The Readiness is All: Growing Into Appreciation of Star Trek VI
Of all the Star Trek films, The Undiscovered Country is closest to my heart. But the rich themes of overcoming prejudice, embracing the turning points in history and working for peace were over my head when I first saw it, as an eleven-year-old just learning about Trek. It wasn’t as accessible to me as The Voyage Home was, and while it wasn’t as frightening as The Wrath of Khan or as mysterious as The Search for Spock, it also wasn’t quite as funny and heartwarming as The Motion Picture. It was the Star Trek I had to grow into.
I was a child of seven when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended. I was too young to understand the decades of strained relations symbolized by the Klingon/Federation conflict. All I remember is learning about the USSR in school, and then one day being told that we were to call it the country of Russia. In the same way, because TOS was much more difficult to access and watch in those days before streaming services, I was unaware of the long and bitter history between the Klingons and the Federation. But because I had been raised in a cultish religious sect that distrusted anyone outside that small and select group, I knew all about distrusting and fearing The Other.
I remember watching for the first time, as a child, the thrill of seeing the shockwave that was the explosion of Praxis on the small television screen at my grandmother’s. I didn’t understand that it was a metaphor for Chernobyl. I remember the shock of the contrast between that wall of energy and the seemingly quiet teacup. And the power of seeing Sulu as a captain, and a great captain!
I loved, without understanding it, the solemnity and ritual of the scene between Valeris and Spock. I knew about solemn rituals.
I took, and still take, great comfort in Spock’s wise words:
“You must have faith, Valeris… that the universe will unfold as it should.“
Most of the film past that point was dull to me; I thought the disastrous diplomatic dinner and the Klingons’ eating habits were funny without understanding that some of my heroes were trying their very best to overcome their abhorrence of the Klingons, while others, perhaps under the influence of the Romulan ale, were behaving very badly indeed.
I loved Gorkon and Azetbur the moment I saw them. Gorkon, because he was such a wise and visionary statesman who carried himself with dignity, grace, and humility. Azetbur, because she was a fiercely loyal woman warrior who did not hesitate to carry on her father’s work and take his cause for her own. I love them even more now that I understand that Gorkon was meant to represent Gorbachev, whose efforts brought an end to the Cold War. I appreciate now, as an adult, the warrior courage it took for them to take the first step toward peace.
The highpoint of the film for me as a child was seeing Rene Auberjonois portraying the militaristic Colonel West. We all called out, “There’s Odo!” Of course, I couldn’t understand why such a familiar voice was coming from a face not in the shapeshifter’s makeup!
And speaking of familiar voices, it was amazing for this TNG kid to see Michael Dorn as the Klingon advocate Colonel Worf. How to understand that this familiar character wasn’t the Worf we knew from the bridge of another Enterprise!
I thought the scene with the Standard-to-Klingon grammar lexicons was very funny. Now, I understand what an insult it was to the character of Uhura. A skilled linguist and communications officer, she would have been able to make herself understood in at least one Klingon dialect.
I didn’t understand how a person like Valeris, who was meant to be one of the “good guys,” who was actively leading the search and helping our heroes, who was wearing the right uniform and loyal to Kirk and Spock, could possibly be a traitor. I have come to understand the pain of Spock, who was wounded in the house of his friends. However, I feel that the scene in which he mind-melds with Valeris, obviously causing her pain, is completely out of character for Spock. Perhaps it was a glimpse into what the Vulcans were like as a people before adopting logic, and it is not a pretty sight.
Spock paid dearly for that breach in Vulcan propriety. But as Kirk comforted him, so I comfort myself in my own mistakes and misjudgments:
“You want to know something? Everybody’s human.“
I have come to understand how the pain of losing a child could embitter a person forever, and that it was that pain that moved Kirk to speak and act as he did. I’m not the greatest Kirk fan, but I am moved that he was able to face up to his own prejudice and hatred toward the Klingons and, just as Azetbur did, come to a place of renewed faith.
I find the peace conference on Khitomer to be deeply meaningful. I have seen, in my short lifetime, the end of the Gulf War; the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland; and the end of the Cold War. The film teaches us that the path to a lasting peace is forged through overcoming prejudice to see The Other as not so different from us; through learning to trust by working side by side; through realizing the futility and pointless destruction of carrying on hostilities until, finally, the prophecy of the Organians could come true:
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.