In Trek movie lore, there are the even-numbered episodes, traditionally regarded as the good ones, and the odd-numbered ones, which are the weaker entries.
While there’s something to that, not all odd-numbered episodes are created equal, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, though less popular than the adjacent even-numbered Trek II: Wrath of Khan (with Ricardo Montalban’s scenery-chewing performance) and Trek IV: The Voyage Home (with its crowd-pleasing whale-hugging and a time-hopping 1980s setting), is not only in a whole different class from the nearest odd-numbered episodes, it also forms a necessary bridge between the adjacent even episodes, arguably the two best even-numbered episodes.
In contrast to the turgid original Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Shatner-directed Trek V: The Final Frontier ("the God one"), which are all but unwatchable, The Search for Spock, directed (along with the following installment) by Leonard Nimoy, contains humor, excitement, and real sentiment. The Search for Spock is also the middle chapter in the "Spock trilogy" that forms the strong center of the whole series, linking The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home.
(Note: Spoiler warning.) Critics of The Search for Spock see it as the anti-Wrath of Khan. Wrath of Khan gave Kirk a son, created the Genesis planet, and killed off Spock, for the first time confronting Kirk with the inevitability of death and the no-win scenario. By contrast, Search for Spock kills off Kirk’s son, destroys the Genesis planet, and brings Spock back to life. It also sets the stage for Kirk to be demoted from admiral back to captain, restoring the most familiar version of the status quo.
Yet the destruction of the Enterprise itself prevents the film from being seen as a consequence-free attempt to return the status quo; and even by the end of the film Spock himself has not yet fully returned. The Search for Spock may be the unappreciated middle child of the Trek franchise, but it’s still one of better and more indispensable episodes.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.