“What’s your favorite Star Trek movie?”
It’s not the kind of question you typically hear from the best man before your bachelor party. Then again, my bachelor party was far from typical.
A little background: this past Labor Day was the first anniversary of my marriage to my lovely wife, Julia. We’d been dating for seven years or so before the wedding (admittedly a long, long courtship), and spent a year and change being engaged. There was no rush, really; it wasn’t long into our relationship before we were already fully shacked up, sharing dinnerware and bickering over what to put on Netflix. Y’know, couple stuff. So by the time our wedding came around, it made sense: it was just as much a celebration of what lies ahead as an acknowledgment of what we already had.
Our wedding parties were rather large: a cross-section of about eight people apiece from various points in our lives — high school friends, college buddies, close family members. At the head of my wedding party was Jared, my best friend for over fifteen years and, until recently, the co-host of a modestly successful film and mixology podcast we’d been doing almost as long as Julia and I had been dating. Suffice to say, Jared has known me longer than anybody, and better than just about anyone: my taste in media, my preferred company, and my ideal setting.
So when he asked me what my favorite Star Trek movie was, I had a sneaking suspicion it was related to the bachelor party I’d put him in charge of. Now, Jared’s the kind of friend who will go to extraordinary, creative lengths to surprise his friends with gifts: his wedding gift to us required unlocking a complex series of multi-stage puzzles involving three suitcases chained together. But for this party, he knew I wanted something simple; I was reasonably certain I didn’t have to brace myself for a Klingon-themed lap dance, nor a Hangover-style misadventure. Apart from that, I truly didn’t know what to expect.
My answer to his question? Simple: Star Trek IV. The One With the Whales.
In my heart of hearts, I could have picked something different — Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country are masterpieces, and I could certainly watch First Contact and Star Trek Beyond any old day. But, as the first movie I ever saw in a theatre, The Voyage Home carries special significance for me. I was a baby when my parents took me to the Cinema 1 & 2 (now closed) in Macomb, IL to see Star Trek IV. While I obviously don’t remember the experience at such a young age, a baby diary they kept recounts that I was so enraptured I “didn’t make a sound.”
I saw every Star Trek film in theaters from then on, many of them with my family. I’ve written before (on this very website) about how Star Trek was one of the few major subjects around which my family and I, who are very different otherwise, bonded; to that end, I have The Voyage Home to thank for some of the happiest memories of my childhood.
My choice was also at least slightly deferential; I presumed Jared’s party idea would involve some kind of screening with myself and the rest of the wedding party, and I didn’t want to force everyone else to geek out as deeply as I certainly would if we watched one of the lore-heavy ones. The Voyage Home is light, effervescent, comic and (most importantly) accessible to non-Trek fans, which is probably why it was the highest-grossing Trek film of all time until the Abrams blockbusters came along.
As the night of the party itself demonstrated, my instincts (and my predictions) were at least mostly right. First, Jared brought us to Pint, a swanky bar in the Wicker Park area of Chicago, where we met the rest of our crew: my best friend from high school, two of my closest cousins, a few mutual college friends, and one or two film critic colleagues of mine.
After a few drinks and apps, Jared and the group brought me to the real surprise: a secret screening room, squirreled away in the upper floors of a nearby building, complete with film projectors, rows of theater seats and — over in the corner — a large red cushioned seat, just for me. (Under threat of bodily harm, I’m sworn to protect its location, so its specific location will not be advertised here.) From there, Jared served drinks and gave toasts, then we proceeded to throw on a Blu-ray copy of The One With the Whales.
From the opening strains of Leonard Rosenman’s peppy, collegiate score, I knew I’d made the right choice. The Voyage Home, after all, is the movie you show non-Trekkies when you want to have a good time: it’s easy, low-stakes, a fish-out-of-water comedy full of ‘80s kitsch and a suitably era-appropriate environmentalist message at the core. We laughed, we drank, we poked affectionate fun at Kirk’s “double dumbass on you!” and John Schuck’s capital-a Acting as the scenery-chewing Klingon ambassador.
And yet, there’s something oddly fitting about the atmosphere of The Voyage Home itself that lent an extra layer to the proceedings. Like any good bachelor party, Kirk and his crew’s journey to the 20th century to save the whales felt like a last hurrah, a harmless, fun-filled lark that brings them all closer together before heading home to face the music. (Okay, I know I’m comparing a wedding to a court-martial, but hear me out: everything turns out not just fine, but great for the crew, and they close the film riding off into the stars with their first, best love — the Enterprise.)
Of course, that was only one act of the entire evening; after The Voyage Home, our benefactor (a genial Swedish man named, I kid you not, James Bond) let us go back and see his film projectors and rows of film canisters, which was pure catnip for a film buff/critic like me.
Then we proceeded to watch the other film in Jared’s double feature — what he intended to be Escape from the Planet of the Apes (since it and IV are both films about people from the future escaping to the present to avoid cataclysm) but ended up being Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, due to Mr. Bond unknowingly putting in the wrong side of the disk. We decided to let it lie; we were having too good a time to raise a fuss, and well, Conquest is pretty good anyway. (Plus, it features Ricardo Montalban, so there’s an extra Trek connection!)
As night turned into early morning, and screening room antics turned to more drinks and pub fare at another local bar, the party whittled down one by one as people tired out and went home.
My bachelor party didn’t fit the stereotypical mold — no strip clubs, no hypermasculine posturing — but it was me. That’s as much a testament to my love for Trek, even (or perhaps especially) its goofier fare, as it is my best friend’s absolutely perfect understanding of how I’d want to spend my last days as a single man. Not with bottle service or a ton of fanfare, but in the ambient hum of a darkened theater, surrounded by the people I love the most, trying to figure out where we can find some nuclear wessels.
Clint Worthington (he/him) is a Senior Writer for Consequence of Sound and editor-in-chief of The Spool, and you can find him on Twitter at @clintworthing. He lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.