Director Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, on the bridge of the Enterprise-A

Behind the Scenes on The Undiscovered Country

Director Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, on the bridge of the Enterprise-A
Director Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, on the bridge of the Enterprise-A

The sixth Star Trek feature, the last to include all the regulars from the original series, marked Nicholas Meyer’s return to the director’s chair and his grittier take on the Star Trek universe. Thus the Enterprise once again reflected a harsher and more militaristic design sensibility. Though Meyer had pushed for and succeeded in giving Star Trek a visual overhaul when he directed The Wrath of Khan, this time even he felt constrained by what had become established.

There are certain things about Star Trek that are immutable. You don’t change them, or you can only change them in very limited, cosmetic ways.

At first, it was intended that the sixth film would be a prequel to the original show, taking place at Starfleet Academy while Kirk and company were still students. This would have required recasting the familiar roles with younger — and less expensive — actors. The original actors would appear only in a wraparound prologue and epilogue sequence.

Leonard Nimoy and Grace Lee Whitney
Leonard Nimoy and Grace Lee Whitney

This new approach to Star Trek was eventually discarded by Paramount, and with the twenty-fifth anniversary only a year away, the studio turned to Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer to speedily come up with an appropriate adventure, using all the original cast members throughout the film.

Nimoy and Meyer developed the concept of having relations between the Klingons and the Federation mirror those between the Soviets and the United States, with the Klingon Empire facing collapse and forced to sue for pace.

Fulfilling a bet, director Meyer stuffs a wad of twenty dollar bills into the uniform of William Shatner
Fulfilling a bet, director Meyer stuffs a wad of twenty dollar bills into the uniform of William Shatner

Within eleven months — a breathtaking pace for Hollywood — one of the strongest of Star Trek‘s movie adventures was released in time to celebrate the saga’s quarter century anniversary. The evocative ending, with the Enterprise disappearing against “the second star on the right, and straight on till morning,” as Captain Kirk read his final log entry, followed by the dramatic flourishes of the key actors’ signatures was clearly intended to say farewell to Star Trek‘s first and most famous crew.

But like most farewells in the Star Trek universe, it was not really the end. There would be a Star Trek VII and some of the original cast would be around to make that voyage as well.

From Garfield, Judith Reeves-Stevens, The Art of Star Trek (1995)

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