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  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Just for a moment, let's look at the movie from Kruge's point of view. His talk about Kirk being "an enemy of intergalactic peace!", and his fears that "The Federation, in creating an ultimate weapon, has become a gang of intergalactic criminals!", both sound like loony rants. But what if he believes that? What if Kruge is doing the wrong things for the right reasons? If he is under the mistaken belief that the top secret Project Genesis is really a super-weapon, then everything he does could be interpreted as a loyal subject of the empire trying to protect his people from their sworn enemy. Remember that the Klingon/Federation conflict was always intended to be a allegory of Cold War tensions, and that this movie came out at arguably the height of those tensions.....
      • Kruge is absolutely correct— the Federation HAS developed a horrific weapon, regardless of intent. We have now weapons that could destroy the planet if we wanted, so, obviously, these Trek powers can do that as well. What if our nuclear weapons turned what was nuked into a flower garden, without any of that pesky radiation... well, that seriously raises the cost to of using them, doesn’t it? And from the Klingon point of view, Genesis went far from terraforming a planet to destroying a nebula, one truly terrifying power.

      • Particularly since the previous film had both David and Dr. McCoy pointing out its destructive potential, with David doing so even before Khan got involved.
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    • Similarly, Kruge's killing of the gunner who "accidentally" destroys the Grissom. Was it a Darth Vader-style casual execution of an underling who screwed up? Or were his actions genuine outrage at the needless slaughter of those aboard a defenceless science vessel, only made worse by the gunner's unrepentant attitude and killing of potentially valuable prisoners?
      • Alternatively, Kruge knows that his actions, if successful, will mean he is hailed as a hero of the Empire. However, if he fails, he will be branded an outlaw and possibly a war criminal, depending on how badly it goes. His desire to disable rather than kill the Grissom was likely a desire to avoid casualties in case everything went bad. Once he had the deaths of 80 Starfleet officers on his hands, he knew there was no going back, win or lose, and started going all out.
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    • In his review of the comic adaptation of the film, Linkara notes that, while some may not find Kruge as memorable a villain as others, he finds a lot more subtlety and depth in his actions than others see, and believes that, after the Klingons had begun to be depicted as a race of bloodthirsty barbarians, Kruge helped move them into the more restrained and intelligent Proud Warrior Race Guy behavior they became in the rest of the franchise. He particularly points out the scene of Kruge holding his head in his hands after the Enterprise self-destructs as a powerful moment: Kruge ordered his men into a trap he did not see coming, and for it he not only got them all killed, but their deaths were meaningless. He not only dishonored them, but himself, and is in pain over his failure. When Kirk radios him and offers the secret of the Genesis Project, Kurge seizes it on the hope he can still redeem himself by completing his mission alone.
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  • Contested Sequel: Successfully-executed thematic sequel to The Wrath of Khan, or massively disappointing follow-up to the same?
  • Crosses the Line Twice: After the USS Grissom is inadvertently destroyed, Kruge calls out the gunner for insubordination. The gunner's response? "[It was] a lucky shot, sir." Kruge doesn't take it well.
  • Ending Fatigue: One probable cause for the film's middling reputation is that it peaks way too early. The crew stealing the Enterprise is largely considered one of the greatest moments of the entire franchise... and then there's still an hour to go. The rest of the film would probably be better regarded if it wasn't in that shadow.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • On the Special Edition DVD release, in the text commentary by Mike Okuda for the scene where the Starfleet commander tells Kirk the Enterprise is to be decommissioned because she's twenty years old, he remarks that NASA has less trouble with old spacecraft, as the Space Shuttle Columbia was still flying despite being over twenty years old. Shortly after the DVD's release, the Columbia burned up on re-entry, killing all on board. To make things worse, the shot of the Enterprise burning up in the atmosphere resembles the Columbia disaster.
  • Gut Punch: David's murder. It's stark and brutal, and the film up til then had been a fun little jaunt with comedic action and scenes with each of the characters having their own little moments. Then David's stabbed in the heart and everything after that becomes a lot more brooding and dark as Kirk begins to lose everything.
