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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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    • It’s also worth noting that Genesis became known to everybody in the quadrant because it destroyed an entire nebula. This could very easily be read by the other powers as a massive show of power by the Federation. And David and Saavik trying to assure Kruge that Genesis is a failure because the planet is falling apart is hardly convincing if you believe the creation capabilities of the device are a ruse to begin with.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hero of Another Story: Kruge. While we see and understand Kirk's and Starfleet's point of view, to the Klingons, it does appear the Federation has developed a weapon of shocking destructive power, disguised as something benevolent. What if the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had destroyed everything and then turned it into a beautiful garden? Starfleet (apparently) just destroyed a nebula, a quite visible action that would appear to be a show of force. Kruge was sent to investigate with a small ship with a small crew compliment, and dealing with a very difficult and confusing situation.
  • 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.
    • Casting Christopher Lloyd as Kruge almost counts as a Casting Gag in retrospect, since Kirk and the rest use his vehicle to travel backwards in time in the next film.
    • It's strongly implied the Enterprise is being decommissioned by Starfleet as damage control due to the political firestorm arising from the detonation of the Genesis device and the destruction of the Mutara Nebula. There was no indication the Enterprise was to be decommissioned in TWOK and this film takes place weeks after the events of that film.
    • Having both Leonard Nimoy and Christopher Lloyd in the same movie? Are talking about this movie or The Pagemaster?
    • Also, the fact that both of them would go on to voice Master Xehanort might be amusing for Kingdom Hearts fans watching the movie.
  • 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.
    • The novel only adds to it, Kirk trying somewhat pathetically to get back with Carol (when her lover has been killed by Khan) “now that they’re both alone”, and feeling suicidal over Spock’s death.
  • 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.
    • That said, between the restrictions of the Mutara Sector (which even the charter McCoy tried to hire was refusing to go all the way to Genesis) and the fact that, given the worsening medical state of McCoy ("One alive, one not, yet both in pain."), there was easily a belief that they were under a ticking clock, it's also just as easy to view the theft of the Enterprise as, if they have to steal a ship to get all the way to Genesis, they might as well take the one that they both knew was already out of commission and how to fly and with their eyes shut.
  • 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.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Commander Kruge is a Klingon officer who learns of the Genesis device from Valkris and when Kruge learns Valkris has reviewed the Genesis device information, Kruge has her killed to maintain the secrecy of his mission. Kruge's ship goes to the Genesis planet. When Kruge orders his gunner to disable the USS Grissom in orbit, the gunner accidentally destroys the Grissom, Kruge kills him in disgust. Kruge takes the remaining Star Fleet personal on the planet prisoner. When the Enterprise arrives and Kruge attacks them, both ships are damaged, but the Enterprise is left dead in the water. When Kirk tries to bluff Kruge and demands his surrender, Kruge sees through it and demands Kirk surrenders and says he will kill one of the hostages to prove he is serious, with Kruge's underling killing Kirk's son David. When Kruge confronts Kirk on the planet while it is destroying itself, not caring if he dies while fighting Kirk. Though Kirk kills Kruge, the cost is heavy, with Kirk losing the Enterprise and his son in the process.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Mark Lenard is absolutely incredible in his two brief scenes as Sarek, a character he'd last played onscreen nearly two decades earlier.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Miguel Ferrer appears on the bridge crew of the Excelsior. Meanwhile, John Larroquette appears as a Klingon.
  • 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 *ahem* pon farr 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 screen-time 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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