The Undiscovered Composer


To put it mildly, STAR TREK V did not resonate with fans as hoped. In its aftermath, Paramount Pictures initially considered pursuing a prequel film, which would depict much younger versions of James T. Kirk, Spock, et al. at Starfleet Academy. While this approach was ultimately taken up by J.J. Abrams in his wildly successful reboot film in 2009, the decision was made to instead give the original crew one last mission and time its release with the 25th anniversary of the franchise. Harve Bennett, who had overseen the film series since STAR TREK II, would depart while Leonard Nimoy, who had directed STAR TREK III and STAR TREK IV, would step into the executive producer role and play a large role in crafting the film’s story.

Cliff Eidelman

Also returning was director Nicholas Meyer, who had essentially saved the entire franchise with his directing (and uncredited ghostwriting) of STAR TREK II and had later co-wrote the script to STAR TREK IV. One of Meyer’s favorite mantras, which is heard on many of his director’s commentaries, is that “art thrives in restrictions.” This would be put to the test with the new film, as Paramount approved a much smaller budget than Meyer had wanted, one that was even smaller than the previous film. This would impact several areas of the film, as whole sequences that had been planned had to be scrapped. This also would impact the choice of composer, as the likes of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner were not affordable.

Star Trek VI Expanded Soundtrack by Intrada

Meyer’s original solution was to adapt the famous orchestral suite The Planets by Gustav Holst for the film. Composer Cliff Eidelman, who had submitted a demo tape for consideration, had studied The Planets while a student at the University of Southern California and initially began work to adapt the suite for the film. However, the Holst estate, which at the time controlled the rights to The Planets, asked for a prohibitively high licensing fee. Eidelman, meanwhile, had been composing his own music, and continued to do so in the absence of the Holst suite (though some influences would crop up here and there).

Nicholas Meyer’s reference to another classical piece, The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, ultimately inspired a main title that was unlike anything that had been heard in a Star Trek film before.

Normally up tempo or, in the case of STAR TREK III heroic/romantic, the main titles of the Star Trek films had typically featured a main theme that represented James T. Kirk, Enterprise, or the Federation. Here, the thematic emphasis is inverted, with the primary antagonists of the film, the Klingons, taking center stage.


Previous themes by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner had symbolized the honor and brutality, respectively, of the Klingons. In contrast, Eidelman takes a darker, more brooding approach that is completely appropriate for the political scheming happening in the film.

“The Klingons are not warlike in this movie, they don’t have that type of warlike energy. [This] is a completely different situation, and their whole existence is in question.” 

Cliff Eidelman, interviewed by Mark A. Altman

Eidelman also completely dispenses with the classic Alexander Courage fanfare, which had ushered in every Star Trek film since THE WRATH OF KHAN. The result is a slowly building piece in the low strings, certainly influenced by Firebird, that also represents the lurking cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey. Augmented by a largely male chorus (another unusual choice for a Trek score), this rising/falling motif abruptly changes tempo and time signature just before the one-minute mark as Eidelman shows his Holst roots with a driving snare rhythm similar to that of “Mars: The Bringer of War”. The tension in the cue continues to build throughout the remainder of the piece (with a brief reprieve towards the end), which ends on a somewhat discordant chord that fades just as the film proper begins in spectacular fashion with the explosion of Praxis.

Enterprising Older Men

While only featured briefly in the Overture, the requisite themes for Enterprise and her crew are certainly present throughout the score. This time out, however, they feel a bit more wistful—an appropriate choice given the impending retirement of the crew (and cast). Introduced by solo trumpet, this theme when played during the obligatory “leaving Spacedock” scene certainly has a feeling of closure to it, while sounding no less heroic as it builds to include the full orchestra.

Excerpt from “Spacedock/Clear All Moorings”

Another aspect to the score is a renewed emphasis on the character Spock. While character leitmotifs are typically rare in Star Trek aside from Kirk and the villain, Spock has often been the exception to this rule. While Jerry Goldsmith wrote elements for Spock in connection with his V’Ger material for THE MOTION PICTURE, James Horner was really the first composer for the films to write a dedicated theme for Spock, which would help anchor much of his subsequent score to STAR TREK III. Interestingly, Eidelman took an approach very similar to Horner, and whether intentional or not, his Spock theme is incredibly reminiscent of Horner’s both in it’s melody and instrumentation. Like the main Enterprise theme, this musical incarnation of Spock does feel just a bit wiser and contemplative, again befitting the subject matter.