    • And then the destruction of the Enterprise itself. David had only been around since the previous film. The Enterprise had been around for (at the time) almost twenty years!
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The scene when Kirk meets with Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura in his apartment, all of them toasting "to absent friends," has gotten sadder since their actors are now the last surviving TOS castmembers as of June 2015.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Admiral Morrow's justification for decommissioning the Enterprise, that she was twenty years oldnote  and "her day is over", comes off very hypocritical when we see on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that Starfleet was still using the Excelsior, Oberth (USS Grissom), and Miranda (USS Reliant) classes well into the late 24th century, almost 90 years after this film's events.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Kirk had always put his ship before everything else in his life—until it came down to a choice between his Silver Lady and his First Officer. He chose Spock. And that's not gay... how?
    • How about the whole conversation between Kirk and Sarek at the beginning of the movie, which implied that Kirk and Spock were once romantically involved.
    • Search for Spock holds the trophy for the most Ho Yay of all the films. How could it not with such gems as:
      • Kirk and Superior Officer: "But if there's even a chance that Spock has an eternal soul... then it's my responsibility." "Yours?" "As surely as if it were my very own."
      • Kirk (to Sarek): "Your son meant more to me than you can know."
      • Kirk and Sarek: "What I've done, I had to do." "But at what cost? Your ship. Your son." "If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul."
      • Spock: "Jim. Your name... is Jim." (It works in context: the first thing Spock remembers is Kirk. Daww.)
      • Bones' scene with Spock's body. "I don't know if I could stand to lose you again" indeed...
      • And then there's Hikaru "Don't call me 'tiny'" Sulu. Oh my!
      • Let us not forget the scene where Kruge shows his underlings the Genesis presentation, followed by him whispering his plans in the ear of Maltz with an intensity which sounds like he's going to end it with "...and then you and I will have the most epic angry sex in the history of the galaxy."
    • The whole movie is predicated on Sarek's unquestioned belief that Spock would make Kirk the keeper of his katra-essentially a Vulcan's immortal soul, the very essence of his being. Essentially, he figures Spock regarded Kirk as his soulmate. And for Sarek, a Vulcan, this conclusion is only logical.
  • Idiot Plot: If a guy like Harry Mudd can afford his own interplanetary spaceship, surely a half-dozen well-respected Starfleet officers can pool their pensions to purchase one. Instead, they immediately glom onto the idea of stealing an aging battleship—risking major legal consequences above and beyond sneaking into the quarantined Genesis planet—that requires a crew of hundreds to fly effectively, despite Scotty stating they weren't expecting any combat at all. The theft of the Enterprise and the ensuing court martial basically comes down to sentimentality about its decommissioning.
  • Informed Wrongness: A mild example, since David's decision to use protomatter in the Genesis Device very definitely was wrong judging by the Earth-Shattering Kaboom that ensues when the Genesis Planet destabilizes. However, Saavik also tries to indirectly place the blame for all the deaths that have occurred in this and the previous film on David, which is more than a little unfair. Sure, if the project hadn't gotten so far along then Khan would never have gotten off of Ceti Alpha V... but Khan also wouldn't have gotten off the planet if the crew of the USS Reliant hadn't massively Failed a Spot Check, and likewise, it's hardly David's fault that Kruge committed an act of war against the Federation in his effort to seize control of the project.
  • Narm:
    • Kruge's line about Kirk being "Enemies of Galactic Peace!" is pretty corny when you think about it. If the movie was more popular then I'm sure more people would pick up on this beaut'.
    • Also Kruge announcing that this was Kirk's opponent speaking. Made funny by Kirk's "um...what?" facial expression.
    • "The Federation in creating an ultimate weapon has become a gang of intergalactic criminals!"
    • The bizarrely aggressive performance from the guy Uhura is saddled with at spacedock. You very much get the impression the actor was trying to squeeze as much performance as possible into what could be his big break, regardless of whether it fit the role. You have to wonder how much of Uhura's annoyed facial expressions were actually Nichelle Nichols towards her brash young co-star.
