Christopher Plummer

Joseph Fusco
4 min readFeb 9, 2021

When Captain von Trapp met Captain Kirk

Christopher Plummer’s General Chang taunts Spock and Kirk in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Christopher Plummer was that rare artist who was both a movie star of immense charisma and a thespian of intense depth. When he died at the age of 91, he left a legacy of tremendous stage and screen roles. He won two Tonys, two Emmys, and an Oscar. He was nominated for, but lost, a Grammy award — robbing him of a very much deserved EGOT status.

Because of the length and breadth of his career, generations of audiences come to learn of him at different phases. For some people, Christopher Plummer is forever Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music. For others, their first encounter might have been his more recent role as the wealthy patriarch in Rian Johnson’s brilliant Knives Out.

For me, the iconic Christopher Plummer role will always be his turn as the Shakespeare-quoting Klingon, General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Poster for Paramount Pictures’ 1991 release, Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country © 1991 Paramount Pictures

Released in 1991, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the final Star Trek film to feature the original characters. It was produced after the critically and commercially disappointing, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In order to let the series go out with a bang and not a whimper, Paramount brought back Nicolas Meyer, the visionary who saved the franchise ten years earlier when he wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. One reason for that film’s success was the amazing villain that Captain Kirk and crew had to face…Ricardo Montalbán’s KHAN!

For Undiscovered Country to work as a film, Kirk needed a formidable foe to play against. He faced it in Christopher Plummer’s General Chang. In the hands of another actor, General Chang might have come off as over the top and two-dimensional. But in the hands of a master like Plummer, who performed Shakespeare with unbridled eloquence, General Chang became a character of substance and humor.

General Chang served as the perfect foil for Captain Kirk, whose love of Shakespeare is well established canon. Chang takes every opportunity to taunt Kirk with quotes from the Bard. “CRY HAVOC AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR!” Chang cries out with glee during a climactic battle with the Enterprise. [Even the subtitle “undiscovered country” is a quote from Hamlet, a role that once earned Plummer an Emmy nomination for a BBC/Danish Radio adaptation that aired on NET.]

“Cry Havoc” scene from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country via YouTube

Plummer has a show-stopping moment in a pivotal scene in Undiscovered Country. Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy have been framed for a murder of a Klingon, an attack in which General Chang was also injured. Kirk and McCoy stand before a sham trial listening through translation devices. They know that their fates have already been chosen. Chang, villainous to the hilt, is not only witness but prosecutor. In a tension filled moment, Chang asks a question of Kirk and McCoy, and then screams: “Don’t wait for the translation!”

The trial scene from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country via YouTube

It’s the predecessor of “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men which would be released the following year. But it is likely a call back to the 1962 incident when US Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, stood on the floor of the UN and demanded his Soviet counterpart answer if the USSR had missiles in Cuba. Stevenson screamed, “Don’t wait for the translation!” as a shocked nation (and an impressed President John F. Kennedy) were glued to their television sets.

Obviously, the stakes in real life in 1962 were much higher than the stakes of Undiscovered Country, but what Star Trek has always done so brilliantly is address social and political issues in a science fiction setting. In the case of Star Trek VI, it was a take on the fall of the Soviet Union.

“That one may smile and smile and be a villain.”

(Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5)

Christopher Plummer is that rare breed of actor who had tremendous personal charisma, high sex appeal, and intense acting chops. He built a career by never fitting into a particular mold but by moving between unexpected characters. He was one of a kind. He was simply Christopher Plummer.

Good night, sweet prince.



Joseph Fusco

Joseph Fusco is a writer, director, actor, and drummer from New York City.