The Starship Enterprise arrives at Starbase Yorktown for resupply and shore leave. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) has applied for Vice Admiral and recommended Spock (Zachary Quinto) as his replacement. Hiraku Sulu (John Cho) reunites with his family, Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) keeps working, and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock have broken up. Spock hears that Elder Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has died.
An escape pod drifts out of an uncharted nebula, and the Enterprise is sent to investigate and rescue any survivors. The only soul aboard the escape pod, Kalara (Lydia Wilson), says her ship is stranded on the planet Altamid in the nebula. When the Enterprise arrives, it is attacked by a swarm of small ships that begins tearing it apart. The leader of the attacking swarm, Krall (Idris Elba), boards Enterprise with his crew, capturing and killing nearly everyone in his search for the Abronath, a recently discovered relic, which is aboard the ship. Kirk gives the abandon ship order , and the damaged saucer section crashes on the planet below. Does that sound familiar?
Krall captures Sulu, Uhura, and others. Kirk and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), together with Kalara, find the saucer. It is apparent that Kalara knew of the attack beforehand, and they trick her into revealing herself as Krall’s spy. They are attacked by Krall’s soldiers; she is killed but Kirk and Chekov escape. Elsewhere, Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock, who is wounded, search for other survivors. Scott is picked up by a seriously cool scavenger named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), hiding from Krall in the USS Franklin, which crashed on the planet a hundred years before. There, Scott is reunited with Kirk, Chekov, McCoy, and Spock. Krall forces the Enterprise crew to hand over the Abronath, then uses it in an ancient bioweapon, intending to kill the inhabitants of Starbase Yorktown, then attack the Federation itself.
Kirk and the others, in a spectacular raid, manage to free the crew as Krall launches into space toward Yorktown. They fire up the ancient Franklin and take off. They jam and destroy the swarm with an old radio. The Franklin chases Krall through Yorktown. Uhura and Kirk discover that Krall is really Balthazar Edison, the Franklin’s former Captain. He is a human soldier, predating the Federation and contemptuous of its peaceful creed. When he and his crew were stranded on Altamid by a wormhole, they used the extinct natives’ technology to prolong their lives in alien form by killing others. Believing that the Federation had abandoned them, Edison plans to destroy the Federation and bring about Galactic War.
Kirk pursues Edison into Yorktown’s ventilation system. Edison activates the bioweapon, but before its influence can spread, Kirk ejects it, along with Edison, into space. Spock and McCoy rescue Kirk. Afterward, Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) closes the files on Edison and the Franklin. Kirk decides to refuse the Vice Admiral promotion and remain the Captain of the Enterprise, Spock remains in Starfleet rather than join the Vulcan exiles, and he returns to Uhura. Jaylah is accepted by Starfleet Academy. On Kirk’s birthday, they watch the Enterprise being rebuilt.
The film was directed by Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame and looks it, and was written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, produced by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Lindsey Weber, and Justin Lin. Abrams only produced and did not direct, because he was busy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Jonathan Frakes expressed an interest in directing but was rejected. It was scored, like the previous two films, by Michael Giacchino. It did not perform well at the box office, perhaps done in by Jason Bourne and Suicide Squad. Anton Yelchin died a month before its release, Leonard Nimoy the previous year. It was partly shot in Vancouver, BC.
The music Jaylah plays is “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, the same tune playing in the car Kirk runs off a cliff as a child in the first movie of the trilogy. Krall was a MACO soldier who fought the Xindi, which connects him to the Star Trek Enterprise series. Sulu is gay in this movie, as a nod to George Takei, though Takei thought that was not what Gene Roddenberry created and disapproved. John Cho thought it important that Sulu’s husband be Asian, but the scene was being filmed in Dubai and they could not find an Asian actor willing to play a gay character, so screenwriter Doug Jung played the part. Jeff Bezos (Yes, the Amazon CEO) has a cameo as a Starfleet Official.
I could not list all the trivia references to the previous TV series and movies, interesting as they may be to many, because they are legion. I will, however, let the bee out of my bonnet regarding the Vulcan Diaspora. I thought the theme was a natural for this series, as the destruction of the planet and the homelessness of all who were not on it at the time is possibly the one brand-new thing in the Kelvin Timeline, and could be the dramatic contemporary background that Star Trek has always tried to reference—from Vietnam and the Cold War to Race Relations and everything else that Gene Roddenberry wanted to sneak into his particular brand of meaningful escapism.
I have always thought of the Vulcans as spiritually akin to the Jews, not only because Leonard Nimoy practically created them out of his own childhood, but because of their fascinating mixture of science and mysticism, moral discipline and tolerant pacifism. Picture a ship—what name?--full of Vulcan exiles searching for a home, trying to keep their traditions alive, rejected by other mystics like the Bajorans, exploited by Ferengi, menaced by Cardassians, despised by Klingons, assimilated by Romulans, and treated in a cavalier manner by the Great Federation itself, fomenting rebellion in Starfleet led by the Enterprise crew. It seems a perfect Star Trek story to me, and a little more original than a vengeful megalomaniac former Captain. I think they missed a golden opportunity. But I still enjoyed every gorgeous and rollicking minute of the entire trilogy.