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: The Enterprise once again reflected a more militaristic design sensibility.
Although 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 Series, taking place at Starfleet Academy while Kirk and company were students. This would have required recasting the familiar roles with younger, and less expensive, actors. The original cast would appear only in prologue and epilogue scenes.
The idea was discarded by Paramount and, with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek only a year away, the studio turned to Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer to quickly come up with an appropriate adventure, using all the original actors.
Meyer recalled in an interview with the official Star Trek website in 2014 that it was Nimoy who came up with the idea of using the end of the Cold War as inspiration.
He had an idea, the germ of an idea of how to make Star Trek VI. Basically, as he put it, “The wall comes down in outer space.” The wall had just come down in Berlin. As he explained to me, the Klingons had always been Star Trek‘s stand-in for the Russians. If there was no more Soviet Empire, as there was no more Klingon Empire, who am I? Who am I if I have no enemy to define me?
Within eleven months — a breathtaking pace for Hollywood — one of the strongest Star Trek 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,” followed by the dramatic flourishes of the key actors’ signatures, was clearly intended as a 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.
Text adapted from Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, The Art of Star Trek (1995)