and Kruge are fighting hand to hand on the rapidly disintegrating Genesis planet, Kirk shouts that they'll both die if they don't help each other to escape. Kruge eagerly agrees and calls it exhilarating (since dying while fighting a worthy foe is the most awesome thing a Klingon could ever wish for).
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: DC Comics adapted the film, though fans would have to wait until the 2010s for the first part of the trilogy (Wrath of Khan) to be made into a comic book.Explanation 
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Saavik is left hanging on the Genesis planet because Captain Esteban (of the Grissom) wants to do things "by the book". Having learned that lesson last movie, she's almost a Phrase Catcher, there.
    • Some of the patrons at the bar have tribbles.
  • Cool Starship:
    • Subverted with the cool-looking but utterly useless science vessel Grissom, and the Excelsior, which is intended to be an obnoxious too-modern contrast to the good old Enterprise. She gets Rescued from the Scrappy Heap a few movies later when Sulu is in the center seat.
    • Played straight with the utterly badass Klingon Bird-Of-Prey, and the Enterprise, of course (battle damage be damned).
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: Scotty has Jerry-rigged the ship to operate with only five crew members. The Enterprise is supposed to have a crew of hundreds. At least the automation breaks down later. Scotty says, "The automation system's overloaded. I didn't expect to take us into combat, ya know...!" It's understandable that simply moving in a straight line could be done with a far smaller crew than usually necessary.
  • Darker and Edgier: The chief reason, according to Harve Bennett, that the next film had to be Lighter and Softer.
  • David Versus Goliath:
    • The undermanned, still-battle-damaged Enterprise is basically The Little Starship That Could compared to the big, menacing Excelsior.
    • This is Kruge's gambit when firing upon the Enterprise when they first meet over the Genesis planet. He is convinced that he is outgunned "ten to one" and is flabbergasted that the Enterprise didn't finish him off after the opening salvo. He doesn't realize that one shot was enough to disable her completely.
  • The Day the Music Lied: The Transwarp sequence has all of these awesome, booming drums and trumpets as it's getting ready to pull off the maneuver, and the second the order is given to "execute", it dies out except for the sounds of strings that you can barely hear under the malfunctioning computer.
  • Death Is Cheap: Undoubtedly the filmmakers must have known that once they decided to bring back Spock that it would undermine the emotion of his Heroic Sacrifice from the previous film, and with it the theme of how despite his greatness Kirk can't always save everyone, which would probably explain why they killed off Kirk's son David and destroyed the Enterprise, in order to balance out Spock's return and retain the theme of Kirk's fallibility.
  • Demoted to Extra: Uhura, for most of the film. Mind you, her big scene in the transporter room is pretty awesome, but there is literally no reason for it ending with her being left behind other then that they didn't need her character for the rest of the film. The previous film, when everyone beams from Regula I to the caves inside Regula while leaving no one behind, shows that transporters can be operated on a time delay. This very film later also shows this, as none of the Enterprise crew remain behind when they beam off (while simultaneously beaming the Klingons aboard) before Enterprise's self-destruct. So there is no reason Uhura couldn't have put a short time delay on the transporter and joined everyone else on their mission to Genesis. (Fortunately, she rejoins them just before the end of this film, so that she can be along for the next one.) The film's novelization gives Uhura a little more to do, as she scrambles Starfleet's communication channels during the Enterprise theft, hightails it to the Vulcan embassy on Terra, and joins Sarek in convincing the Vulcan government to pre-emptively grant Kirk and crew asylum there, instead of just handing them over to Starfleet authorities when they arrive.
    • Grace Lee Whitney appears at Spacedock when Enterprise arrives. She is only credited as "Woman in Cafeteria". Common fan canon has her as actually being Janice Rand.
      • The fact that she is there at all is due to Nimoy putting her there. Bennett had neglected to include her in the film.
