If you’re making a Star Trek movie, the last thing you want is to disappoint Leonard Nimoy. But, unfortunately for director Nicholas Meyer, that’s exactly what he did with the final TOS-era film, Star Trek The Undiscovered Country.
That’ll come as a big surprise to most Star Trek fans, especially given that The Undiscovered Country is widely regarded as being in the upper tier along with the best movies in the series. Broadly, it’s either The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, or The Undiscovered Country that fans like best, because VI is essentially the perfect send-off to all the best Star Trek characters (before Kirk returned in Generations) and also features a brilliant plot, with captivating themes about overcoming prejudice, and age.
That wasn’t good enough for Leonard Nimoy, though, primarily because the Spock actor had completely different hopes and dreams for what The Undiscovered Country could (and to his mind, should) have been. “I had some other wishes for Star Trek VI. I had some other hopes that weren’t realized,” said the legend, in a retrospective conversation with StarTrek.com. “It didn’t quite accomplish what I’d hoped.”
Expanding on what specifically those hopes had been, Nimoy revealed it was all about wanting more Klingons. “I had a very interesting conversation with Gene Roddenberry in which we’d been discussing the idea of this movie being about going into the Klingon territory, into the Klingon Empire,” Nimoy began.
“I came up with the idea that since Nixon, who was a known conservative, was the person who could go to China to make a deal, who were obviously not conservative – they were a very deeply red Communist country – that Captain Kirk would be the ideal choice to go to the Klingon Empire to deal with them to create a détente between the Kingon Empire and our side, the Federation.” Of course, any Star Trek fan will know that this idea was a central pillar of the plot, and even the movie even features the iconic line: “There’s an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China.”
But, Nimoy really wanted to delve much deeper into this and explore the Klingons with far more depth. He concluded, “What I was hoping for was that once inside the Klingon Empire we would find out something about the Klingons that would surprise us all. Why are they so angry? Why are they so hostile? Why are so warring? Why are they so bent on conflict and paranoia and suspicion? What’s going on in their minds? What’s inside that Empire that we don’t know that would surprise us? We never quite got to that. We never quite did. We did do an interesting story about the political faction within the Klingon’s structure, but we didn’t quite get to that amazing revelation about what the Klingons were really all about.”
Of course, The Undiscovered Country did introduce us to Klingon characters like Gorkon and Chang: two characters who showed the spectrum of what Klingons could be. We also got the trial scene (featuring TNG’s Michael Dorn) which showed a glimpse at the Klingon justice system, but as Nimoy says the movie didn’t really explore the origins of Klingon culture, or uncover why they are the way they are.
Presumably, had Nimoy had more creative influence over The Undiscovered Country, core plot points like Kirk and Bones in the penal colony would have been set on Qo’noS allowing a better insight into the Klingons. But, expanding the plot to accommodate Nimoy’s wishes may have come at the expense of exploring the movie’s themes with such depth, and care. We’d absolutely love to see Nimoy’s idealized version of The Undiscovered Country, but we’re also glad we got the version we ended up with too.
For more on Star Trek, check out our guide on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, and see why we really wish we’d gotten the Tarantino film. Or, see our ranking of the Star Trek captains, and our detailed explainer on the USS Enterprise before seeing the status of the new movie with our guide to the Star Trek 4 release date. You can also learn about what’s new on Paramount Plus this month, before checking out everything we know about The Marvels.