Category Archives: Star Trek

Star Trek III “Stealing the Enterprise”


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).

“Stealing the Enterprise” soundtrack version

“Stealing the Enterprise” Film version

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.”

MOD - StarTrekIII1

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

See also:

Star Trek II: “Inside Regula I” (1982)

Star Trek II “Surprise Attack”

“Enterprise Clears Moorings” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II “Surprise Attack”

I have something of an obsession with the music of Star Trek and James Horner’s score for The Wrath of Khan is one of my all time favorites.

“Surprise Attack” comes in Act II of the film, when the Enterprise is en route to space station Regula One to find out why someone is trying to usurp the Genesis Project from Dr. Carol Marcus (who happens to be a former love interest of Admiral Kirk). Unbeknownst to our heroes, the villain Khan (first introduced in the original episode “Space Seed” (1967)) has hijacked the starship Reliant and is on an intercept course to have his vengeance on Kirk for stranding him and his crew on the planet Ceti Alpha V over fifteen years ago.

You can listen to the soundtrack here: “Surprise Attack” Soundtrack Version

The film version can be found here: “Surprise Attack” Film Version


Khan and Kirk in their first meeting

The cue begins in the film when Kirk is informed that the Reliant is approaching their position. The music begins with a menacing horn tone that slowly builds in volume and intensity until it cuts off in a percussion burst.This repeats several times, growing faster until the camera cuts to a shot of Reliant approaching and Khan’s theme is heard for the first time.


Reliant is coming…

Composer James Horner stated that he wrote Khan’s theme to be a reflection of his increasingly unstable mind. That is why the theme (beginning at 0:20 in the soundtrack version) is full of quickly trilling horns and woodwinds: Khan is so hellbent on revenge that it is literally driving him mad.

Meanwhile, going back to the Enterprise, the crew still has no idea they’re about to be ambushed. And from this point on, Horner begins a musical back-and-forth where the music quickly switches from the Enterprise theme to Khan’s theme and each time Khan’s theme builds a little more until a sequence begins that I like to call “the final countdown.”

Beginning at the section where Khan orders his crew to lock phasers on target (2:11 in the soundtrack version), the music begins a very slow build, starting very soft but gradually growing louder and more frantic as the crew of the Enterprise realizes, a moment too late, that they are about to be attacked. Once the attack starts, something very interesting happens. In the film, the first attack is full of the sounds of explosions, yelling and other sound effects. But in the soundtrack version of this cue, it comes out that Horner has created what can only be described as “musical chaos,” which is perfectly fitting for the mayhem that follows (musical chaos begins at 2:28).


Khan might just succeed in his dastardly plan!!!

The music violently shifts back to Khan’s theme as the Reliant circles around for another attack. Caught off guard with a crew filled with cadets, the Enterprise doesn’t really stand a chance (especially since Khan knows all the vital areas of the ship from the last time he was there.)

Disarmed and stunned (Scotty informs Kirk that the phasers only have power for “a few short bursts”), everyone is shocked when the commander of the Reliant sends a message asking them to surrender (4:29) The strange “twang” sound heard at that moment comes from an electronic instrument called a Blaster Beam, a 12-18 foot long metal beam strung with several metallic wires. The music dies away as Khan finally reveals himself to Kirk.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the score of The Wrath of Khan!

See also:

 Film Soundtracks A-W

Star Trek II: “Inside Regula I” (1982)

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James Horner talks Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


It is always invaluable to hear a composer speak about why he created a film score in a certain way. Just imagine if it had been possible to videotape Beethoven or Mozart speaking about THEIR works.

Resources like this become all the more valuable (and poignant) when the composer passes away suddenly. While many of the greats (including James Horner) have passed on, at least we have a portion of their thoughts set down and recorded.


In this interview, James Horner (who is greatly missed) talks about his thought process behind writing the genius score for one of the greatest Star Trek films of all time. After the critical failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, director Nicholas Meyer wanted to create a totally different feel and sound for the sequel. The director had a particular vision of “Horatio Hornblower in space,” which inspired Horner to create a distinctly nautical sound in the music for The Wrath of Khan.


The score is also more heavily based on leitmotif’s, with very few “hummable” themes, a direct contrast to Goldsmith’s score for The Motion Picture (think of Ilia’s Theme or the Klingon’s Theme). There are a few subtle homages to Goldsmith’s score for The Motion Picture however: during Khan’s surprise attack, Horner employs the “blaster beam” which was used in the previous film as a notable sound effect for the V’Ger alien.

Horner’s score for The Wrath of Khan is widely considered to be the greatest score found in a Star Trek film, though some prefer Eidelman’s score for The Undiscovered Country. Again, I hope you enjoy listening to this interview from the late, great, James Horner.