  • Disney Villain Death: Kirk and Kruge end up fighting on the edge of an abyss opened up in the surface of the dying planet. Kruge goes over the edge and falls to his death.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: Kirk stumbles backward in shock when his son is killed, missing the command chair.
    Kirk: You Klingon bastards, you killed my son... You Klingon bastards, you killed my son!
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The death of Kirk's son David is fairly...abrupt, all things considered, and happens without much lead-in or foreshadowing. It doesn't even get really strongly referenced until three movies later. At least he got a better deal than his trope-naming father.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Genesis Planet–shattering kaboom, anyway. Turns out the planet is unstable, and shatters itself within weeks of its creation.
  • '80s Hair: Robin Curtis's (Saavik) bouffant-like perm/mullet hairstyle. Also, that's Uhura in the picture above, not Rick James.
  • Empty Chair Memorial: During Kirk's log entry, he paces the bridge, briefly stopping to pat the empty science station chair Spock previously occupied. Chekov is clearly reluctant to sit there when ordered.
  • End of an Age: Although the original crew still lives, the Enterprise is destroyed during a self-destruct sequence initiated by Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov, in order for them to transport to safety. But not without taking a few Klingons with it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kruge is brutal and cold-blooded, but prefers taking prisoners instead of destroying ships (though probably just so he can get information or hold them hostage).
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Kruge can only understand the Genesis Device as a weapon of mass destruction. His paranoid and violent relationship with his crew is the polar opposite of the friendship and loyalty among Kirk's.
  • Explosive Instrumentation:
    • When Kruge's bird-of-prey is hit, sparks fly all over The Bridge, killing his pet targ.
    • When the Enterprise is hit, an explosion knocks Kirk to the deck and Scotty's console bursts into sparks before going dead.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Valkris makes no attempt to beg for her life or flee when she realizes Kruge is going to kill her for seeing the Genesis data.
    • Saavik, knowing that the Klingons are going to execute her, doesn't even blink until David performs his Heroic Sacrifice and dies in her place.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • David getting stabbed has a Nothing Is Scarier feel because of the Gory Discretion Shot.
    • While not human, the snake-like creature which attacks Kruge gets crushed to pulp by his hands.
    • The disintegration effect of the Klingon disruptor is a lot nastier than the usual "turn into a glowing silhouette and vanish" in other Trek shows.
  • Fanservice Extra: All the female Vulcan acolytes during the Fal-Tor-Pan ritual are wearing... somewhat sheer outfits, and apparently no bra from the looks of it.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Let's face it, when your movie is called The Search for Spock, it's not going to end with Admiral Kirk turning to the viewers and saying "Sorry folks, we didn't find him." As William Shatner put it, if they had done so, "people would have thrown rocks at the screen."
  • Foreshadowing: Sulu seems to admire Excelsior. He would eventually become its Captain in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.note 
  • Flying Cutlery Spaceship: Of course the Klingon Bird of Prey, which debuted as the villain Kruge's warship. Arguably this is where the trope originated. Compared to the more recent examples on this list, Kruge's Bird of Prey was actually rather tame, but it did have cool moving wings with disruptor cannons on the tips. Also, unlike most of the ships on this list, Kruge's ship was an actual physical model, not a CGI mashup.
  • Give Me a Reason:
    • After Kruge executes a mook for failing him, his second officer asks for his attention while he's still in full bloodlust mode.
      Kruge: Say the wrong thing, Torg!!
    • Kruge quickly cools off when Torg points out there are people on the planet that could be taken prisoner. This appeases Kruge and prevents him from killing his apparently only competent crew member.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Kruge orders his gunner to target the Grissom's engines, with the plan to take the crew captive, but the entire ship explodes. Kruge is not amused by the explanation that it was a lucky shot.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • When David is stabbed to death, the fatal blow ends up just off the bottom of the frame.
    • Averted to hell and back with the gunner who destroyed the Grissom. While there is no gore, we see him burn to death from the inside out.