  • Narm Charm: Kruge, with Christopher Lloyd's rambling Doc Brown voice, especially to the nostalgic viewers who originally watched the film as kids—you can't help waiting for him to exclaim "Great Scott!" after every one of his lines.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Miguel Ferrer appears on the bridge crew of the Excelsior.
  • Shocking Moments: The destruction of the USS Enterprise- the very icon of Star Trek. In a way, even more devastating that Spock's death had been in the previous film- Spock may have been one of the most-popular main characters, but the Enterprise was Star Trek. Watching the bridge shatter, the saucer erupt, and the ruined wreck burning up in the atmosphere of Genesis shook every Trekkie to the core.
  • So Okay, It's Average: Typically considered a decent film that had the bad luck to be sandwiched between two much better ones.
  • Special Effect Failure: Due to the conservative budget compared to the first movie, a lot of the Genesis planet looks like obviously fake once it starts to fall apart. (Though one does have to wonder if there is a way for snow on cacti NOT to look fake...)
  • Squick: Saavik having sex with de-aged Spock. The squick factor is somewhat mitigated by her dutiful demeanor while doing it, but only somewhat. No wonder they cut the mentions of it in Voyage.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: David Marcus, after being revealed to Kirk's son in the previous movie, ends dying here and doesn't play any role in the future. Even his death doesn't have a huge impact.
    • His death does play a small but critical role in the sixth film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country—when Kirk is on trial after being framed for the murder of a high ranking Klingon ambassador (who wanted to negotiate peace with the Federation!) the Klingons and other assorted conspirators who framed him play a very damning recording from his personal log that paints him as having a possible motive for trying to derail the peace treaty: "I've never trusted Klingons and I never will. I can never forgive them for the death of my boy."
    • And it's strongly implied in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier that Kirk's secret pain was failing to save David.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome:
    • The destruction of the Enterprise, which involved blowing up models rather than just overlaying explosions. It was so successful, they used the same technique in Star Trek: The Next Generation when the Enterprise-D is (temporarily) destroyed in the "Groundhog Day" Loop episode "Cause and Effect".
    • And parts of the blown-up Enterprise-1701 models were used in the aftermath of the Battle of Wolf 359 sequence in "The Best of Both Worlds", because they were so detailed they could be shown very close to the camera without looking fake.
  • What an Idiot!: Scotty tells Kirk that the automation is burning out as he did not anticipate combat. Enlightened society or not, the Federation would likely not be too kind to seeing its military hardware getting stolen, leaving the very real possibility that they'd need to defend themselves.
    • There's really only so much Scotty could do with just the bridge crew aboard, you would think, especially after the pounding Enterprise took in the previous movie.
    • Also, he expected to go to a planet safely within Federation territory with only a small science vessel there, beam up a body, then fly to Vulcan (one of the most secure planets in the Quadrant), beam down a few people, and then wait to be fitted for handcuffs. Getting shot at by Klingons was not part of the plan.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: Christopher Lloyd as the balls-out ruthless Klingon Commander Kruge. He was prior and after that mostly associated with comedies and light dramas. But hey, he did pretty damn well playing the most brutal Klingon captain ever seen in the Star Trek franchise. Every other Klingon captain either had minimal screentime or wound up earning at least some sympathy. Kruge was a monster, and every kick he took to the face from Kirk's boot was pure audience satisfaction. He is also the only Klingon to call Kirk on his bluff when Kirk demands his surrender.
    Kruge: He's hiding something. I must have dealt him a more serious blow than I thought.
    • He started to do more villainous roles afterwards, most notably Judge Doom.
    • Similarly, comic actor John Laroquette as Maltz. His deadpan delivery style works perfectly for the character.
  • WTH, Costuming Department?:
    • Chekhov's pink jacket is so bad, he changes out of it after a cutaway. Leonard Nimoy points it out in the Director's Commentary.
    • Also deserving mention is the waitress at the bar McCoy goes to.
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