Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) Review

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) Director: Nicholas Meyer

“In space, all warriors are cold warriors…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

With a title alluding to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Star Trek VI was bound to be superior to its rather mediocre predecessor. In fact, much of the cast and crew involved in the making of the fifth Star Trek film felt they were involved in the ultimate demise of Star Trek. However, producer Harve Bennett, who had been involved since Star Trek II: The Wrath of the Khan, pushed for a new Star Trek picture though he eventually left the project citing disagreements over the script and a rushed production timeline to meet the 25th anniversary of Star Trek. Nicholas Meyer was then hired to write and direct the film –he was a fan favorite who wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and wrote the script for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Unfortunately, he and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry were not on speaking terms during initial brainstorming sessions. The release of the sixth Star Trek film coincided with the end of the Cold War and the film’s themes echo the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost as if to acknowledge the Berlin Wall separating the Klingons from the Federation is ready to be torn down. At this time, the Klingon Empire is in a state of decay and dissolution, set to fall in a handful of decades, while the Federation is confident and strong, but draws hesitance and skepticism from its mortal enemies. There is a mixture of hope and mistrust between the two cultures. Sadly Gene Roddenberry died just before Star Trek VI was completed.

The Stardate is 9521.6. Hikaru Sulu (reprised by George Takei) is the captain of the USS Excelsior and now, after three years as captain, he has concluded his first assignment as captain cataloging gaseous planetary anomalies in the Beta Quadrant, and the Excelsior is headed home on full impulse power when they encounter a massive subspace shockwave, which seems to destroy the nearby location of Praxis, a Klingon moon (the Klingon’s key energy facility). Klingon Brigadier Kerla interrupts and demands that the Excelsior obey standing treaties and he instructs them not to enter the Neutral Zone or else risk war. The Excelsior must simply watch as Klingons on Praxis suffer and die. Captain Sulu decides the Federation must be notified.

Meanwhile, back at Starfleet the rest of the old Enterprise crew are gearing up for retirement when a classified meeting is convened and Federation Special Envoy Spock (reprised by Leonard Nimoy) vouches for Captain Kirk (reprised by William Shatner) to lead a delegation designed to build a lasting peace with the Klingons after this recent disaster. However, Kirk is frustrated because he still harbors animosity toward the Klingons for the death of his son, David (as featured in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock). Nevertheless, he leads the Enterprise to meet with a delegation of Klingons led by the stoic but warm-hearted Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) who is interested in making peace. Can we trust him? The Enterprise hosts Gorkon for dinner, where he is joined by his militant one-eyed chief of staff Chang (Christopher Plummer) and his daughter Azetbur (Rosanna DeSoto). They pour Romulan ale and Chekov mutters, “guess who’s coming to dinner.” It is a tense dinner rife with allusions to Shakespeare and the feeling of lingering hostilities –the Klingons claim the require breathing room for their culture which they fear is under threat of annihilation by the “homo sapiens-only club” of the United Federation of Planets. At any rate, after dinner the Klingons return to their ship and just when all seems peaceful, the Enterprise scanners pick up a sudden neutron energy radiation surge, perhaps created by another ship, such as a cloaked Bird of Prey, and torpedoes appear to be fired at the Klingons by the Enterprise, destabilizing the Klingon anti-gravity system. Two mysterious figures then board the Klingon vessel and, wearing gravity boots, they assassinate several guards and the Chancellor. When the Klingon vessel stabilizes it turns to fire on the Enterprise, but Kirk and Bones beam aboard, unarmed, in a gesture of goodwill and they find the dying Chancellor whose last words to Kirk are: “Don’t let it end like this.”

Kirk and Bones are promptly brought before a Klingon tribunal and found guilty of murder (in a wonderful crossover with The Next Generation, they are defended by Mr. Worf who is played by Michael Dorn). The prosecution is none other than the KGB-esque Chang. Kirk and Bones are sentenced to a lifetime of grueling work in the mines of Rura Penthe, a “graveyard” not unlike a Soviet gulag. However, once condemned to this harrowing and icy fate, they quickly meet a shapeshifter who helps them escape. She informs them of a reward for their deaths –but of course she is revealed to be a traitor. Bones and Kirk attack her and are rescued by the Enterprise helmed by Spock (in violation of Starfleet) who had tagged Kirk with a tracker that is now visible after Kirk and Bones escaped past the penal colony’s shield.

“Some people think the future means the end of history,
well we haven’t run out of history quite yet…”

Back aboard the ship, Spock has been leading an internal investigation into who may have assassinated the Chancellor. It turns out to be a conspiracy of Klingons, Romulans, and Federation crew are discovered to have led the sabotage of the peace talks at Camp Khitomer near the Romulan border, one of the traitors is Valeris (Kim Cattrall), Spock’s young protege on the Enterprise. They prevent a terrorist plot at the peace assembly and, using heat seeking torpedoes, they destroy the prototype of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey that can cloak itself while firing. Kirk and the Chancellor’s daughter realize they are allies –cue the cheesy slow clap as the Federation celebrates peace with the Klingons. The Enterprise is hailed back to Starfleet for decommissioning, but the crew decides to snub them. The film ends on a beautiful note as Kirk quotes Peter Pan and directs the Enterprise to carry on toward the second star on the right, straight on ’til morning. The film closes with his final log entry as the torch is handed to a new generation:

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 9529.1:This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man – where no one – has gone before.”

Star Trek VI offers a wonderfully fitting send-off for fans of the original series. It explores themes war and peace as the crew wonders if they have outlived their usefulness while the Cold War between the Klingons and the Federation comes to a steady close and old hatchets are finally buried. However, history is not halted, because a new era of Star Trek must now boldly go forth.

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