  • Groin Attack: Kirk pulls one on Kruge when Kruge pushes him against a rock and starts to choke him
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Shatner versus Lloyd, figuratively, literally, and Taken to Eleven. The acting and fight choreography are so over the top that an entire planet is destroyed.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The uniforms worn by Kruge and his men look like they were designed by Gene Simmons.
    • Kirk, Sulu, and Chekov wear some snazzy leather jackets with their civilian outfits. Kirk removes his jacket to cover David's body.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Kirk when his son David is killed and arguably again with a literal My God, What Have I Done? while watching the wreck of the Enterprise burning up in the Genesis planet's atmosphere
    • This entire movie is a long string of Heroic BSODs for Kirk. He starts the movie with the one he suffered from Spock's death in Wrath of Khan, has a short one when he hears the Enterprise is due for decommission, and the above mentioned two. Kirk's really earning the happy ending, and facing down situations he's so used to cheating his way out of.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: David Marcus jumps in the way of a Klingon about to execute Saavik. She is spared because one dead hostage is as good as another, to them.
  • Hey, That's My Line!: Bones encounters an alien in a bar with an unusual speaking pattern.
    Big-Eared Alien: To your planet, welcome!
    Bones: I believe that's my line, stranger.
  • Hope Spot: Enterprise looks like she scored a Curb-Stomp Battle against Kruge's bird-of-prey — and then her Deflector Shields conk out and one well-aimed torpedo from Kruge's gunner disables her.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Kruge refers to the Genesis Device as a "Doomsday Weapon", and he wants it for that reason.
  • How Many Fingers?: Kirk asks McCoy this as he gives him the Vulcan salute.
    McCoy: That's not very damn funny.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: During the fal-tor-pan ritual, Sarek is addressed as "Sarek, child of Skon". When it comes time for McCoy to step forward and do his bit, he introduces himself as "McCoy, Leonard H., son of David."
  • I Am Your Opponent: Kruge, to Kirk. Literally a line in the movie: "Admiral Kirk. This is your opponent speaking!"
  • I Can't Believe I'm Saying This: Towards the end, as McCoy is speaking to the Katra-less Spock:
    McCoy: I'm gonna tell you something that I... never thought I'd ever hear myself say. But it seems I've... missed you. And I don't know if I could stand to lose you again.
  • I Lied: When the captured Maltz declares he doesn't deserve to live, Kirk promises to kill him later (let's get away from the exploding planet first). When Maltz demands he make good on it, Kirk has him taken away.
    Maltz: You said you would kill me.
    Kirk: I lied.
  • Invisibility Cloak: While cloaking technology was used in the Original Series, this movie gave it the ripple effect that has greatly influenced the way Visible Invisibility is portrayed in media. Although here it is a plot point, as Kirk recognizes something is wrong when they reach the Genesis Planet and is able to visually point out where the ship is.
  • Ironic Echo: "Ship, out of danger?":
    • The Wrath of Khan: Spock asks this with his dying breath to Kirk, having just done a repair job that exposed him to lethal amounts of radiation in order to save the Enterprise and all of its crew.
    • This film: Spock asks this again after being brought back to life, unaware initially that the Enterprise was destroyed in a gambit against the Klingons. In a way, the answer is yes, as self-destructing the ship prevented it from falling into enemy hands which would've been a far worse fate for it and the Federation.
  • I Will Find You: Once Kirk and company hear that Spock could be brought Back from the Dead, they spend the rest of the film endeavoring to do just that.
  • Just Between You and Me:
    Kruge: (whispering in Torg's ear) Share this with no one.
    Torg: (whispering) Understood, my lord!
  • Knife Nut: This film introduces us to the Klingon dagger D'k tahg, which is perhaps the second-most iconic Klingon bladed weapon after the Bat'leth. It has spring-loaded sideblades and is used to kill David. Although it would stay unnamed until the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Birthright".
  • Large Ham: Christopher Lloyd in full Chewing the Scenery mode. So much so that Dom Irrera in his standup act thought that Lloyd was doing his other famous role: "Kirk, you don't want to give me the Genesis device? Hokey-doke!"
