5 Sybok scenes Laurence Luckinbill nailed in Star Trek V

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Laurence Luckinbill attends the Abingdon Theatre Company's 19th annual gala at Espace on October 24, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Simon Russell/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Laurence Luckinbill attends the Abingdon Theatre Company's 19th annual gala at Espace on October 24, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Simon Russell/Getty Images) /
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Sybok was played to perfection by Laurence Luckinbill in Star Trek V.

In his new cultural history of the Star Trek franchise, Phasers on Stun! (Plume, May 2022), Ryan Britt argues Sean Connery would have made a better Sybok in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier than did the actor who played Sybok, Laurence Luckinbill. Director and star William Shatner wanted Connery for th part, but the legendary James Bond star passed.

“Connery playing Sybok would have saved The Final Frontier,” Britt boldly asserts. “[O]n a gonzo, mass-appeal scale, the hyperbolic silliness of Sean Connery’s star power would have ben a slam dunk precisely because it would have won over a mainstream audience” (page 180). Britt goes on to say that “because the thing with Spock’s lunatic brother is played entirely straight, the movie doesn’t work” (page 181).

Full disclosure: I really enjoy Ryan Britt’s writing. I favorably reviewed his first book, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read (Plume, 2015) for The Sci-Fi Christian, and I plan to favorably review Phasers on Stun! for the very website you’re reading right now. And in 2016, Britt was kind enough to interview me via Google doc for an Inverse feature about Star Trek and religion.

But to argue Sean Connery as Sybok could and would have saved The Final Frontier and that Laurence Luckinbill sabotaged it, is about as mad an assertion as Sybok’s assertion that Sha Ka Ree exists.

Granted, it’s hard to rebut a hypothetical. But I think the “mainstream audience” of 1989 would have been so distracted by Connery’s star power, the movie would have become even more of a mess than most people—not just fans—think it already is.

More to the point, how can we actively wish we’d gotten a sub-par performance from the actor playing the chief antagonist in a Star Trek movie? To denigrate Laurence Luckinbill for taking his role as Sybok seriously and playing it “entirely straight” is to reject arguably the strongest element in The Final Frontier, not its weakest, and certainly not the reason “the movie doesn’t work.”

Now that “The Serene Squall,” episode seven of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, has made it clear Sybok will soon be back in play, Britt’s criticisms of how the character was portrayed take on greater relevance. So let’s examine five key moments in the performance Laurence Luckinbill turned in as Sybok, and see whether we’d really want The Final Frontier to have lacked them.

Spock and Sybok, together again

Sybok and Spock’s awkward family reunion doesn’t happen until nearly 44 minutes into The Final Frontier. Laurence Luckinbill’s performance makes the moment well worth the wait.

As Luckinbill grasps Leonard Nimoy’s shoulders, he flashes a wide, warm grin that could melt a glacier on Rura Penthe. After Nimoy pulls away, Luckinbill says, “It’s me, it’s Sybok” with an almost jovial shake of his head and a tone of voice that all but adds “your old pal” in front of his character’s name. And his big laugh when Spock accuses Sybok of 17 Neutral Zone Treaty violations is convincing and contagious.

To perfectly cap this scene, Luckinbill delivers Sybok’s next line with a blend of disarming charm and disturbing braggadocio: “I’m not through violating Neutral Zone Treaty. In fact, I’m just getting started. And for my next violation, I intend to steal something—something very big!”

Luckinbill’s choices in this scene make it clear that calling Sybok “charismatic” is a wild understatement. Were he not taking hostages and stealing starships on his quest to find God, you might almost find yourself willing to throw back some Saurian brandy with him.