See also:

James Horner talks Aliens (1986)

James Horner talks Field of Dreams (1989)

James Horner talks The Rocketeer (1991)

James Horner scoring Braveheart (1995)

James Horner talks The Perfect Storm (2000)

James Horner talks A Beautiful Mind (2001)

James Horner talks Windtalkers (2002)

James Horner talks Avatar (2009)

James Horner talks The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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Jerry Goldsmith talks Alien (1979)

Jerry Goldsmith talks Alien (1979)

A look inside Goldsmith’s thought process when he created the score for the ever-terrifying Alien (for a sense of contrast, keep in mind that he composed Alien in the same year as Star Trek: The Motion Picture!!) In fact, if you listen closely, some say that you can hear some of the same minor themes in both films. Primarily listen to the music early in Alien when the camera is panning through the empty corridors of the Nostromo and compare to the music in the scene where Spock is stealing a thruster suit rather late in the film.

   *Alien credit to Bill Gold
See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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A Tale of Two Spocks: Spock’s Theme in Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country

Whenever a film franchise is fortunate enough to grow into a large series, it is very rare that each of the films can be scored by the same composer (Star Wars being a happy exception). Because most film franchises (i.e. James Bond, Mission Impossible, Star Trek) change film composers frequently, it is common for themes to differ from one film to the next. For example, if you listen to the themes of Mission Impossible and Mission Impossible 2, you would notice a huge difference in terms of style.

Occasionally though, themes created by different composers for the same character can sound very similar. In this case, I draw your attention to a set of themes, each created for the character of Spock from the original Star Trek series. The first theme was created by James Horner for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982.

The music begins with a soft glass-edged melody that gently drops down into the secondary theme (plucked out by the harp). This melody is a perfect characterization of Spock: he is Kirk’s rock, the perfect voice of reason. Kirk cannot conceive of a world where Spock is not by his side (which makes the ending of the film all the more upsetting).

The second theme was composed by Cliff Eidelman for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I apologize if the quality of sound isn’t as good, I’m still looking for an audio-only clip of this theme and when I find it I will post it here. At any rate, listen to the theme below and note how similar it is to Horner’s theme (I find both to be exceptionally beautiful).

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country “Spock and Valeris”

In fact, the two themes are so complementary to one another, that one wonders if Eidelman took direct inspiration from Horner’s theme when he put this score together (it’s no secret that they wanted James Horner to compose Star Trek VI, perhaps Eidelman was instructed to imitate Horner’s style. Of course it could just all be a coincidence, but i love to speculate on these things).

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“Main Theme” from Star Trek First Contact by Jerry Goldsmith

This haunting theme is the main title from Star Trek: First Contact. This 1996 film is a continuation of a story begun in “The Best of Both Worlds Parts One and Two”, the third season finale and season four opener to Star Trek: The Next Generation. In those episodes, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) was kidnapped by the Borg and forcibly turned into a cyborg himself.

Now, six years later, the Borg have returned and Picard must confront his greatest enemy once and for all. I always found this theme to be incredibly beautiful. In fact, composer Jerry Goldsmith originally wrote this theme for the earlier film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In that earlier film, this theme represented “friendship,” namely the friendship that existed between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, who would literally do anything to help each other. To hear the theme in that movie, watch the opening scene when Kirk is climbing El Capitan, and you can hear a brief echo of the theme, which returns later in the campfire scene.

I hope you enjoy it.

Above is a simplified arrangement of the opening measures of the First Contact theme
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Star Trek Insurrection:”Ba’Ku Village” (1998)

“Ba’Ku Village” is a beautiful piece from the opening of Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) by the late Jerry Goldsmith. Composed only two years after First Contact, Goldsmtih did a complete 180 degree turn in the feel of this score, opting for music that was more lyrical and Romantic in style (though still possessing plenty of action cues in the appropriate moments). This piece plays during the opening credits of the film (notably the last Star Trek film to feature credits at the beginning of the film) while the camera pans around the idyllic village of the Ba’Ku people.

As the primary melody ends, the music turns sinister, as it is revealed that the village is being secretly observed by Starfleet and their allies, the So’Nah (who have a secret connection to the Ba’Ku).

Feel free to share thoughts in the comments as well. If you like the music, check out the video below to see the opening credits of the movie (they built the set near Mammoth Lakes in California).

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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“Enterprise Clears Moorings” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


This is one of my favorite pieces from James Horner’s score for the second Star Trek motion picture. In this scene, Admiral Kirk has boarded the Enterprise as it is about to leave for what is supposed to be “a minor training cruise” with some cadets from Starfleet Academy. Right before they depart however, Captain Spock decides that Cadet Saavik should be the one to pilot the Enterprise out of space dock (even though she has never done so before).

McCoy: “Would you like a tranquilizer?”

The best part (in my opinion) begins at the moment when the ship begins to move out of space dock. The way Horner builds and swells the music, it reminds me always of an actual sailing ship moving out into the open water.


To hear the music in context, check out the clip below (music begins at 0:43)

See also:

Star Trek II “Surprise Attack”

Star Trek II: “Inside Regula I” (1982)

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