  • Little "No": Echoed from the previous movie, when Sarek leads Kirk (or vice versa) through the memory of Spock's death.
  • Magic Countdown: The Enterprise's 60-second countdown to self-destruct lasts 100 seconds on-screen, and even that is compressed to exclude people moving around.
  • Magical Security Cam: When Kirk watches security footage of Spock's final moments to figure out who he might have given his katra to, it's footage taken from the previous movie, complete with dramatic pans and camera angles.
  • Mate or Die: Vulcan pon farr is normally a once-every-seven-years deal, but Spock experiences it multiple times as he undergoes Rapid Aging. Saavik has to make sure it's "mate" and not "die."
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A number of aspects of the movie play with this, even though this is science fiction.
    • Spock's katra (speaking through McCoy) asks why Kirk left him on Genesis. The katra has no obvious way of knowing that Spock's body is there, as he was given a standard space burial. That the torpedo casing soft-landed, and that Genesis regenerated Spock's body, come as a surprise even to David and Saavik when they are investigating the planet. This implies that the katra is not merely a bunch of transferred memories, but an actual soul with awareness that its body is still alive.
    • When the Vulcan priestess T'Lar begins the fal-tor-pan ritual, lightning dramatically flashes. This could just be a coincidence of timing and the volatile Vulcan weather, or representative of her doing something with larger metaphysical impact than a simple mind meld.
  • Mourning an Object: Kirk uses the Self-Destruct Mechanism to destroy the Enterprise along with the Klingons who have boarded her. As what's left of her burns up in the atmosphere of the Genesis planet, Kirk watches with a heartbroken look on his face.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kirk despairs when he has to sacrifice the Enterprise.
  • My Greatest Failure: David feels this, on using protomatter for the Genesis matrix.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: The remaining senior crew of the Enterprise assist Kirk in hijacking the Enterprise without question.
    Sulu: The word, sir?
    Kirk: The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.
    Sulu: You can count on us, sir.
    • Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov take it a step further by insisting on going with him and McCoy to the Genesis Planet.
      Kirk: My friends, I can't ask you to go any further. Dr. McCoy and I have to do this. The rest of you do not.
      Chekov: Admiral, we're wasting precious time.
      Sulu: What course please, Admiral?
      Kirk: Mr. Scott?
      Scotty: I'd be grateful, Admiral, if you'd give the word.
      Kirk: Gentlemen... may the wind be at our backs. Stations, please.
  • The Needs of the Many: Inverted by Kirk.
    "Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many."
  • Nerves of Steel: In the Give Me a Reason moment above, Torg calmly explains to Kruge that there are lifesigns on the planet that could mean potential prisoners, placating Kruge. You get the impression he's dealt with such mood swings before.
  • Neuro-Vault: It turns out Spock implanted his soul/essence/memories in McCoy at the end of the previous film, just before his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: "The final voyage of the Starship Enterprise" indeed. True, for some values of "Starship Enterprise," but more pointedly, a huge Trailers Always Spoil.
  • No Name Given:
    • The lieutenant who Uhura drives into the closet is just called "Mr. Adventure" in the credits.
    • Invoked by Kruge, whose name is only spoken once in the film (by Valkris), when he refuses to give his name to Kirk.
  • No-Sell: Immediately after being almost strangled to death by a mutated snake-like creature, Kruge calmly reports to the ship that they haven't found anything significant as of yet.
  • Not Named in Opening Credits: William Shatner. Leonard Nimoy. DeForest Kelley. Rest of the cast. (Lampshaded by a slightly longer than normal gap between when Shatner's name fades and Kelly's appears.)
  • Not So Stoic: Sarek. Despite his differences with Spock, and his own strict Vulcan beliefs, he is still a grieving and anguished father who just lost his son. When he goes to pay Kirk a visit, he checks logic at the door and demands answers. He confesses to the High Priestess of Mount Seleya herself that his logic is "uncertain" where his son is concerned.
