Stardate 7412.6: Two and a half years after the end of the mission of Kirk (who has now become an admiral) and his crew, the Enterprise has been refitted inside and out, almost an entirely new ship, and some of the crew have drifted apart – McCoy has taken an extended leave, Kirk has accepted a desk job, and Spock has returned to Vulcan to pursue the Kolinahr discipline, a total purge of emotions. In the meantime, Sulu and Uhura have stayed with the Enterprise during its testing phase, while Chekov has become ship’s chief of security and Nurse Chapel has become a full doctor. Captain Willard Decker, son of the late Matt Decker, is slated to become the ship’s new commanding officer. An “energy cloud” of unknown origin and intent has carved a path of destruction through the galaxy on a direct course for Earth, having destroyed a flotilla of Klingon ships as well as Federation communications relay station Epsilon 9.
Admiral Kirk convinces Starfleet to give him command of the Enterprise, displacing Decker to the position of first officer. The refitted ship still has problems, most notably a transporter malfunction which kills two incoming crew members, including the ship’s new Vulcan science officer, whose duties Kirk again hands to Decker. Once the transporter is repaired, the final crew members board the Enterprise, such as Lt. Ilia, the ship’s new navigator who once had a relationship with Decker on her home planet of Delta IV; and Dr. McCoy reluctantly resumes his position after being called back into service by Starfleet. Kirk’s unfamiliarity with the Enterprise’s new design is proven when he orders the ship to warp speed against the recommendations of Decker and Scotty, plunging the ship into a wormhole which it escapes with a last minute order from Decker. While repairing the damage, the ship is boarded by a ship from Vulcan carrying Spock, who offers to resume his post as science officer. Spock begins by helping Scotty overcome the difficulties with the warp engines, enabling the Enterprise to head for the cloud at top speed.
En route, Spock reveals that he was unable to complete his Kolinahr training because he detected an intelligence which he believes is part of the cloud. Penetrating the cloud, the Enterprise wards off an attack but is weakened in the process. After Spock manages to devise a makeshift message to speak to the cloud-entity in its own language and frequency, the ship delves further into the cloud and is boarded by a beam of energy which tries to access the ship’s records on Starfleet and Earth defenses. Spock damages the computer so the beam cannot gather any more information, but is attacked by the beam, which then seems to envelop Lt. Ilia and disappears from the ship, leaving no trace of Ilia. The Enterprise is trapped inside an enclosed, solid space within the cloud, and Ilia turns up again soon afterward, but this time as a puppet of the cloud-entity, identified by the now-dehumanized Ilia as V’ger. Curious to find more about V’ger, Spock steals a spacesuit and a thruster pack and launches himself into a small opening through which the Enterprise cannot travel, and finds himself floating through the memories of V’ger’s entire journey through the universe, eventually coming to an image of Ilia as she was before V’ger’s invasion of the bridge. Spock tries to mind-meld with V’ger through the image, but the staggering amounts of V’ger’s memory and thought overloads Spock’s mind, and he is ejected back to the Enterprise, where he is recovered and given medical attention.
The Ilia-probe tells Kirk that V’ger is on its way to Earth to find its own creator, although V’ger refuses to believe that its creator could be a member of the human race, which it intends to wipe out, if necessary, to complete its search. The cloud has reached Earth and is ready to commence with its task. When Kirk promises the Ilia-probe that he has the information V’ger seeks, V’ger releases the Enterprise and draws it to the center of the cloud, where V’ger itself rests. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Decker, led by Ilia, find that V’ger is, in fact, a NASA Voyager space probe that was encountered by a race of intelligent machines and, taking the probe’s instructions – to learn all it can and report its findings back its creator – literally, the machines created the cloud-vessel as a means for Voyager to return to Earth and deliver its wealth of information. But the probe is unwilling to transmit its information on command, demanding to become one with its creator. Decker manually forces Voyager to transmit its information, but is absorbed by a wave of energy when V’ger believes its creator – the only being who could operate it – has arrived. Kirk, Spock and McCoy rush back to the Enterprise just in time. The cloud dissipates, leaving the Enterprise in orbit over Earth. Kirk and Spock speculate that Decker’s emotions concerning his relationship with Ilia, the loss of his command of the Enterprise, and other feelings will transform V’ger into a new life form that the Federation may meet again in the future.
screenplay by Harold Livingston
story by Alan Dean Foster
directed by Robert Wise
music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner (Admiral Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy), James Doohan (Mr. Scott), George Takei (Sulu), Majel Barrett (Dr. Chapel), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Persis Khambatta (Lt. Ilia), Stephen Collins (Commander Decker), Grace Lee Whitney (Chief Petty Officer Rand), Mark Lenard (Klingon Captain), Billy Van Zandt (Alien Boy), Roger Aaron Brown (Epsilon Technician), Gary Faga (Airlock Technician), David Gautreaux (Commander Branch), John D. Gowans (Assistant to Rand), Howard Itznowitz (Cargo Deck Ensign), Jon Rashad Kamal (Lt. Commander Sonak), Marcy Lafferty (Chief DiFalco), Michele Ameen Billy (Lieutenant), Terrence O’Connor (Chief Ross), Michael Rougas (Lt. Cleary), Susan J. Sullivan (Woman), Ralph Brannen, Ralph Byers, Paula Crist, Rik Lane, Franklyn Seales, Momo Yashima (Crew Members), Jimmie Booth, Joel Kramer, Bill McTosh, Dave Moordigan, Tom Morga, Tony Rocco, Joel Schultz, Craig Thomas (Klingon Crewmen), Edna Glover, Norman Stuart, Paul Weber (Vulcan Masters), Joshua Gallegos (Security Officer), Leslie C. Howard (Yeoman), Sayra Hummel, Junero Jennings (Technical Assistants)
Notes: As is generally well known now, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the final remnant of a 1978 attempt by Paramount Pictures to launch its own fourth television network, with a revived Star Trek as its biggest attraction (not unlike the launch, almost 20 years later, of UPN with Star Trek: Voyager). Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins and David Gautreaux were originally signed to series regular contracts, with Gautreaux slated to play the role of Lt. Xon, a full-blood Vulcan science officer. (Leonard Nimoy wasn’t aboard the project until after the release of Star Wars had permanently transformed the new series into a major feature film, and even then he had to be talked into the project by director Robert Wise and several Paramount bigwigs.) Over a dozen scripts were written, including a two-part cliffhanger taking Kirk behind Klingon lines, before the series was abandoned; two of those scripts, Devil’s Due and The Child, would later be resurrected as Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, while a third, World Enough And Time, would be dusted off as an episode of the fan-made video project continuing the Kirk era, Star Trek: New Voyages. Before his death, director Robert Wise revised Star Trek: The Motion Picture, adding and deleting scenes, editing the movie tighter, and replacing some effects scenes with CGI; this is currently the only version of the film available on DVD.
LogBook entry by Earl Green