Into this place comes Sybok, a Vulcan who acts like few others. Sybok is quite willing to display his emotions, and appears to be using his telepathic powers to brainwash the local by "taking away their pain". He gathers his followers and raids the colony capital, capturing the three washed up diplomats who run the planet.
Back at Earth, Scotty is struggling to get the new Enterprise-A space worthy while most of the crew enjoy their recreation. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are holidaying in Yosemite - Kirk rock climbing while McCoy watches nervously. Kirk has a narrow escape when he falls off a sheer cliff, but is saved when Spock catches him using a pair of rocket boots. That night the three are recalled to the Enterprise urgently - Starfleet orders Kirk to take the half functional Enterprise to Nimbus III and resolve the hostage situation there. When a message from the kidnapper is played, the three diplomats declare that they have willingly surrendered themselves while the Vulcan demands that a Starship be sent to negotiate for their release. Despite Kirks objections, no other experienced commanders are available so he is the one Starfleet are sending.
A Klingon Bird of Prey also intercepts the message from Nimbus III, and its Captain - Klaa - realizes that Kirk is being sent to deal with the situation. He decides that if he can kill Kirk he will gain a reputation as the greatest warrior in the galaxy, so heads off to intercept the Starship.
Kirk arrives at Numbus III first. The transporter is not functioning, so he takes an assault team by shuttle to free the hostages. Forced to land some distance away to avoid the colony defences, Uhura distracts some of the locals with a spot of fan dancing so that Kirk can steal their horses. Thus equipped, our heroes head off to the capital. They manage to sneak through the gates, but a firefight soon breaks out. Kirk forces his way through to the prisoners - only to have them pull weapons on him and demand his surrender. The rest of his team are quickly overwhelmed and captured also.
Sybok recognizes Spock as soon as he sees him, but Spock simply announces that he is under arrest. Undeterred, Sybok announces his plans to "steal something very big". He forces Kirk to take some of his followers up to the Enterprise by shuttlecraft. While they are on the way the Klingon vessel arrives and cloaks itself, planning an attack on the Enterprise. Kirk communicates with the ship, improvising a quick landing plan. With Klaa switching between the two targets, the shuttle manages to race in for a manual landing - and crashes onto the hangar deck. Chekov manages to evade Klaa and departs the area at warp speed.
In the aftermath of the crash, Kirk tries to snatch a gun but Sybok defeats him easily. Spock fares better - he gets hold of one of the terrorists rifles and holds it on Sybok. Sybok calmly tells Spock he will have to kill him to stop him... and despite a direct order to shoot from Kirk, Spock surrenders his weapon. Sybok locks Kirk, McCoy and Spock into the brig and begins to 'convert' the ships officers. He announces to the crew that he is seeking the place from which all life sprang - known to Vulcans as Sha'Ka'Ree, the Human equivalent of Eden. He believes he will find the planet at the centre of the galaxy, a region which is hidden behind 'The Great Barrier' - an energy field which no ship or probe has ever penetrated.
In the brig, Kirk remonstrates with Spock over his refusal to kill Sybok, but the first officer announces that Sybok is his half brother - they share the same father. Kirk reluctantly accepts the explanation, but demands that Spock decide where his loyalties lie. At that moment Scotty blows a hole through the wall and they escape just as Sybok arrives to brainwash them.
With their own crew and the terrorists chasing them, Scotty heads off to fix the transporter while the other three head for an emergency communications unit. Although they are almost captured, Spock uses his rocket boots to escape up one of the ships turbo shafts and they reach the ships lounge and send their message successfully. Unfortunately the only person who hears it is Captain Klaa, still following in his Bird of Prey.
As they finish sending the message Sybok arrives to recapture the three. He attempts to convert them to his cause by using his telepathic powers to replay painful images from their past. For McCoy he projects images which show him allowing his father to die rather than suffer a debilitating illness - only to be ridden with guilt when a cure is found soon afterwards. For Spock he shows his birth, followed by almost immediate rejection by his father.
Kirk refuses to undergo the procedure, arguing that pain is part of what makes us what we are and to give it up is to lose ourselves. The others agree, and Sybok accepts their decision. As they approach the Great Barrier the Vulcan reveals that God is waiting for him on Sha'Ka'Ree, prompting Kirk to declare him mad.
Sybok plunges ahead nevertheless, and the Enterprise successfully penetrates the barrier and finds a planet encased in light. Sybok agrees that the ship needs its Captain if they are to proceed, and agrees to turn command back over to Kirk. Kirk takes a shuttle and he, Spock, McCoy and Sybok travel down to the planet.