  • Now You Tell Me:
    McCoy: Hell of a time to ask.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Admiral Morrow. It's established that he and Kirk are old friends, but Morrow still refuses to help. Kirk is "therefore going anyway".
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Kruge hears the Self-Destruct Mechanism on the Enterprise counting down, he yells at his men, "GET OUT! GET OUT OF THERE! GET OUT!" Too late, though.
    • When Kruge's pet growls loudly as he's walking away, Kruge spins and tells one of the crewmembers, "Feed him!" Cue a frightened look on the crewmember.
    • The looks on Scotty and Checkov's faces when Kirk starts up the self-destruct sequence.
  • One-Hit Kill: Kruge's Bird-of-Prey destroys the Grissom with one torpedo, which actually pisses him off.
    Kruge: I wanted prisoners!
    Gunner: A lucky shot, sir...
    Kruge: (pulls out a disruptor and vaporizes the gunner) Animal.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, which might confuse casually watching viewers who see a character named David and identified as Kirk's son die, then 20 minutes later hear Bones identify himself as 'McCoy, Leonard; son of David'.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Kirk, after David's murder.
    • Subverted for Sarek, when he gets his son back.
  • Papa Wolf: Forget the "wrath of Khan", Kirk's fury over David's murder is such that he's willing to destroy the Enterprise to gain revenge against Kruge.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The final password for the self-destruct is 0-0-0-Destruct-0. Granted, it's the fourth password of a set of four, and the encryption is tied to voice recognition, but still.
  • Patchwork Map: It's actually lampshaded as a sign that something isn't right with the Genesis planet.
    David: All the varieties of land and weather known to Earth within a few hours' walk.
  • People Fall Off Chairs: Kirk, a moment after he's blindsided with notification that his son David is dead. The script called for him to slump into his chair, but after a misstep caused Shatner to miss, they changed it for the extra pathos of the normally unflappable Kirk being devastated.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Hikaru Sulu (played by 5'6" George Takei) single-handedly disarms a security guard twice his size, with a judo drop.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • The scene where David dies.
    • See Sharing a Body, and you'll see McCoy's always had a pretty foul mouth.
  • Punctuated Pounding: "I... have had... enough of YOU!"
  • Rapid Aging: Said word-for-word by McCoy, about Spock, on the Genesis planet.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Turns out however awesome the act itself is, stealing a twenty-year-old spaceship that's just suffered major battle damage with less than a skeleton crew is a horrible position to put yourself in when you have a fight on your hands.
    • The fate of David Marcus is a chilling reminder that just because you're the son of one of the most badass officers in the history of Starfleet, that doesn't mean that you'll inherit those great qualities that, with training and experience, helped make your famous father the badass he is.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The freighter captain gets "paid" by Kruge.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: In a particularly shameless example even for James Horner, the movie's end credits music is exactly the same as the previous one's.
  • Repaying for the One: This movie is the partial namer for this trope. Kirk and Company sacrifice so much to bring Spock's body and mind back together, including self-destructing the Enterprise, and David Marcus' death. As Kirk explains to Spock when he's whole again:
    Kirk: ...Because the needs of the one... outweighed the needs of the many.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: How Kirk realizes Spock mind-melded with McCoy.
  • Right Hand Snarling Monster: Kruge has one. It doesn't do much but it still scares the crap out of the rest of his crew.
  • Save the Villain: Subverted. Kirk does try to save Kruge from falling to his death, but the latter uses the opportunity to try and kill them both. Cue Kirk kicking Kruge away and sending him plummeting into the lava below.
  • Scotty Time: Lampshaded when Scotty tells Kirk that refit will take "eight weeks, sir. But you don't have eight weeks, so I'll do it for you in two." Kirk asks if he multiplies all estimates by four. Scott says he has to, "how else would I keep up my reputation as a miracle worker?"
