Nine of the 13 Star Trek films that have been released thus far include a scene featuring the Enterprise in Spacedock around the Earth. And, interestingly, those scenes encapsulates what each film is about.
Let’s check out those “leaving Spacedock” scenes and explore them to see how they perfectly capture the tone and even the deeper story elements and themes of their respective films in the Star Trek series.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Majestic Yet Meaningless
Don’t get me wrong, I like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Its easy-going pace is audacious and refreshing compared to most big-budget films. But even I have to admit the film, despite its high stakes, doesn’t really amount to much. A faceless villain is defeated. A couple of glorified red shirts are killed (or reported missing). There aren’t major consequences to the story, besides Kirk being named an Admiral.
This sense of beautiful stillness is reflected perfectly by the Enterprise’s departure from Spacedock. There’s no deep metaphor or anything interesting going on as the Enterprise goes forth. It’s just leaving Spacedock. That’s it. Oh, and they run into a wormhole, which slows everything down and nearly destroys the ship. Definitely an apt metaphor for how the film plays out.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Old Things Made New
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is all about Kirk dealing with his age in the face of young cadets, a son he barely knows, and a device that turns old, dead moons into young, rejuvenated planets. And nowhere is this better emphasized than in the scene where the Enterprise leaves Spacedock. Admiral Kirk is standing watch as Captain Spock goes through the familiar routine of preparing for departure. Suddenly, Spock realizes this is a great teaching moment, and he invites fellow-Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik to take the reins and guide the ship out of Spacedock. It’s got humor, heart, and a sense of adventurous angst as the cadet takes command in a real-world setting for the first time.
There’s an extra level of meta-text to this scene because of the fact that the filmmakers had to reuse footage from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The brilliant score from James Horner and the faster cuts between shots make this old footage feel fresh and new. And once they’re free and clear to navigate Spock dutifully turns to Kirk, awaiting orders. Kirk happily returns command to Spock, just as he keeps trying to do throughout the film.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – Going Back
In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk and crew decide to steal the Enterprise after they’ve been told they cannot go to the Genesis planet to save Spock and Dr. McCoy. During their heist, they literally retrace their steps through the interior of Spacedock. They don’t even bother turning the ship around. They just back up. Then they sabotage the pursuing Excelsior, for good measure.
This film is all about going back to where they were before in order to undo their mistakes, so it’s appropriate that they should make a battered Enterprise reverse its way out of Spacedock. Also, Kirk keeps finding ways to outsmart his opponents, and this scene demonstrates that beautifully with a little help from Scotty’s technical talents.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Triumphant Return
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a comedy about errors in communication, first and foremost. As Kirk and his crew take a shuttle to their new ship at the end of the film, we learn that they have not been told what starship they’re about to be assigned to. It’s one final lapse in communication. They’re all trying to guess which ship they’ll get, each with varying degrees of optimism and pessimism about their prospects. Just as it looks like they’re about to get the Excelsior, a brand-new Enterprise appears out of nowhere, surprising them all. At the sight of the newly created ship to replace their old one, Kirk simply utters, “My friends, we’ve come home.” As the ship triumphantly leaves Spacedock, Kirk joyfully declares, “Let’s see what she’s got,” and promptly shoots the Enterprise into warp speed.
This scene includes a great touch of humor, a small breakdown in communication, and the glorious return of an icon. Throughout the film, we’ve enjoyed plenty of humor, miscommunication between aliens and alien cultures, and the gradual return of Spock to his usual self. A perfect end to a perfect movie.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Breaking Rules
Lieutenant Valeris is briefly introduced as a gifted Vulcan helmsman at the start of this scene. Kirk barely pays her any attention, and he just wants to get this final mission over with. Everything is happening smoothly and by the book until Kirk overrides Valeris and tells her to make the Enterprise leave Spacedock at one-quarter impulse power. She reminds him that only thrusters are allowed in Spacedock, but Kirk just smiles and tells her, “You heard the order.” She cautiously obeys and the Enterprise is swiftly on its way.
