Peace in Their Time
“No peace in our time,” growls the war-mongering renegade Klingon General Chang (Christopher Plummer) as he fires on the USS Enterprise. But peace in our time is what Star Trek VI is all about.
When the legendary Leonard Nimoy approached director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II) with a proposal for a new Star Trek movie, he led with the idea: what if the wall in space came down?
Many pieces of this movie mirror actual peace-making processes of history, and so in reference to the Chernobyl disaster, the movie begins when the Klingon power plant moon of Praxis explodes in front of the USS Excelsior, commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu. With the space around the Klingon Empire now in disrepair and in need of an evacuation, peace must be made with the Federation if the Klingons are to survive. This peace process is pushed forward by the Klingon Chancellor, as opposed to the Federation.
Then enters The USS Enterprise, and our heroes become entangled in this political drama. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) calls the Star Fleet captains to discuss the treaty. In response, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) betrays his bigoted hatred of the entire Klingon race, a hatred which was cultivated when, in an earlier movie, a Klingon extremist killed Kirk’s son.
So Kirk, Spock, their crew, and the new Vulcan addition Valeris must reluctantly forge the way for this new peace treaty.
Of course Kirk must be the one to escort the Abraham Lincoln-esque Klingon Chancellor Gorkon, because to quote Spock: “only Nixon could go to China.”
But sadly, in the image of those who strive for peace, such as Lincoln, Gandhi, Yitzhak Rabin, and Anwar Sadat, Gorkon doesn’t get to see his dream of peace fulfilled. After one dinner party scene (in which every character just quotes Shakespeare because I guess the writers were hungover that day), the Enterprise is framed for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. With Kirk and McCoy arrested for his murder, it seems like peace is slipping out of reach.
What follows is a dark and comical murder investigation aboard the Enterprise as Spock and the crew search for the assassins. Meanwhile, Kirk and Dr. “Bones” McCoy are put on trial, and sent to an alien gulag prison on a planet so cold that the surface will kill you in minutes. There is no escape.
However, after a couple of wonderful fight scenes with aliens—which Kirk wins with a swift kick to the knee (that wasn’t a knee, he is later informed)—and after Kirk takes a moment to reflect on his blind hatred of the Klingons, the party escapes. This is done with the help of a shapeshifter (with the obligatory make-out session with the captain), who guides them out.
But the shapeshifter betrays them, and then morphs into… Captain Kirk. Now folks, say what you will about Will Shatner, but him playing a female shapeshifter playing him is amazing.
He yells, “Surprise!”
He makes kissy faces at himself.
When the original Kirk says “I can’t believe I kissed you,” his shapeshifter counterpart replies, “It must have been your lifelong ambition,” which sent me into such a violent fit of laughter it scared both of my cats.
But eventually they escape, and Spock discovers that the masterminds behind the assassination were in fact his Vulcan disciple Valeris, a Star Fleet general, and Klingon General Chang. Irony abounds as in their determination to sabotage an interspecies peace treaty, these three members of different species were able to conspire together for war.
Valeris is arrested, and the Enterprise rockets off towards the peace summit being held between the Klingons and the Federation. Kirk, who has reconciled with his prejudice, is desperate to stop the assassination of the rest of the leaders who could save the treaty.
Enter General Chang, with a Klingon warbird ship that can fire its weapons even when “cloaked” (invisible, for the uninitiated). It turns out that it was Chang who fired on Chancellor Gorkon! Christopher Plummer’s character is just full of cheese—he laughs maniacally while spinning in his chair and blasting the Enterprise and most of his lines are just disconnected Shakespeare quotes. But his most important line is certainly: “Admit it Captain, it’s better this way.”
Chang genuinely believes it would be better for them all to kill one another than to have peace, because he doesn’t want to stop hating.
That is the true brilliance of this movie, a cheesy space opera based on the end of the Cold War. The message of this movie isn’t lost with time. If it’s not a story about the Cold War, then it can easily become a story about the Middle Eastern conflict of today. This is a story about change, about warring sides finally laying down their arms, and about how everyone is vulnerable to bigotry. That includes both the best and the worst of people. The end message is that bigotry and racism need to be pushed aside to form a better world. Star Trek VI shows that we mustn’t be afraid to forge a better future together, and we shouldn’t be so afraid to lose the flawed world of today.
Of course, the Enterprise beats Chang’s ship (with Sulu’s help), and they stop the assassination. When Kirk shakes hands with Chancellor Gorkon’s daughter, he tells her what her father told him:
“It’s about the future, Madame Chancellor. Some people think the future means the end of history. Well, we haven’t run out of history quite yet. Your father called the future the undiscovered country. People can be very frightened of change.”
These words ring true today as well. So whether it’s here on earth, or out there amongst the stars where no one has gone before, I say raise a glass.
Here’s to the undiscovered country.
-Contributed by Ben Ghan