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Kirk and friends steal the Enterprise and defy Starfleet orders to not return to the Genesis planet in order to rescue Spock.
      Sulu: The word, sir?
      Kirk: The word is "no." I am therefore going anyway.
    • This becomes an ongoing plot thread. The moment in Spacedock where Chekov says "Commander Starfleet on emergency channel. He orders you to surrender this vessel," and Kirk scoffs, "No reply, Chekov," is the sole reason Kirk ends up being demoted later on, and one of the key elements Chang uses against him at a trial, many years after the fact.
    • Played for Drama as Kirk is almost about to warp away, and the Captain of Excelsior tells him over the communicator, "Kirk, you do this, they'll never let you sit in a captain's chair again." You can see Kirk weigh exactly how much command of a starship means to him versus the life of his best friend, then make the only decision he can. "Warp speed, Mr. Scott."
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Once again, the Enterprise's is activated. This time, however, it's not cancelled at the last second.
  • Sentimental Sacrifice: A doozy of one; the Enterprise herself is self-destructed so that the Klingons can't get her. This is the same ship that, on multiple occasions, has been treated almost the same as a Love Interest for Kirk.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • In an early episode of Star Trek, Spock tells Uhura "Vulcan has no moon" in response to her flirting. However, Star Trek III shows a massive "moon" in the Vulcan sky. Justified in that it's so big, in fact, that Vulcan does not technically have a moon; Vulcan is a binary planet. This specificity is quite within Vulcan character.
    • Admiral Morrow mentions that the Enterprise is 20 years old as justification for its decommissioning. This is more of an out-and-out error in retrospect, with later entries in the franchise putting the ship's age at nearer 45 years at the time of its destruction. However, Morrow's figure is still incongruous with the bits and pieces of the ship's age that have been implied until this pointnote , which put the age of the Enterprise much nearer 30 years than 20.
  • Sharing a Body: Having Spock's katra in McCoy's head amounts to this, until Spock can get it back.
    McCoy: That green-blooded sonuvabitch. It's his revenge for all those arguments he lost.
  • She Knows Too Much: Kruge clearly doesn't want to kill Valkris, but doesn't hesitate. Neither does she.
    Valkris: Transmission completed... You will find it useful.
    Kruge: [shocked] Then you have seen it?
    Valkris: I have, my lord.
    Kruge: Unfortunate.
    Valkris: [beat] Understood.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The seedy bar McCoy goes to is pretty clearly inspired by the Mos Eisley Cantina, complete with a smuggler for hire (who talks like a bad Yoda impression).
    • The Grissom is named after Gus Grissom, one of the astronauts who died in the Apollo I accident in 1967.
  • Smug Snake: The Captain of the Excelsior. That said, he does go out of his way to warn Kirk about what he's about to do. How much of that is respect to Kirk, if at all, and how much his overconfidence in the Excelsior is arguable.
    • Even more amusing is that, even IF Scotty had not sabotaged its transwarp drive, later materials reveal that it wouldn't have worked anyway. The idea was scrapped and Excelsior's warp drive was replaced with the standard one by the time Sulu took command years later.
  • Space Clothes: Mostly averted, continuing from the previous film, but there are some glaring exceptions, such as the bar waitress's "Space leotard", and the security guards have outfits so ridiculous they look like intentional parodies of this trope.
  • Space Friction: When the Excelsior breaks down, it grinds to a halt relative to Spacedock.
  • Spoiler Opening: Averted. In the opening credits, there's an extra long pause between William Shatner and DeForest Kelley's names, where Leonard Nimoy's name usually appears.
  • Spoiler Title: The fact Spock is actually still alive isn't confirmed until a ways into the movie; the moment the film's title was announced officially gave away the fact that Spock was returning.
  • Staff of Authority: Captain Styles of the USS Excelsior is often seen carrying a swagger stick.
  • The Stateless: Kirk fears this may happen to the barebones Enterprise crew for hijacking the ship.
