Remember my Movie Matchup of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 2001: A Space Odyssey? I’m not done with either of those series yet because it turns out that the sequels to those two films are just as identical as their predecessors. What are the odds? 2010 and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock came out in theaters in 1984, and they both involve planet-wide destruction, hijacking spacecraft, the dead returning to life, and many other plot points and themes in common.
Of course, The Search for Spock isn’t a direct sequel to The Motion Picture, the same way that 2010 is of 2001. But it is a direct sequel to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s continuing the story of another film in the same franchise, so that’s close enough. So let’s not waste any time exploring these two sci-fi epics.
Here are all of the similarities I noticed between 2010 and The Search for Spock:
- It starts with a recap of the previous film.
- The main character is stripped of his command.
- A mystical figure comes to warn the main character of grave danger.
- The main character feels responsible for the tragedy in the first film and has to go back, joined by a small team.
- The main character disobeys direct orders from superiors in order to launch a rescue mission.
- A dead character is brought back to life, but has no memory.
- A minor character is killed to show the seriousness of a situation.
- The heroes sacrifice a beloved spaceship and use an enemy spaceship to escape a cataclysmic event.
- A planet explodes while also bringing life to something else.
Now let’s talk about each of these points in depth.
2010 and The Search for Spock both begin with a brief summary of the previous film. In fact, the first words we hear are spoken by a character who died at the end of the first film. 2010 shows a series of still photos from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even includes helpful text on the screen explaining in just a few minutes everything we need to know from that film. In other words, you can just watch 2010 and skip 2001 entirely and all you’ll miss are some (admittedly beautiful) special effects. The most important thing to note is that an astronaut named David Bowman comes across a gigantic Monolith in orbit around Jupiter, and he disappears into it. He is presumed dead.
The Search for Spock is the only Star Trek film to have a Rocky-like recap of the last few scenes of the earlier film before its own story gets started. It shows Spock’s noble death and funeral, reminding us that his body is deposited on a newborn world called Genesis.
Stripped of Command
The person in charge of the mission in the earlier film is relieved of duty. Heywood Floyd was the chief architect of the mission to Jupiter to study the Monolith, so naturally he shouldered the blame for the botched expedition. After all, the HAL-9000 supercomputer had a perfect service record before this mission, so it must have been some human error that led to HAL’s nervous breakdown. Admiral James T. Kirk performed admirably during the whole affair with Khan Noonien Singh and the Genesis Torpedo, but when he returns home he is immediately informed that the U.S.S. Enterprise is too old and it’s going to be decommissioned. In addition, he is unable to get command of another ship and he’s forbidden to return to the Genesis Planet.
While Kirk isn’t being reprimanded for any wrongdoing on his part, like Floyd, he still winds up being stuck on Earth with no way to try to find inner peace about the loss of his friend.
Haunted by his failure to save people’s lives in the first film, the hero decides to return to the scene of the crime to try to make things right. In 2001, Floyd (or someone above him) decided to keep the true objective of the Jupiter mission a secret from Flight Commanders David Bowman and Frank Poole. This led to the deaths of everyone on board the spaceship Discovery, except Bowman. Nine years later, Floyd finally gets a chance to go and find out what went wrong with the help of the Soviets. Apparently the Cold War was still going on in 2010. Who knew? He hitches a ride aboard the Soviet spaceship Leonov, much to the consternation of the U.S. government.
Kirk feels that it’s his duty to bring Spock back to life if possible, so he assembles his loyal crewmates and they formulate a daring plan to return to the Genesis Planet. At the same time, the Klingons (which are basically stand-ins for Soviets in the Star Trek universe) also head to Genesis to see if they can discover its secret and use it as a weapon against the Federation. The heroes are led by altruistic goals of fixing what went wrong in the past, while the villains (or supposed villains) are motivated by more sinister desires for hidden knowledge.
A mysterious visitor comes and gives the hero a dire message and a sense of urgency. In 2010, David Bowman (who is now a multidimensional being capable of changing his appearance at will) appears to Floyd and warns him that he needs to leave quickly or he will be destroyed. In The Search for Spock, Spock’s father Sarek visits Kirk and tells him he needs to return Spock’s body and soul (which are in two different places) to Vulcan so Spock can be revived.
