It’s been more than a year since my last Cinematic Chiasmus. But you know what? Christmas is coming early this year because I am offering another amazing example of Cinematic Chiasmus right now.
If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, a chiasmus is a storytelling technique that reveals parts of a story in one order in the first half and then reverses the order in the second half. So everything that happens in the first half gets repeated, just in the opposite order, in the second half. It’s quite beautiful to behold once you realize it’s happening, and it deepens the meaning of already-great films.
And this brings me to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It’s unique among Star Trek films because it shows the aftermath of the previous film and sets the stage for its sequel, so it has quite a few dangling plot threads at the start and finish of its story. And I’m about to demonstrate another way that Star Trek III is unique as it delicately lays out a symmetrical story that begins and ends the same way and has the rest of the events in the film line up perfectly with each other.
Here are the events of the film listed in a way in which the chiasmus becomes evident:
A. A recap of Star Trek II’s ending with Spock’s voiceover about the Enterprise’s “continuing voyages”
B. Admiral Kirk has lost Spock and his son is gone, but he still has the Enterprise
C. Valkris is killed by Kruge after transferring data on Genesis to him
D. The Enterprise arrives at Spacedock
E. Kirk confronts Dr. McCoy, who acts like Spock and falls unconscious
F. Admiral Morrow says the Enterprise’s day is over, and the Genesis Planet is a source of galactic controversy and is forbidden
G. Kruge watches a video of Kirk explaining Genesis and then declares his intention to discover the secret of its power
H. The Grissom approaches the Genesis Planet and spots a lifeform reading on the surface
I. Sarek mind-melds with Kirk, forcing him to endure deep sorrow
J. Sarek is distraught when he finds Spock’s katra is not with Kirk
K. Kirk discovers McCoy and Spock are in danger and he swears to go and help them
L. David and Saavik beam down to the Genesis Planet and discover benign, evolved microbes
M. Admiral Morrow rejects Kirk’s request to go to the Genesis Planet and warns him he’ll be destroyed if he pursues this course of action
N. McCoy fails to charter a ship or use the Vulcan neck pinch
O. David and Saavik find footsteps in the snow while the Grissom waits helplessly
P. Kirk breaks McCoy out of prison while Sulu prevents security guards from following them
Q. Scotty bids farewell to the Excelsior’s captain after sabotaging his ship
R. A young cadet yearns for adventure while insulting Uhura
R. The young cadet gets a taste of adventure, courtesy of Uhura
Q. Scotty greets Kirk after automating the Enterprise
P. The Enterprise escapes Spacedock and the sabotaged Excelsior is unable to pursue
O. David and Saavik find Spock as the Grissom is destroyed by Klingons
N. McCoy perfectly mimics Spock’s voice while on a ship en route to the Genesis Planet
M. David admits to using unethical means to create the Genesis Planet, causing a lot of damage and lost lives
L. Kruge discovers violent, evolved microbes after beaming down to the Genesis Planet
K. David admits the Genesis Planet will be destroyed, and he volunteers to go fight off the Klingons
J. Kirk is concerned when the Grissom doesn’t respond to hails
I. Saavik helps Spock endure the pain of pon farr
H. The Enterprise approaches the Genesis Planet and spots the Klingon ship
G. Kruge recognizes Kirk from the Genesis video and has his men kill David
F. The Enterprise is destroyed, Kirk fights with Kruge, and escapes the self-destructing Genesis Planet
E. McCoy confronts an unconscious Spock
D. The Enterprise crew arrives at Vulcan
C. McCoy survives after transferring Spock’s katra back into his body
B. Kirk has lost his son and the Enterprise, but he has Spock back
A. The words “And the adventure continues…” portend future films
Now comes the fun part as we go through and compare each of the corresponding events more closely.
A. The Adventure Continues
Befitting its position as the second part in a trilogy, Star Trek III opens with a brief recap of the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The recap reaches its climax after a voiceover of Spock explains that, “These are the continuing voyages of the Starship Enterprise.” This acclimates the audience to the idea that they’re going to see a continuation of the events of the previous film.
The film ends with a hopeful title card, stating, “…And the adventure continues…” with ellipses on both sides. Thus, it’s tying together the two films with a potential third one that will conclude the overarching story.
B. Kirk’s Consolation
The film proper opens with a Captain’s Log from Kirk, noting that his son David has been reassigned. He’s lost his friend Spock, but he’s retained his command of the Enterprise. He feels uneasy, though.
In the end, Sarek laments that Kirk had to give up his son and his ship to save Spock. Kirk responds that if he hadn’t made those sacrifices he would have lost his soul. Despite his losses, Kirk smiles at Spock’s return.
C. The Transfer
A group of smugglers waits a long time for a Klingon Bird of Prey to appear. Their leader, a woman named Valkris, transmits key information about Genesis to a Klingon commander named Kruge. They are lovers, but Kruge does not hesitate to destroy her ship and kill her and everyone else aboard when he learns she has seen the information she delivered to him.
