Credit to Bob Peak
Having composed two Star Trek films back to back, James Horner was asked once if he preferred one above the other. Horner replied that, for his part, he preferred the score to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, only because he felt it completed the musical themes he began in The Wrath of Khan.
“Stealing the Enterprise” is the musical cue for the segment where Admiral Kirk and co. well…steal the Enterprise. Right out of Spacedock. In front of everybody. Because they can (and need to).
The first part of the cue takes place as Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the unwitting bearer of Spock’s soul, is rescued from a detention cell (Starfleet is unwilling to believe Kirk’s explanation and believe McCoy is mentally ill.) Meanwhile, Scotty (James Doohan) is seen leaving the prototype ship Excelsior.
Uhura, in the meantime, is seen working at a communications station in a quiet area of Spacedock, paired with a smarmy lieutenant who only wants “to get in on the action.” Lo and behold, here comes Admiral Kirk and party. When the lieutenant gets suspicious that the admiral has arrived without any orders or advanced notice for that matter, Uhura shows him plenty of “action” (she pulls a phaser on him and forces him to sit in the closet.) The group then beams over (Uhura will follow later and meet them on Vulcan) to the Enterprise, still badly torn up from the battles in The Wrath of Khan, but Scotty has rigged the ship so that it should run smoothly enough to reach the Genesis Planet and Vulcan afterwards (unfortunately it won’t be nearly that simple, but our heroes don’t know that just yet).
“Good…now get in the closet!!”*
The ship then begins departure, rousing the entire station in the process. Orders are sent to the captain of the Excelsior to power up and pursue the Enterprise. The Excelsior carries prototypes of trans-warp engines, which means they could easily catch up to the older Enterprise, so Kirk and co. need to work fast to get out of the station. This leads to a hilarious exchange between with the captain of the Excelsior:
Bridge: “Captain to the bridge, Yellow Alert!”
Captain: “Bridge, this is the captain. How can you have a Yellow Alert in Spacedock?”
Bridge: “Sir, someone is stealing the Enterprise!!”
Captain: *befuddled pause* “I’m on my way.”
When I say they barely made it out of the station, I mean just barely!!*
After just opening the station doors in the nick of time, the Enterprise makes preparations to jump to warp speed while Excelsior closes in. Just before the jump, the captain reaches out to Kirk, reminding him that “You do this, you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again.” The look in Kirk’s eyes makes it clear that he doesn’t give a d-mn about the captain’s chair, as long as he can have his friend back, and the order is given to go to warp speed.
Enterprise makes a run for it*
Excelsior prepares to pursue, but just as the engines begin to revv…nothing happens. Apparently Scotty had been up to no good in the Excelsior’s engine room…and the prototype stops dead in space, providing Enterprise with a clean getaway.
This is one of my favorite Star Trek cues, Horner’s music is so detailed you can almost follow the scene just by listening to the music alone (which is good). My favorite part is when the ship is backing towards the spacedock door and they still haven’t opened. The music builds and builds, and just when it seems they won’t make it through, the doors begin to open and the music almost explodes with released tension as the Enterprise just barely fits through the opening.
Another cool technique that Horner uses is, at the very end, when Excelsior is trying to follow, Horner opts for simplicity and holds out a single note as the crew looks around in confusion. Musically, Horner has set up the listener “to wait for the other shoe to drop.” Normally when you hold out a tone like that, you’re going to progress to a new thought, only Horner never gets there and deliberately leaves us hanging (just like the Excelsior.)
*all screencaps taken from the film, property of Paramount
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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W