Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – The Work for Peace and the Legacy of “The Original Series”

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - IMDb

“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” might be my favorite film out of all the “Star Trek” films. The biggest competitor is still “Wrath of Khan” which I need to re-watch but from my memory both are so close in score. I love the deeper themes they explore and the rich characters who are brought to the screen. Suffice to say, this film still very much holds up. It has a few problematic that I noticed this time around, but the story, without going into spoilers, is still amazing.

The film was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer with the other screenplay writer being Denny Martin Flinn.

After the Klingon moon of Praxis explodes from overmining Spock reaches out for a chance for peace with the Klingon Empire, and asks for Kirk to be on his envoy. From here the story unfolds as those wanting to sabotage peace act upon events.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Relevant Cameos – I want to get some neat cameos out of the way upfront as most of the moments I’ll be describing are major events and characters (for the pros and cons) so without further ado. I loved seeing Yeoman Rand’s cameo, Michael Dorn as Colonel Worf, Worf’s grandfather were two cameos that were fantastic in this film.

Destruction of Praxis – The Destruction of Praxis was meant to mirror Chernobyl’s destruction and the ending of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. What works about this is how there is a complete shutoff of info from the Klingon Empire and that Captain Sulu witnesses it first hand so the truth of what happened can’t truly be denied. It lended weight to events especially as Spock mentions that without aid the Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS will be unhibatible in 50 years prompting the work for peace.

The Dinner Party – The dinner party is such a fun scene. In this the clash between Klingon and human cultures is on full display. You have General Chang egging on Kirk and Kirk rising to it while Gorkon is attempting to keep things civil as folks on both sides of the table alienate each other through misunderstanding. Even with how uncomfortable it is, it still gives Gorkon hope and he shares that hope with Kirk before returning to his ship.

Chancellor Gorkon – David Warner does an amazing job as the idealist Klingon leader fighting for peace. He has elements in his cabinet who want war, which means the Klingon High Council is probably similar. This in turn leads to his assassination, as people from the Klingon Empire and Starfleet do not want the war to stop. In the end he believes in fighting for peace though as his dying breathe to Kirk is to not let this be the end.

The Assassination of Gorkon – Gorkon’s assassination is visceral as it looks like the Enterprise-A fired upon Gorkon’s ship and two people beamed aboard and killed Gorkon and members of his cabinet. It is a brutal scene that does not shy away from how horrible the act is. This in turn leads to the arrest of Kirk and McCoy as being framed as responsible for the murder.

The Prison Planet Rura Penthe – Rura Penthe feels like something out of “Star Wars” both in the alien design and how chaotic it is. This works though and I enjoyed seeing the Klingon underbelly where no one was safe and how it forced Kirk and McCoy to think on their feet. It was such a fun location and I enjoyed Martia, the shapeshifter we are introduced too.

Martia – Martia is such a fun character. She is working with the Warden to frame Kirk and McCoy and escapees and get paid but before that she does help them make peace and respect with the other prisoners. She is a complicated antagonist and Amen is wonderful in the role. She honestly carries the scenes she is in more than Kirk and McCoy.

The Investigation on the Enterprise-A – The investigation begins with the Enterprise crew stalling so they have time to investigate and so that the evidence of the assassination (the magnetic boots that were used). You get to see them exploring all parts of the ship and multiple main crewmembers coming up with new excuses to give starfleet or ideas of where the evidence might be. It is really thorough and the reveal is powerful.

Uhura, Chekov and Scotty – Uhura gets to use her diplomatic skills and is with Chekov suggesting solutions to the mystery. Scotty is also on hand doing the same and in the end discovers the assassination uniforms and gets to punch the man attempting to kill the Federation President. This film makes use of the entire crew and I love that they were more than glorified cameos. Doohan, Nichols and Koenig do a great job.

Valeras – Valeras is the villainous Vulcan who believes peace is illogical as it entirely depends on faith and goes against the history the Klingons and Federation have. In a way she’s right as there would be later wars but even those wars wouldn’t have the rubric for peace if not for the events of this film. She is a great character and shows how complicated the Federation and Vulcans can be.

General Chang – Christopher Plummer is amazing as this Shakespeare quoting Klingon obsessed with war. You can see how much it has come to define him as he will work with his enemies to make sure peace will never happen, even if his homeworld is destroyed in the process. He is the driven nationalist and his defeat is rewarding. He also has a proto-type Bird-of-Prey that can fire when cloaked and nearly wins multiple times in this movie. He is easily one of Star Trek’s best villians.

Captain Sulu and The Excelsior – I love Captain Sulu. This tea drinking captain discovers the destruction of Praxis and does all he can to help Enterprise ending in his ship The Excelsior helping to defeat General Chang in the end. George Takei really deserved a mini-series with his character. He’s such a great captain.

McCoy – McCoy is there as support to Kirk through all and we see how deeply he is invested in the peace process as well as how ready he is to enjoy his retirement. This dynamic is contrasted with Kirk who doesn’t want to leave while McCoy will always do his duty and protect his friends but is more at peace with his age and the next stages of his life.

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk drive the primary action of the film and we see them grow as both grow over the course of the film. Kirk confronts and overcomes his prejudice due to Gorkon’s hope and him seeing first hand where hate leads and Spock sees the flaws in the Federation through Valeras’s betrayal and how his idealism blinded him to those who would want to keep the war going on. It is really well done and Shatner and Nimoy truly gave these characters a great sendoff. In the end they both find faith and hope once more and help the Federation and Klingon Empire find it too.

Chancellor Azetbur – Chancellor Azetbur is Gorkon’s daughter and still believes in his dream as she finds justice by trying Kirk and McCoy, which was fair given what she knew. She doesn’t let the Nationalists and zealots sway her and in the end it pays off as she signs the Khitomer accords and makes peace with Kirk as the true murders are revealed. Rosana DeSoto did a fantastic job.

The Cycle of Hatred – One of the themes of the film is how war feeds the cycle of hatred. Kirk’s hatred of the Klingon’s for one killing his son almost leads to greater war happening again and because of past battles old scars are carried forward by the people wanting there to be no peace.

Empathy and the Chance for Peace – In the end it is through empathy that peace is found as it is in Gorkon’s death that Kirk realizes how wrong he was and Azetbur does in the nationalist and zealots revealed. It is beautifully handled.

The Cons:

Kirk’s Shapeshifter Panic – Kirk sleeps with Martia who at one point turns into a giant beast and changes her gender. The film makes a joke of it. I hated it. “Trans panic” and “gay panic” is real and it harms people as homophobes and transphobes use that defense for their hatred. Kirk and McCoy should have been better.

Spock and Valeras Mind Meld / Mental Assault – When Spock is finding out the conspiracy he does a mind meld against Valeras’s will as she is one of the betrayers herself. It is horrible and I wish it had been called out in the film. There should been another way like a truth serum or something akin to that or Spock simply changing her mind through logic and reason as Trek usually does at it’s best. Like the “panic” scene I hated this so much.

This film is amazing, a favorite and still problematic. In this we get the best of hope for humanity and growth and also see where that growth is still needed. This evolution and embracing all is what the heart of “Star Trek” is and I hope we can see those greater stories in the future. This film ends the Klingon War and “The Original Series” in a way that matters and truly captured what made the show and films so memorable.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

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