Star Trek Guide

How Star Trek 4 Set Up Kirk's Imprisonment In The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek's Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) getting framed for murder by the Klingons in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was set up in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In between the two films was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which was directed by Shatner and more of a standalone adventure involving the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-A meeting an alien posing as "God". But the final movie starring the crew of Star Trek: The Original Series slyly picked up a plot thread from The Voyage Home that sheds new light on why Kirk was handpicked to be the Klingons' fall guy when they assassinated their own Chancellor.

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In Star Trek VI, the Klingons suffered a catastrophe when their moon Praxis exploded, forcing the warrior race to sue for peace with the United Federation of Planets for their very survival. However, a sinister faction within the Klingon Empire held the existential fear that peace with the Federation would mean the end of their civilization, and they found kindred believers within the Romulans and Starfleet, all of whom dreaded a "brave new world" without the Klingon/Federation cold war. The plot of The Undiscovered Country involved Klingons led by General Chang (Christopher Plummer) assassinating High Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) and framing Kirk and, by proxy, Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForrest Kelly) for the murders. Their scheme saw Kirk and Bones extradited to the Klingon homeworld Qo'noS, tried in a kangaroo court, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal planet Rura Penthe - where they were to be quietly executed. If it weren't for the quick thinking of Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the Klingons would have succeeded but once Kirk was rescued, the Enterprise crew deduced the identity of the real conspirators and saved the galaxy.

Setting up Kirk as a political assassin pays off the decades of animosity between the Enterprise's Captain and the Klingons. Certainly, Kirk despised his longtime adversaries, especially since a Klingon named Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) murdered his son David Marcus (Merritt Butrick) in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Kirk even coldly demanded, "Let them die!" when Spock appointed his Captain as the Federation ambassador to the Klingon Chancellor. So, Kirk's loathing of the Klingons was well known and this was among the "evidence" the Klingon Ambassador presented to the Federation Council in the opening scenes of Star Trek IV.

In a presentation that painted Kirk as "the quintessential Devil in these matters", the Ambassador accused Kirk of plotting to use Star Trek II's Genesis Device to create the Genesis Planet as a base where he would stage an invasion of the Klingon Empire. The Klingons' tall tale overlooked Kruge's crimes and his attempts to steal the Genesis Device. Instead, the Ambassador painted Kirk as a diabolical, unhinged, criminal mastermind and murderer. The Ambassador ended his diatribe with a promise: "There shall be no peace as long as Kirk lives!"

Kirk's innocence was defended by Sarek (Mark Lenard), the Vulcan Ambassador and the father Spock, but the Federation President (Robert Ellenstein) didn't seriously entertain the Klingons' preposterous claims. The Ambassador was incensed when he was told Kirk would only be charged with nine counts of violating Starfleet regulations - eight of which were later dropped after Kirk and his crew saved the Earth. However, the Klingons have long memories and it's logical that the enemy race didn't forgive this "insult" by the Federation and waited for an opportunity to exact their long-awaited revenge on Kirk. Taking this scene in Star Trek IV in context, it makes even more sense why Kirk was targeted to take the blame for the Klingons' plot to maintain war with the Federation in The Undiscovered Country. But admirably, Kirk saw his own prejudice by the end of Star Trek VI and he fought to ensure peace with his old enemy.

After Star Trek: The Motion Picture's poor critical and audience reception, the Star Trek movies became more serialized under producer Harve Bennett and directors Nicholas Meyer, who helmed Star Treks II and VI, and Leonard Nimoy, who guided III and IV. Working together, the Star Trek TOS movies' brain trust masterminded a multifilm story that pays off numerous narrative threads and made the final voyages of the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk that much more enjoyable to watch as a whole.