    Kirk: Gentlemen, your work today has been outstanding and I intend to recommend you all for promotion... in whatever fleet we end up serving.
  • Stealth Pun: Excelsior is a dubious technology prototype—in other words, a strange device.
  • Stock Footage:
    • To a much lesser extent than most of the other 80's Trek movies, natch; all the special effects shots are new for this film, and the stock footage from the previous movie is actually justified somewhat, since Kirk is watching it on a security log.
    • A few shots of the Bird of Prey flying towards or away from the viewer are re-used within the movie itself. The shots are not particularly noticable, except for one where the ship's wings are clearly in attack configuration when in the previous shot they were not.
    • The 2002 DVD release has a rather odd example. For some reason they were apparently unable to get anyone to record an actual DVD Commentary for the film, and so resorted to taking audio clips of Leonard Nimoy, Robin Curtis, writer/producer Harve Bennett and cinematographer Charles Correll from the "making of" documentaries and stitching them together in such a way as to make them sound like a real commentary. If you listen carefully, you'll notice that at no point does anyone in the "commentary" directly reference what's happening on-screen.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: The bits and pieces that Scotty pulled out of the Excelsior computer to cripple its transwarp drive.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: The alien whom McCoy attempts to hire to take him to the Genesis planet.
  • Switch to English: Inverted when Valkris and Kruge start talking in English before switching to Klingonese.
    Valkris: (in English) Commander Kruge, this is Valkris. (in Klingonese) I have obtained the Federation data. Ready to transmit.
    Kruge: (in English) Well done, Valkris. Well done. (in Klingonese) Disengage cloaking device.
  • Take a Third Option: Kirk and McCoy on the surface, watching the Enterprise explode and burn up with all the Klingons:
    Kirk: My God, Bones, what have I done?
    McCoy: What you had to do. What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.
  • Take My Hand: Kirk to Kruge, after kicking him off a cliff. Kruge refuses.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • The Enterprise self-destructs on its senior officers' command (don't worry, they beam away from the ship), killing a bunch of Klingons that tried to capture said officers.
    • Not only does Kruge refuse, he grabs Kirk's ankle and earns himself a boot to the face.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: Stealing the Enterprise is accompanied by louder and louder versions of the classic series fanfare, followed by the orchestra going absolutely berserk once the damn thing starts to actually move.
  • Timeshifted Actor: All the young Spocks.
  • To Absent Friends: Kirk's toast in his apartment.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Uhura. Holy crap.
      "...I'm glad you're on OUR side!"
    • Sulu as well. A towering security guard, who takes exception to Sulu's sarcastic remark about his work ethic (or lack thereof) menacingly growls, "Don't get smart, Tiny." Cut to Sulu easily kicking his ass. "Don't call me 'Tiny'."
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Maltz is SO dumb that even HE realises he deserves to die for his stupidity.
      Maltz: I do not deserve to live.
      Kirk: Fine, I'll kill you later.
    • Deconstructed in that, while Kruge very well might have killed Maltz, Kirk has no intention to, even though he has every reason to.
      Maltz: Wait! You said you would kill me!
      Kirk: I Lied.
    • We get that the Klingons on the Enterprise don't understand English, but it doesn't take much to realize that there's a countdown going on purely from contextual clues: abandoned ship, computer speaking slowly and methodicallynote . For example, Dutch (and the audience) knew what a countdown in an alien's language looked like in Predator.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • If you listen to the DVD commentary, Harve Bennett mentions that he really wanted the Enterprise getting blown up to be a total shock to the audience, so he asked the people cutting the trailer together to please, please omit it from the trailers. What's the first trailer they come back with? "The last voyage of the Enterprise." the Face Palm must have registered on the Richter scale, though it did increase interest in the film from fans who wondered if they'd actually do it, especially following the fake-out of Spock's death.
    • Titles Spoil, as remarked upon by Roger Ebert: "It's called The Search for Spock. What, do you think they don't find him?
