All good things must end, is what they say. I would say my personal opinion on that is what Hector Lavoe sings Todo Tiene Su Final, and indeed after 25 years and the stink of possible disaster if they continued telling “further adventures of…” they finally decided to give a send off to the first crew of the Enterprise.
I’ve heard some complaints that General Chang as played by Christopher Plummer is nothing more than a regurgitation or re-tread of the mighty Khan Noonien Singh. To that criticism i say: “And the problem with that is?” Chang is a great villain, Plummer chews the scenery with the same enthusiasm as Montalban, he spouts The Bard’s lines with perfect timing just as Khan had done with Moby Dick, and Plummer’s personal charisma, energy, and sophistication washes away the putrid stink of Kruge from Search for Spock. If this is a retread, then its a damn good one. I would put General Chang right next to Khan in a list of best Star Trek villains if only because he is so fun to watch.
The film also fixes the previous outings failure to do anything substantial with Kirk (despite its obvious focus on him, and just him), and that last little loose end that remained is tied up in suitable fashion. This being namely Kirk’s prejudice against the Klingon’s, is revealed for the baseless racism it really is. He learns (although it takes the death of an innocent man to do so) that the Klingon’s did not kill his son, one Klingon killed his son, and to discount an entire race on the basis of one individual’s actions goes against what The Federation stands for.
The tone of the film is also back in its proper place. Seeing as this is a farewell the film takes time to visit some of the series’ hallmarks, like goofy fist fights, Kirk making it with a hot alien babe, and light humour that is far less baffling than in ST: V (with the universal translator scene being my pick for the best). Although a murder mystery i believe is pretty novel for the series, it lets in a bit of fresh air into the proceedings by being something that hasn’t really been seen in the series before.
The usual complaints of plot holes, the crew being far far too old to be running around the galaxy, and other inconsistencies don’t hold enough interest for me to discuss them in length here, what i did want to weigh in on though is the inclusion of the new Vulcan, Valeris.
Much of the disappointment i hear about this film stems a lot from how Saavik would have made for a better traitor than Valeris. I would say that i agree with this, partially.
Yes, Saavik’s inclusion would add much more weight to her betrayal, it would’ve been an interesting way of bringing the character back into the series in a meaningful way after she just fell off the series in part IV. In fact if you just change Valeris’ name to Saavik you can plainly see that the film makers really just ended up doing a name swap. Valeris has the same playful cuteness that Saavik had in Wrath of Khan, she spouts out regulations at Kirk just as Saavik did, and Spock’s forced mind meld with its clear implications of personal and emotional violation is meant to juxtapose the intimacy between him and Saavik in ST: III.
Having Saavik would also make her eventual betrayal much more of a surprise. As the great lengths that the script goes to set up Valeris’ relationship to Spock really gives the whole thing away. However although i can see the advantages of having Saavik be a conspirator, ultimately i recognise and agree with her exclusion from the film.
I just can’t see (much like the film makers did) Saavik betraying The Federation, or more importantly betraying Spock and Kirk. I can’t see Saavik being a zealot and extremist for The Federation after she elected to stay on Vulcan in ST: IV as opposed to returning with the crew. Ultimately i can’t see how Saavik would agree to murder, it just isn’t in her character. Sure characters can change, but such a radical change would be hard to stomach if i couldn’t be given a sufficiently good explanation. It’s this impasse that lead to her being dropped. The film makers had to compromise by creating Valeris, and like all compromises it doesn’t satisfy completely but it keeps the peace.
Quite honestly The Undiscovered County is my favourite outing by the original crew. Sure, it’s no Wrath of Khan, but its a fun movie that has all of the substance, ideas, and character development that also marks the best parts of the franchise as a whole. It is an ideal way to send off the original crew, and also a perfect example of what a great Star Trek movie can and should be like.
**** OUT OF FIVE