Welcome to Wonderland – Memories of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
“My friends… we’ve come home.”
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was my very first inkling, as an eleven-year-old girl nerd, that Star Trek could be a part of my world, and that I could be part of the Star Trek world.
My introduction to the Enterprise was through The Motion Picture. Here, I learned to love: the harried warmth of Scotty, who could always pull an engineering miracle out of his hat; McCoy, whose gruff and humorous exterior masked a heart of compassion and kindness; Uhura, who had the most important job on the ship – communicating with Starfleet and the unknown – and always did that job with the grace of a concert pianist and a ballet dancer; Spock, who learned to value human connection after he thought he had finished with it forever; and Kirk, who loved his ship. Star Trek IV delighted me by giving me so much more of what I loved best from TMP.
I saw the next two films as a child, but The Wrath of Khan terrified me and The Search for Spock mystified me (what was pon farr?). At eleven years old, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate them. But The Voyage Home brought the Enterprise into my world. And like Gillian Taylor, I wanted to go back to their world with them.
I have written of how limited my exposure to television and movies was at that time, because of my background that forbade these things. So, perhaps it was because I was so impressionable that The Voyage Home had such a lasting impact upon wide-eyed eleven-year-old me, sitting on the edge of my seat at my grandmother’s, watching the opening sequence on a tiny screen as the mysterious cries of the probe filled my ears and soul.
The Captain of the Saratoga immediately struck me as quintessential Starfleet: calm in the face of danger, seeking to learn about the mysterious probe, and following every protocol to bring her crew safely home. She has always been a heroic figure to me.
The movie really began for me with the modern pop music track and the scene with our heroes in the busy San Francisco street. This was something I could relate to. These characters whom I had fallen in love with had beamed down to my world. I was just a small-town girl from Maine, but I knew of San Francisco. I have family nearby. The clothes the extras were wearing, the ’80s hair, the cars — all were part of my world. And my heroes didn’t have a clue how to navigate in it!
They didn’t know how to use the yellow pages. They didn’t know how to obtain paper money. They didn’t know how to navigate the bus system. Why, these heroes were as clueless in my world as I would be in theirs!
Dr. Gillian Taylor was the connection point for me, as she was for the crew. She was street smart and professional and spoke the slang of the time, unlike the formal speech patterns of the Enterprise crew. She loved the whales and would do anything to save them. And she was brave enough to leave behind everything she had ever known, the world of San Francisco which remembered her whole life, friends, family, and colleagues, to travel through unknown dangers with her whales to a completely new and unknown century. If there was room for her in the twenty-third century, I dreamed that there would be for me, too.
To a girl like me who had never heard a swear word in her life, the scenes with Spock experimenting with “colorful metaphors” were the funniest part of the movie. I too was clueless about “colorful metaphors” and where to place them in a sentence, and the utterly formal, deadpan way in which he delivered the lines was hilarious to my innocent ears.
And Kirk and Dr. Taylor drank beer over dinner! In my culture, beer was as foreign to me as cuss words and rock music as introduced by the punk on the bus.
This was also the first time I ever saw pizza, a childhood staple, in Star Trek. There were so many things I recognized, that were of my world. My Papa drove a beat-up truck just like Dr. Taylor’s. I spent a lot of time in antique shops just like the one where Kirk sold his antique glasses. Garbage trucks and hospitals were well known elements of my world and far more relatable than anything I had ever seen in Star Trek before.
Uhura – my absolute favorite character, whose queenly confidence and elegance was such a role model to awkward, eleven-year-old me – became even more my favorite in this film. I loved the calm, dignified poise with which she carried out her part of the away mission and helped learn how to communicate with the probe.
However, it was Scotty and McCoy, my two other favorites, who absolutely stole the show for me! Their negotiations with Dr. Nichols were hilarious, and Scotty talking to the computer was classic, but the pair ultimately handled their very difficult assignment with ingenuity, charm, and charisma. In spite of being out of their depth in the twentieth century, they impressed a man of business (i.e., Nichols) with their knowledge.
I took a twenty-year hiatus from Star Trek to go to college, join the workforce, raise a family, get married and get divorced. Coming back to Star Trek as a newly single mom of some bitter experience who desperately needed to believe in the hopeful future of Star Trek, I asked myself: Will Trek hold up to my fond childhood memories of it? Will I view it with the blasé eyes of experience?
Trek more than held up. Watching The Voyage Home today, as an adult, is every bit as delightful and inspiring as it was when I first saw it as a nerdy child. The lessons are still strong: Take care of the planet. Take care of the animals. Take care of each other. Never leave a crew member in the hands of twentieth-century medicine. Remember where you parked. Use colorful metaphors when you need to. Talk to whales. And don’t forget to have a little fun along the way. Maybe even go for a swim!
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.