  • Translation Convention: Bizarrely, the scenes with the Klingons only use it on about half the lines. The Klingon Dictionary notes that it was fashion for a time for Klingon officers to speak English to each other when discussing things they didn't want their subordinates to hear.
  • True Companions: The senior crew of the Enterprise. While Scotty rigs the Enterprise so that Kirk can man it himself, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov insist on continuing on with Kirk and Bones. This loyalty, while not surprising, visibly moves Kirk.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: "So like your father, you changed the rules."
  • Understatement: As befits a race who habitually understates, Sarek's line, when asked about his intentions to reunite Spock's mind and body, is to say that his "logic is uncertain where [his] son is concerned". Mark Lenard's subtle body language gets the point across that Sarek is grief stricken to the point he is grasping at straws.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Scotty "performing surgery" on the USS Excelsior's transwarp drive.
  • Voices Are Mental: Spock's personality periodically takes over McCoy, and during those moments McCoy's lines are overdubbed by Leonard Nimoy. To Deforest's credit, he actually does a fairly good impression in the scene in Spock's quarters.
  • Wacky Sound Effect: Several, when the Excelsior's transwarp drive fails.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: And Maltz was never seen again.
    • He committed suicide, according to the Novelization.
    • However, in the Expanded Universe he's still around in the 24th century, ninety years later, having spent some time as a Federation prisoner before being released, and atones for his past failure by helping out when someone gains control of the Genesis information. See Star Trek: The Genesis Wave.
    • The Klingon Dictionary credits Maltz for assisting in the Federation efforts to translate and to understand the Klingon language.
    • The Star Trek: Klingon Academy PC game has an entry on Maltz in the library computer. It insists that Maltz died heroically and that there is absolutely no truth to the rumors that he survived and is currently assisting Starfleet with Klingon language translation.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Saavik's reaction to David when he reveals he used protomatter in the Genesis torpedo, in order to solve problems that might not otherwise have made the project possible. This comes out as a result of their discussion as to why the planet is so unstable (disregarding the fact that the planet was created from the Genesis torpedo detonating inside a starship, within a nebula, and created that planet and its star from said nebula, but that doesn't change the impact of this trope).
  • Why Isn't It Attacking?: After the Enterprise and the Bird-of-Prey have their initial exchange of torpedo fire, Kruge wonders why the Enterprise doesn't press the attack as they have superior firepower. He then figures out that his attack inflicted more damage than he anticipated.
  • Worf Had the Flu: The jury-rigged Enterprise is still badly damaged after the last film, only running on a skeleton crew, and Scotty didn't anticipate being in a combat situation, thus the ship is disabled by Kruge's bird-of-prey after its circuits overload. Kruge is surprised when he wins, since the Enterprise outguns him ten-to-one.
  • You Fool!: Kirk calls Kruge this for fighting him on a burning planet instead of trying to escape. This makes an interesting Call-Back to the original series, given that Kang never told him that "only a fool fights in a burning house."
  • You Have Failed Me: Kruge shoots his gunner for destroying the USS Grissom because he wanted prisoners.
  • You Would Do the Same for Me: Between Kirk and the newly resurrected Spock.
    Spock: My father says you have been my friend. You came back for me.
    Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
  • Zeerust:
    • When viewing the footage of the engine room, Kirk rewinds the recording, and it looks like a VHS tape rewinding instead of instantly jumping back.
    • Another example is the fighter plane computer game played by the human and the alien in the bar McCoy goes to.
      • How many holographic arcade games do you play?
    • The screens, largely (though not entirely) starting with this film, are clearly CRTs. Great for making screens feature motion, but they look less like modern screens than the still-image projections and backlit photos that came before.
    • The malfunctioning transwarp drive of USS Excelsior sounds like nothing you might hear on a spaceship but instead a misfiring internal combustion engine. Word of God stated that was purely Rule of Funny.

"Jim... Your name is Jim."

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