The Enterprise crew doesn’t have to wait long for the Vulcan high priestess to appear. Dr. McCoy volunteers to transfer Spock’s katra (or living spirit) from his mind back into Spock’s body via a risky ceremony. It could kill him, but McCoy cares too much about Spock not to take the risk.
D. Coming Home
After the terrible ordeal they endured in Star Trek II, Kirk and his crewmates arrive at Spacedock in orbit around Earth. They are welcomed by Starfleet and the Enterprise is guided into port by autopilot, so they can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
After suffering all sorts of calamities on Genesis, Kirk and his crewmates arrive at Vulcan. They are welcomed by Sarek, and Sulu must manually guide the ship to a safe landing on the surface of the planet. Even though he’s a little rusty and on an unfamiliar ship, Sulu does a perfect job.
Kirk enters Spock’s quarters on the Enterprise where he finds McCoy acting like he’s in a trance. He’s speaking as though he’s Spock, demanding to know why he was left on Genesis and pleading with Kirk to bring him home to Vulcan in order to save him. Overcome with emotion, McCoy cries “Remember,” and then loses consciousness.
McCoy visits an unconscious Spock in his new quarters aboard the Bird of Prey. He begins by demanding Spock remember that he put his katra into McCoy and pleading for guidance to know what to do with it. He shows off some of Spock’s mannerisms as he declares he doesn’t want to lose Spock again.
F. Two Morrows
Admiral Morrow debriefs the Enterprise crew, telling them that they will all receive extended shore leave with the exception of Scotty, who will be reassigned to the Excelsior. He also says that there will be no refit of the Enterprise and that the Genesis Planet has become the source of a big galactic controversy. Its very mention in casual conversation is strictly forbidden by order of Starfleet.
Everything the appropriately named Admiral Morrow mentions comes to pass the very next day. The Enterprise is destroyed in a crafty ploy by Kirk, ensuring there will be no refit of it. History repeats itself as Kruge confronts the Enterprise crew, telling them all that they will be beamed up to his ship with the exception of Kirk and Spock, purely out of spite. And we get to see the “galactic controversy” Morrow mentioned play out literally as Kirk and Kruge duke it out on the Genesis Planet as it tears itself apart. The planet is soon destroyed in a giant explosion, making its forbidden status moot.
G. The Secret of Genesis
Kruge watches the video he obtained from the late Valkris, in which Kirk gives a brief overview of the Genesis Project. He sarcastically muses about how wonderful it would be to live under a Federation flag on an artificially grown planet. He tells one of his men that they will go to the Genesis Planet and obtain the secret to ultimate power hidden within it.
After facing off with the Enterprise in the Bird of Prey, Kruge gets hailed by Kirk. He recognizes Kirk from the video. After calling Kirk’s bluff, he tells one of his men on the planet to kill one of the prisoners, Spock, Saavik, or David. Ironically, the Klingon kills David – the only man alive who possessed the secrets of Genesis that Kruge had been seeking. After that, he tells his men they’ll transfer their flag to the Enterprise and take what they want from its memory banks.
H. Approaching the Genesis Planet
The science vessel Grissom arrives in orbit around the Genesis Planet and begins a scan of the planet’s surface. They soon discover a metallic object and some sort of lifeform in its vicinity. They surmise it’s Spock’s torpedo, but they can’t identify the lifeform.
Later, the Enterprise arrives in orbit around the Genesis Planet, and Chekov reports that some sort of scout-class vessel appeared and then disappeared from his scanner, but he can’t identify what it was. Kirk and Sulu do a visual scan and discover there’s an energy surge cloaking a Klingon Bird of Prey.
I. Enduring Vulcan Pain
Sarek interrupts Kirk at his home and requests he be allowed to perform a Vulcan mind-meld on Kirk. Kirk agrees, so Sarek touches his fingers to Kirk’s face and begins to relive Kirk’s memories of Spock’s death. Kirk’s grief is amplified by Sarek’s probing of his mind.
Saavik is awakened by Spock’s cries of agony. He is in the throes of pon farr and is suffering unimaginable pain. Saavik offers comfort to him by putting two of her fingers against two of his in some sort of Vulcan ritual meant to alleviate his tension and bring peace to his body and mind.
J. No Response
After his mind-meld with Kirk, Sarek is saddened when he learns that Spock’s katra is not there. He had assumed it would be nowhere else, so now he believes Spock is lost forever.
After hearing that the Grissom hasn’t responded to Starfleet’s message, Kirk is concerned. He tells Chekov to send their own hail to Grissom, but it isn’t answered, either.
K. Kirk and David Volunteer
Kirk reviews the Main Engineering security video and realizes that Spock imbued McCoy with his katra. This puts both Spock’s katra and McCoy in grave danger if they don’t get to Vulcan fast. Kirk swears that he will go and help his friends – alone if he must.