On the way a mysterious force takes over the shuttle and guides it to a landing. The group walk out onto a desert like landscape, apparently completely deserted. But as night falls rocks burst out of the ground to form a structure, and a huge shaft of light erupts from it. A voice declares that they have found him at long last, and when asked who is speaking numerous faces of deities appear. When God asks if the Enterprise can carry his word beyond the barrier, a joyous Sybok responds in the affirmative. Kirk is rather more sceptical, but when questioned the being hits him with an energy bolt. It threatens to destroy them all unless they bring the ship closer so that it can merge with it.
Sybok runs into the shaft of light, using his mental powers to try and defeat the creature. While it is distracted Kirk orders the Enterprise to fire a torpedo on the being. The three then make a run for the shuttle. They contact the ship and find that Scotty has the transporter working well enough to beam two of them up - Kirk has Spock and McCoy transported aboard, but before he can be brought up himself Klaa arrives in orbit and cripples the Enterprise with a torpedo hit.
While Kirk runs for his life, Spock insists that the Klingon diplomat - a retired General - attempt to order Klaa to rescue Kirk. On the surface Kirk reaches a cliff, and begins climbing. Just as he reaches the top, the Bird of Prey appears. Kirk assumes that they are there to kill him, but the ship blasts the being chasing him and drives it away. He is beamed on board and taken to the bridge, where Klaa apologizes for attacking his ship. The Klingon General introduces Kirk to their new gunner - none other than Spock.
Later, at a reception on the Enterprise, they wonder if God really is out there somewhere and Kirk suggests that maybe God is in the Human heart. Spock reflects that he has lost a brother. Kirk says that he lost a brother himself once, but that he was lucky - he got him back. When Bones reminds him that he once said men like them do not have families, Kirk simply says that he was wrong. The ships head off home again and the crew return to their shore leave as the film ends.
The basic plot of the film was Shatners idea, according to his "Movie Memories" book. The book does not say whether Shatner knowingly copied the episode or not, but I prefer to believe that the similarities are coincidences, because in my opinion "The Way to Eden" even beats "Spocks Brain" as the worst Trek episode ever made - for my own review, click on the "Worst Of" button in the TOS section of the episode guides menu. Suffice to say, I prefer to believe that nobody would deliberately copy this episode!
Final Frontier does avoid many of the episodes failings - it doesn't have that hideous music, for one thing. Sybok and his drop-outs are also a far more convincing group than Sevrin and his space hippies. But the basic silliness of the plot is still there, and the film suffers for it.
The film has a few flaws that are all its own. Many of these are technical; Spocks flying boots seem to be rocket propelled, yet they work when he is upside down or even hanging sideways. Once could be kind and say that there was a hefty dose of antigravity involved, but it still looks stupid and an audience should not have to rationalize these things for itself.
The trip up the turbolift shaft is heavily documented elsewhere, but to sum up - the shaft is about three times the size of a lift, the decks are numbered from the bottom up instead of the top down, there seem to be 78 decks when the ship only has around 25 - 30, and they pass at least one deck twice while on the way up. Again there are ways to rationalize some of this - some little robot deck labeller gone awry is my favourite - but like the boots, audiences should not have to work out ways in which a film could maybe be plausible.
I won't go on much more about the flaws, but briefly - in general the special effects are not terribly effective. Uhura is far too old to be dancing naked on screen. No real explanation is offered as to how the Enteprise-A got through the barrier, or how the Klingons were able to follow them. Nor is there any explanation of just what that thing on the planet was. More rationalization is required to explain just how the Enterprise managed to get to the centre of the galaxy, a trip which would normally be expected to take decades but which here takes a matter of hours.
It's common for fans to scream that this film has no redeeming features, but in my view there are a few. The chemistry between the 'big three' of Spock, Kirk and McCoy was one of the great things about TOS, and it is something that is missing from most of the films - but The Final Frontier does it just right. From Spocks talk of 'marsh mellons' to Kirks admission that he regards his comrades as family, the interaction is both moving and humorous by turns.
Laurence Luckinbill also does a good job, striking just the right of a man whose determination is long past fanaticism and lurching rapidly into madness. The scene where he tries to convert McCoy and Spock is excellent, right up to his admission to Kirk that he believes God is waiting for him on the far side of the barrier.
Some good stuff here, then, but the flaws are jarring and spoil the ride.