The Federation Starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), returns to Earth after defeating Khan Noonien Singh, who stold, then set off the terraforming device called Genesis. Among the casualties was Captain Kirk’s friend and Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy). But at Earth’s Spacedock, their friend Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) begins to act strangely. The Starfleet Commander Admiral Mordow (Robert Hooks) informs the crew that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned and no-one is to speak of the now politically awkward Genesis Device. Every time the Enterprise saves the Galaxy, they try to mothball her.

David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), Kirk’s son and a scientist largely responsible for Genesis, along with Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis), are investigating the Genesis Planet from the Science Vessel Grissom, discovering something strange in the neighborhood—sorry, an unexplained lifeform. They transport to the planet and find a young Vulcan child and realize that Spock has been reborn. But the child is aging rapidly and the planet itself is becoming unstable. The Klingon Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) has heard of Genesis and understands that it is a powerful weapon. He destroys the Grissom and searches the planet.

Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), confronts Kirk and they realize that Spock transferred his Katra—his living spirit—into Doctor McCoy with a Vulcan mind-meld. McCoy will die from this, and both Spock’s body and his Katra must be laid to rest on Vulcan. Disobeying orders, Kirk and his officers grab McCoy, disable the pursuing Excelsior, and steal the Enterprise from Spacedock to return to the Genesis Planet. On Genesis, the Klingons capture Marcus, Saavik, and young Spock, but before Kruge can interrogate them, the Enterprise arrives and Kruge beams back to his Bird of Prey.

The barely functioning and understaffed Enterprise gains the upper hand at first, but the Klingons disable the ship. Kruge orders a hostage killed, and Kirk’s son Marcus dies defending Saavik and Spock. Kirk and his crew feign surrender and activate the ship’s self-destruct sequence as they beam down to the planet. The boarding Klingons are killed. Kirk lures Kruge to the surface and the Enterprise crew transfers to the Klingon ship.

As the Genesis Planet disintegrates about them, Kirk and Kruge battle. Kirk wins by kicking Kruge off a cliff into a lava flow. Kirk and crew take control of the Klingon ship and head to Vulcan. Spock’s Katra is successfully reunited with his body via the ceremony of Fal-Tor-Pan. He lives but his memories are fragmented. It seems like it will take a while to recover from being dead. But he stops and says, “Your name is…Jim.”

The film was written and produced by Harve Bennett, directed by Leonard Nimoy—his first feature film. Harve Bennett got the nod to write the film the day after The Wrath of Khan opened. He wrote it backwards, from the last line (Your name is…Jim.) to the first. Four people played the rapidly growing Spock: Carl Steven (9), Vadia Potenza (13), Stephen Manley (17) and Joe W. Davis (25). Dame Judith Anderson played K’Lar, the Vulcan High Priestess. Robin Curtis played Saavik because Kirstie Alley, fearing typecasting, bowed out. Leonard Nimoy’s name did not appear on any scripts, in an attempt to keep Spock’s survival secret. The destruction of the Enterprise was supposed to be a surprise but was featured in the trailers. James Horner returned to do the score. Nimoy’s direction was universally praised by critics and credited with the success of the film.

George Takei was offended that a huge security guard called him “Tiny” but when he proceeded to beat the crap out of the guy, the audience cheered. Nichelle Nichols was upset at first by how few lines she had but read the script and loved what she got to do. Christopher Lloyd was, as most funny men can be, a terrifying villain, partly because he seemed out of control half the time and coldly calculating the rest, and always theatrical, which space-opera villains must be. His casual murders were rather shocking—a long way from Reverend Jim on Taxi, which he was playing at the same time. Lloyd said Kruge was one of his favorite roles. When actors got Klingon lines wrong, it was cheaper and easier to revise Marc Okrand’s Klingon Dictionary than to re-shoot the scenes.

In the Search for Spock, Star Trek maintains its space-opera credentials with its themes of sacrifice, salvation, and resurrection, especially following the vengeance and madness of The Wrath of Khan. Even if you didn’t see the Fall of Lucifer in Khan, you can’t miss the Passion of the Christ in Spock. The fact that these two emotionally wrought films are followed by the sweet and funny Voyage Home seems a little inconsistent, though welcome. We could think of the trilogy as Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but that seems a little heavy, even for space-opera. In the end, this story, like all of Star Trek, is about friendship