David and Saavik realize that Spock and the Genesis Planet are interconnected and aging rapidly together. Spock will suffer and die if they can’t get him off the planet. When they spot unfriendly visitors in the distance, David volunteers to go and fight them alone to protect Spock and Saavik.
L. Encounters with Microbes
David and Saavik beam down to the coordinates of the unidentified lifeform they scanned from the Grissom. When they come to Spock’s torpedo, they find it surrounded by highly evolved microbes that are peacefully crawling around. They carefully step around them to avoid bothering them.
Kruge and a few of his men have beamed down to the Genesis Planet to hunt down the unidentified Starfleet personnel they heard trying to communicate with the Grissom. They come across Spock’s torpedo, which is now infested by giant microbes that violently attack Kruge when he grabs one.
M. Breaking the Rules
Kirk respectfully requests Admiral Morrow’s permission to go to the Genesis Planet to rescue his friend Spock. But Morrow refuses, saying Kirk will destroy his career if he pursues this reckless course of action. Undeterred, Kirk walks away and tells his crewmates he’s going anyway, disregarding Federation regulations and making the rules up as he goes.
David has a frank conversation with Saavik in which he admits he used protomatter to make the Genesis Planet possible. Unfortunately, protomatter is unstable and could lead to serious complications. David disregarded ethical evaluations of the substance and used it anyway, acting just like his father and changing the rules, in Saavik’s words.
N. McCoy Mimics Spock
McCoy goes to a bar and attempts to charter an alien’s ship to take him to the Genesis Planet. But he fails and the alien causes such a loud disturbance that he attracts the attention of a nearby Federation security officer. McCoy attempts to use the Vulcan neck pinch on the officer, but he utterly fails at that, too.
Later, McCoy is aboard the Enterprise with his friends, heading to the Genesis Planet. When Kirk asks if there are any vessels pursuing them, McCoy answers in Spock’s voice. His analysis is spot-on and his voice is a perfect mimic of Spock’s, which shocks everyone.
O. Hello, Spock. Goodbye, Grissom
David and Saavik approach a snowy sector of the Genesis Planet and notice footprints in the snow. They report this to the Grissom, and the captain reacts in a puzzled manner, unsure of what’s going on.
After a bit more searching, David and Saavik come across a young boy who they believe to be a regenerated Spock. Upon receiving this information, the captain of the Grissom attempts to relay it to Starfleet, but his ship is ambushed by Klingons and destroyed.
P. The Breakout
Kirk puts his plan into action to break McCoy out of his confinement. Standing outside the cell, a tall guard calls Sulu “tiny,” and Sulu responds by beating him up and saying, “Don’t call me tiny.” He also sabotages a control panel to prevent a couple of security guards from opening the elevator door and pursuing them.
Kirk and his team bring their plan to completion as Scotty manages to get the Space Doors open just in time to allow the Enterprise to exit Spacedock. The Excelsior is in hot pursuit, and its captain warns Kirk that if he does this he’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again. Kirk responds by going to warp speed. When the Excelsior attempts to follow, it breaks down because of Scotty’s earlier sabotage.
Q. Scotty’s Ingenuity
Scotty says goodnight to the Excelsior’s captain who boasts about his plan to break the Enterprise’s speed records. However, the captain doesn’t know that Scotty has just sabotaged the Excelsior’s engines so they’ll shut down as soon as the transwarp drive is engaged.
Scotty greets Kirk as he enters the bridge of the Enterprise. He boasts that he has so thoroughly automated the functions of the ship that a chimpanzee and two trainees could run it without any trouble.
R. Mr. Adventure
A young cadet (known as Mr. Adventure in the end credits) sits in a transporter room with Uhura. He’s bored and he yearns for some adventure and surprises instead of being stuck in a dead-end job. He says this job might be good enough for her, someone who’s at the end of her career, but he wants some excitement. Uhura says he should be careful what he wishes for because he might just get it.
Right on cue, Kirk, McCoy, and Sulu walk through the door. The young man is flabbergasted. He hasn’t received any notification to expect their arrival, and he doesn’t know what to do. But Uhura does. She points a phaser at him and tells him to get in the closet. He instantly regrets everything he said as she gives him a taste of the unexpected and the exciting. While Uhura plans to go on plenty of adventures in the future, he’s stuck in a closet. Looks like Mr. Adventure missed her adventure.
Evil Gnol Dna Repsorp
What does this all mean? Well, Star Trek III is all about life from death, using death as a fighting chance to live, breaking rules to serve a higher sense of justice, and attempting to turn technology meant for peaceful purposes into a weapon. The film’s chiasmus structure certainly mirrors those ideas. It’s so awesome that writer/producer Harve Bennett and director Leonard Nimoy managed to package these themes into a symmetrical story that only enhances the overall duality of the themes of the film.
I love doing this type of analysis on films. It’s extraordinary to be able to look at a beloved movie through a whole new pair of eyes. Amazing details like these, which we can analyze years later, are part of the reason why the Star Trek series will continue to live long and prosper.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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