Director: Marc Daniels
Writer: Gene Roddenberry
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nancy Kovack, Michael Witney, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Ned Romero, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Booker Bradshaw, Arthur Bernard, Janos Prohaska, Paul Baxley, and Gary Pillar
Composer: Gerald Fried
Air Date: 2/2/1968
Production #: 60345
Thirteen years after leaving the planet Neural, Captain Kirk returns to find that the Klingons have provided a primitive society with flintlocks to use against the Hill People. In spite of Starfleet’s noninterference policy, Kirk considers arming the aforementioned Hill People with weapons of comparable force. The tribe leader Tyree (Michael Witney) decides against using flintlocks when confronting his enemies, much to the chagrin of his seductive wife Nona (Nancy Kovack).
A commentary on the Vietnam War, Gene Roddenberry’s narrative contains yet another unique problem resulting from the Prime Directive. Though lacking in subtlety, “A Private Little War” will appeal to Star Trek fans who admire Kirk’s unconventional solutions to challenging situations.
As usual, the main characters are prevented from using phasers or other technological conveniences when dealing with alien cultures. On one hand, Kirk decides to work around Starfleet regulations by arming the Hill People only with weapons that equal the power of those utilized by their opponents. This maneuver does not sit well with McCoy, who in contrast believes that a nonviolent approach would be preferable to the more drastic measures taken by Kirk. An obvious parallel can be drawn between the character actions in this episode and the militaristic methods employed by Earth’s superpowers during the Vietnam War, with Kirk going so far as to reference the “20th century brush wars on the Asian continent” during one of his debates with McCoy.
Many viewers will have difficulty accepting the danger posed by the Mugatos given their unconvincing physical characteristics, even when taking into account the fact that only primitive special effects were available at the time. William Shatner’s goofy reaction to a Mugato attack further discredits any threat stemming from these alien monsters, offering unintentional comic relief to a scene in which Kirk’s life is placed in grave peril.
Also, the character of Nona makes for an unnecessary addition to an already cluttered narrative, especially when considering that a scientific explanation behind her witchcraft is never provided. At one point, Spock is critically injured after being struck with a projectile from one of the Klingons’ flintlocks; however, this subplot also feels superfluous given that no emotional weight is added to the uncertainty of Spock’s fate.
Unlike many similarly themed Star Trek episodes, “A Private Little War” fails to deliver a peaceful resolution to its central conflict, with both the Hill People and their rivals locked in a perpetual war as a result of Kirk’s attempt to reset the power imbalance caused by Klingon interference. Though hardly satisfying, the conclusion outlined above indicates that even in a futuristic space show based upon humanist ideals, certain problems can never be solved through diplomatic means.
“A Private Little War” benefits from a thought-provoking social commentary. While an unfocused plot may occasionally distract viewers from the Vietnam War theme, Star Trek enthusiasts are nonetheless advised to view this episode for its uncharacteristically somber ending.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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