This scene is telling in many ways on repeat viewings. Valeris acts like she’s by the book, but she secretly enjoys breaking the rules, as we learn in the next scene when she admits this to Kirk. But going even further, her character later reveals herself to be deeply flawed, breaking rules left and right in a misguided attempt at saving the Federation while portraying herself as a friend to her fellow officers. In addition, this scene demonstrates Kirk’s foreboding about the mission that he didn’t want to be a part of and how much he’s going to have to change over the course of the film to overcome his self-imposed rules and prejudices. And finally, this scene is a lot of fun with Kirk and his crewmates showing that they really couldn’t care less about following all of the rules, since this is their final mission, anyway.
Star Trek Generations – Deferring to Kirk
Kirk is no longer a Starfleet captain, and his younger replacement as captain of the next generation of the Enterprise asks for his help several times. Kirk tries to say no several times, but the other captain won’t take no for an answer. Finally, Kirk acquiesces and takes command one last time. This happens twice in Star Trek Generations. The first time, Captain Harriman is asking him to give the order to send the Enterprise-B out of Spacedock. The second time, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is asking him to leave the Nexus and help him save the crew of the Enterprise-D, among others. We get to see the maiden voyage of one Enterprise and the final destination of another. From the first scene to the climax, this film makes it clear that Kirk is the only one who can succeed where others fail. Thus, other captains have to defer to him.
As a side note, the Enterprise-B leaves Spacedock completely unprepared for what lies ahead. It doesn’t have the proper staff or equipment to handle an emergency. This feels like a good metaphor for Star Trek Generations, which feels like a film that wasn’t completely thought out before going into production. They rushed it into theaters to capitalize on the popularity of Star Trek: The Next Generation and to bridge the gap between the original crew and the Next Generation crew.
Star Trek: Nemesis – Licking Their Wounds
I’m cheating a little with this one because we don’t actually see the Enterprise-E leave Spacedock, but we do see it in Spacedock at the very end of the film. The first time we saw the Enterprise on film way back in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it was in Spacedock getting retrofitted. So it’s appropriate that the last time we see the Enterprise it’s in a similar-looking Spacedock getting repaired.
A lot happens at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis as the Enterprise gets repaired. Picard and his crew mourn the loss of Commander Data, Will Riker and his wife Deanna leave for a new command, and B-4 begins to take the place of Data. It’s all a big reconciliation with everything that’s fallen apart throughout the film.
Star Trek (2009) – Respectful Yet Mischievous
Star Trek (2009) has a great shot of Kirk and McCoy getting their first glimpse of the Enterprise. The scene plays out just like the rest of the film. It’s respectful of the Enterprise and everything that makes Star Trek great while also having a little fun and inserting lots of humor into each beat. This is especially true when the film subverts our expectations as the Enterprise fails to launch into warp at first in defiance of the epic music.
Star Trek Into Darkness – Covering All Their Bases
There’s hardly a major or minor plot point that isn’t touched upon during the Enterprise’s sendoff scene in Star Trek Into Darkness. Uhura and Spock’s relationship issues, Scotty’s sudden departure from the Enterprise, Captain Pike’s untimely death, Carol Marcus’s misgivings, and Kirk’s ethical decision not to fire torpedoes at a vigilante but to take him into custody all find their way into this scene.
Star Trek Into Darkness is an exercise in efficient storytelling. Just about every scene is setting something up or paying something off. People are constantly spouting exposition in fun ways, and the whole thing comes across as a fast and furious spectacle. The scene of the Enterprise leaving Spacedock has all of this in just a few minutes of screen time. Nice, tidy storytelling.
Starting on the Right Foot
Pretty interesting, huh? If you were to boil Star Trek films down to a single scene, you could hardly do better than something as seemingly simple as the moment when the Enterprise leaves Spacedock. Before the crew even approaches their final destination or faces major conflicts along the way, the way they begin says a lot about what’s in store for them. In the films where the departure comes at the end, it comes as a summation of everything that’s happened before.
With most Star Trek films, it’s all about the journey and what you learn along the way. So starting each journey on the right foot is probably the most important part of each adventure. And that’s where I’ll leave it.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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A fun read! Robert you have discovered the heart of the film, the core of the planet, the center of the universe, okay, I’ll stop. Seriously, nice job. I’ve not thought of Spacedock in this way before.
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