Excerpt from “Spock’s Wisdom”

The Battle for Peace

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Trek film without a few action sequences, and here again, Eidelman doesn’t disappoint. The climax of the film, in which Enterprise must fend off a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey, once again highlights his comfort with Holst, as many of the action rhythms are strongly imbued with the character of “Mars: The Bringer of War” juxtaposed with his rising/falling Bird of Prey motif. It’s a brilliant piece of action writing that completely fits the foreboding feel of the film overall.

“The Battle for Peace” Excerpt #1

Ultimately, the battering taken by Enterprise completely obliterates the shields, and a final torpedo from the Bird of Prey dramatically breaches the hull. With this, the Holstian rhythms kick in even more, and as Spock and Dr. McCoy race to adapt a special photon torpedo that will seek out the cloaked ship. The music continues to build up to the moment the torpedo is ready and Kirk is finally able to return fire.

“The Battle for Peace” Excerpt 2

At this moment, the score temporarily cuts out as the villain, General Chang, watches at first in surprise and then in growing shock as the torpedo swoops in to strike his ship. The music again swells triumphantly as Enterprise and Excelsior team up to destroy the rogue Klingon ship.

“The Battle for Peace” Excerpt 3

Signing Off

 Without doubt, one of the most successful and memorable parts of Eidelman’s score is the way it closes out the film. Once again, Kirk and crew have “saved civilization as we know it,” yet they are ordered back to space dock where Enterprise will be decommission and the crew likely sent off into retirement. After a short, melancholy passage, Spock’s infamous retort to the order brings, for the first time in the score, a full statement of the original Alexander Courage fanfare.

“If I were human, I believe my response would be, ‘Go to hell,’…if I were human.” -Spock

Echoing Spock’s sentiment in spirit if not in tone, Kirk ultimately decides to set course for the “second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning,” which is accompanied by warm statements of the Enterprise theme and the Courage fanfare. The cue rounds out with Kirk recording his final captain’s log, which is immediately followed by a sweeping performance of the Enterprise material as the cast’s signatures appear one by one on the screen. As William Shatner’s name is scrawled across, Eidelman once again returns to the Courage fanfare one last time.


As someone who has been a Star Trek fan for nearly my entire life, this moment never fails to affect me. I think the impact this group of actors and characters had on millions of fans was best summed up in the wonderful teaser trailer put out for the film. Narrated by Christopher Plummer and set to James Horner’s music, the trailer features no footage of the actual film, but instead focuses on the Star Trek family and their impact on fans:

Unfortunately, Cliff Eidelman would never achieve the same kind of success as James Horner. Although he has scored a number of films over the years, none have really achieved the same kind of recognition as STAR TREK VI. And that’s a shame, because he certainly delivered a memorable and surprising (for Star Trek) score here, and I would have loved to see him continue scoring similar films.

What are your thoughts on the score to STAR TREK VI and Cliff Eidelman? Is this one of your favorites, or does it feel more like an outlier score in the franchise? Drop me a line in the comments. Qapla’!


2 responses to “The Undiscovered Composer”

  1. Andy Avatar

    Just discovered your blog Carl. This was an excellent retrospective on the scores of the Star Trek TOS movies! I’ve been listening to these soundtracks since I was a kid but you made some observations that I never picked up on.

    If you would, please consider continuing and talking about Star Trek 7 through 13! I would love to hear your thoughts on McCarthy (always thought there was some really strong emotional material in Generations, even while the action sequences felt a bit TV-ish), Goldsmith’s last 3 films (love all 3 of these scores for their strong themes and bringing back the Busy Man motif), and Giacchino (who brought his own brand of music to the table but really excelled and put everything into his scores).

    1. Carl Wonders Avatar

      Hi Andy! Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply, but I wanted to say thank you for your kind words about the blog! I’m absolutely planning to continue talking about the other Trek films. In fact, I recently decided to completely rework my Generations write-up, as I worried that I was being less kind than I should be (it’s honestly not one of my favorite scores in the series). I hope to have that done soon! LLAP

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