This visitation takes place much earlier in The Search for Spock than it does in 2010, but in both cases the same thing follows: the hero takes matters into his own hands and disobeys orders.
After the hero is commanded specifically not to do something, he does it anyway. In 2010, the Cold War starts to get hot right at a critical moment for the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the Soviet spaceship Leonov. The United States and Soviet Union are on the brink of nuclear war and the Americans are ordered to go to the Discovery spaceship and not return to the Leonov for any reason. After Floyd gets his message from Bowman, he immediately goes to the Leonov and convinces the Soviets to perform some crazy maneuvers to leave Jupiter’s orbit before they are all destroyed.
The Genesis Planet becomes an intergalactic No Man’s Land because of its potential to be either a weapon or a humanitarian’s dream. No one is allowed to visit it except a science team. Kirk disobeys his commanding officers’ direct orders not to take the Enterprise anywhere and especially not to Genesis. He easily convinces Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura to help him steal the Enterprise, sabotage a pursuing Federation ship, and head back to Genesis to save Spock.
Back to Life
A character who was thought to be dead is suddenly revived, though with serious memory loss. HAL-9000 was disconnected by Bowman in 2001, and in 2010 he is restored to normal function. However, he can’t remember the terrible crimes he committed and he’s reverted to an almost childlike manner of interacting with people. In The Search for Spock, the search ends abruptly when Spock is discovered alive on Genesis. But he has been transformed into a child by the rejuvenating power of the planet, and he is unable to remember anything because his soul is elsewhere.
Death in the Family
A threatening lifeform kills a minor character to impress the seriousness of a situation on the heroes. A likable Soviet cosmonaut foolishly hazards a flyover of the huge Monolith over Jupiter, and he is killed in the process by an energy surge. This is a warning from the protectors of the Monolith to stay away. Kirk’s son David is on the Genesis Planet with Spock and another Starfleet officer named Saavik. They are captured by a group of Klingons just as Kirk arrives on the scene in the Enterprise. The Klingons murder David to convince Kirk to surrender his vessel. The death scene is quick and brutal. Both the cosmonaut and David are sympathetic characters, even if they’re not given a tremendous amount of development, so it’s shocking to see them killed in such an offhand manner.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
A legendary spaceship is sacrificed to allow the main characters to escape death. In 2010, Floyd comes up with a plan to use Discovery’s remaining fuel to help the Leonov start its journey back to Earth, and then cut Discovery loose and let it be destroyed when Jupiter erupts in a massive explosion. The plan works perfectly, to Discovery’s detriment. The Americans and Soviets return to Earth safely aboard the Leonov.
After David is murdered, Kirk sets the Enterprise for self-destruct and he tricks several Klingons into beaming onto the ship just as he and his crewmates beam down to Genesis. The Klingons are killed in the explosion and millions of Star Trek fans gasped in horror at seeing their beloved spaceship go down in flames. Then Kirk and crew find a way to take over the Klingons’ vessel and they get away just in time before Genesis is completely destroyed.
A Promise of New Life
A planet explodes while also bringing life to something else. With the destruction of Jupiter, the inhabitants of our Solar System are given a new lease on life. The formation of a new star in the night sky deflates the Cold War and also melts the ice on the mysterious moon of Europa, possibly paving the way for new life to begin there. The Genesis Planet’s short lifespan brings Spock back to life and provides a plausible excuse for actor Leonard Nimoy to continue playing that character for three more films. Soon after the planet is destroyed, the regrettable incident between the Federation and the Klingon Empire is swept under the table and war is avoided.
It’s pretty amazing that these two science-fiction films have so much in common. Beyond the similarities in their story elements, they were also similarly received by critics and audiences. They did respectable business at the box office, but they are considered inferior to the films that immediately preceded them. I like The Search for Spock, but I definitely prefer The Wrath of Khan, as I’m sure almost every Star Trek fan does. But I can’t say the same for 2001. While it certainly has better special effects than 2010, its story, characters and ideas are all inferior. There’s no doubt which one offers a more fulfilling moviegoing experience.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images from 2010 and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock are the copyright of their respective owners.