Sure, it's no Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). But a big part of that movie's appeal was that it got to not be Star Trek: The Motion Picture first.
It also had fantastic production design, near-perfect pacing, and an incredible music score by James Horner. Okay, most movies can't compare to Star Trek II. But Star Trek III is a worthy follow-up, and a clear outlier in the Even-Numbered-Trek-Movies-Stink theory.
I re-watched it with the kids last night and took away a couple things:
First, I love Star Trek movies of the 80s.*
* With the exception of Star Trek V: Leave The Theater Immediately and Go See Dead Poets Society (1989).
But my main takeaway ...
Starfleet is full of jerks.
Sure, exposing us to this weasel armada was a manipulative scripting choice so we'd cheer even more for our rebellious heroes as they stole a ship to a forbidden planet and broke a ton of other Starfleet regulations.
But I wouldn't want any of these guys representing my Earth in the United Federation of Planets:
Jerk 1: Captain Styles, USS Excelsior
"If he thinks he can get away with warp drive ... he's really in for a shock."
You had to like the casting of this guy, who perfectly straddled the line of cocky pilot and beaten-down bureaucrat. The poor man's Dabney Coleman.
Jerk 2: "Mr. Adventure"
"Well, maybe that's okay for someone like you, whose career is winding down. But me, I need some excitement, some adventure ... maybe even just a surprise or two."
A proud owner of the classic 80's antagonist kick-my-butt face. He gets bonus points for the extra smarmy disrespecting-your-elders delivery. Well-played, sir.
Jerk 3: The Guy Who Shouldn't Have Called Sulu "Tiny"
I think this was his only line.
What was the recruitment poster like?
GENERALLY THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN EVERYONE?
CONSIDER A CAREER IN STARFLEET!
You should check this out on blu-ray. It hasn't been restored like Wrath of Khan, but it still looks better than it has since it was originally released.