Following on directly from the events of Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock is a 90 minute undoing of that film’s ending. At the end of the second film Spock’s corpse was unceremoniously ejected from the ship (return his remains to his family, anyone?) as part of of his funeral ceremony, but little do the crew know it’s landed on the planet of Project Genesis, a scientific experiment to create life of a barren world. Meanwhile Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelly) is subject to strange outbursts and Spock’s father Sarek demands they return to the mysterious planet in search of his son.
I like the fact that parts II, III and IV of the Star Trek cinematic canon pick up exactly where their predecessors left us, capturing the serial nature of the TV series, the sense of one ongoing adventure, and also the idea that it’s not just another excuse for an outing. Plus, with Kirk having officially moved on from captaining the Enterprise even before the beginning of the first film, it saves having to explain how he ended up in charge of the Enterprise over and over again.
Having said that, The Search for Spock suffers from the fact its only real purpose is to explain how Spock returns from the dead, and as such it lacks the scale of most other Star Trek outings. The absence of Spock himself, arguably the franchise’s best-loved character, in another problem. But fortunately this allows Leonard Nimoy to get behind the camera for some skilful directing, including some decent visual effects and a brilliant score.
Thematically it’s a reversal of Wrath of Kahn, going from the needs of many outweighing the needs of one, to the needs of one coming above all else. It goes from a vast, flourishing life coming from one person’s sacrifice, to a single life born of large-scale destruction. This is an interesting approach, and one that was repeated by Christopher Nolan in the latter two parts of his Dark Knight trilogy. It’s a sign of a franchise that is prepared to continually challenge its audience, although those who were argued round to the philosophy of the first film may feel a little cheated. It makes sense, though, that the philosophy of Spock would be absent from this film, and we can look and the results of actions in Wrath of Kahn and the Search for Spock and decide for ourselves which approach makes more sense.
It’s one of the more serious and sentimental films of the series, but if you’re invested in the characters there’s plenty to enjoy.