A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Star Trek III: The Search for Spock includes plenty of violence, with hand-to-hand combat (and a knifing), in addition to the usual bloodless phaser fire. There's quite a sense of sadness and loss, too, and a certain heroic starship is destroyed. Kirk and the rest of Spock's friends disobey direct Starfleet orders -- a real first, in a very military discipline-oriented series -- in order to carry out their personal rescue mission.
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What's the story?
In the prequel to STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) gave his life to save the lives of his crewman aboard the USS Enterprise in the finale of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and got the equivalent of an old-time burial at sea, his body fired off in a missile casing. Returning to Earth after Spock's sacrifice, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) learns that not only is the starship Enterprise to be decommissioned and scrapped, but that Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) appears to be going insane. Spock's father, the Vulcan ambassador, explains that just before Spock died, he downloaded his mind/soul into McCoy. Only by reuniting McCoy and Spock's body in a ritual on Spock's home world can both be at peace. Because Spock's makeshift coffin came to rest on an unstable planet, spawned out of the top-secret Genesis experiment in the last film, Starfleet forbids Kirk from carrying out this highly personal mission (this is the first time in the series that Starfleet itself becomes an antagonist). Kirk resorts to stealing the Enterprise -- with the help of his faithful bridge crew -- even though it's practically committing mutiny.
Is it any good?
The main problem with this movie is that viewers lacking prior exposure to other films in the series might be confused about the setup. But for followers of the classic TV cast and science-fiction fans of all ages, it's a great ride. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock ties in snugly with its predecessor Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and the next one in the series, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Put end-to-end, these three practically amount to one super-sized episode. In other words, Trekkie heaven.
Some of the Khan themes seem to have gotten lost in the interim -- there are no more hang-ups about old age for this James T. Kirk, who suddenly doesn't need glasses and brawls enthusiastically. When thunderbolts rip across the skies of an unruly planetscape because someone's having a really, really tough day, it hits mythic, almost Wagnerian-opera notes. But those are minor complaints, in a space-adventure movie that has all the expected stupendous visuals, but also characters that are just as compelling. We know and care for these people, and really root for them as they risk everything for their friends. In a lot of science-fiction spectacles the actors are pretty much stick-figures, but in any given Star Trek movie or series, they're charming, funny, perceptive, touching, pained, smart -- in other words, just as interesting as the futuristic stuff. Even with planets exploding around them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Spock's code of self-sacrifice for "the needs of the many" and how Kirk reverses that, deciding that "the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many." What are times when sacrifice is appropriate?
Though the idea of resurrection from death is tangible throughout the film, only the enigmatic Vulcan mystic-logic culture attaches overt religious significance to the idea of an enduring "soul." The human characters, meanwhile, keep their beliefs to themselves, despite their "emotions." Do you think this is a deeply spiritual film, as many fans do?
Which elements of the Star Trek universe are possible and which are purely science fiction? Is there any technology that they have in Starfleet that is similar to something that exists today?
- In theaters: June 1, 1984
- On DVD or streaming: October 22, 2002
- Cast: Christopher Lloyd, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner
- Director: Leonard Nimoy
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: parental guidance
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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