An ancient race of spacefarers asks Kirk and Spock to help them prevent a holy war by retrieving the soul of a dead peacemaker.
Plot Summary: Kirk and Spock are summoned by the Vedalans for help in averting an intergalactic threat: the Soul of Alar, the late religious leader of the Skorr, has been stolen, and unless it can be retrieved, the Skorr will declare a holy war on all known races in the galaxy. The ancient Vedalan race has chosen experts to help track it down since three previous expeditions have gone missing on the unstable planet where the Soul has been hidden. A Gorn-like alien, a human named Lara, and a green insectoid join the Skorr representative Tchar, a birdlike being who flies ahead to scout the terrain. The group is threatened by lava, landslides, and a snowstorm, but eventually they reach a building that looks like Skorr temple. The insectoid is able to open the lock so the others can hide inside. Using Lara’s skills as a huntress and the reptilian Sord’s strength, they find the Soul, but Kirk has already begun to guess that the previous missions failed because of sabotage and that Tchar himself stole the Soul. Tchar indeed has a gravity neutralizer and forces the others to fight him in null gravity, but Kirk is able to grab the Soul while Spock holds Tchar’s wings. Tchar brags that he stole the Soul, explaining that the war to recover it will make his now-peaceful people great again. Lara contacts the Vedalans, who transport the group back with a promise to cure Tchar’s insanity. To prevent the risk of war, all records of the mission will be erased. Kirk and Spock reappear on the Enterprise only two minutes after they left, claiming that the Vedalans changed their minds about needing help.
Analysis: If you’re thinking that everything about “The Jihad” from the title on down sounds like a bad idea, I must agree with you. There are numerous “what were they thinking?” moments, even allowing for the fact that the animated series is nearly 40 years old, when cultural appreciation and cartoon aliens were presumably less sophisticated than they are now. We never get a rational explanation why Starfleet agrees to loan out Kirk and Spock for a mission about which they presumably know nothing to a race of aliens we’ve never heard of before, though we’re told that the cat-like species is the oldest known to have traveled into space. Nor is it ever clear that the Skorr represent a real threat to anyone besides themselves at present; even if they decide to launch a holy war to recover the preserved brain patterns of Alar, who is revered for bringing peace and civilization to the Skorr and would presumably loathe the idea of a war in his name, Tchar himself admits that his people have grown weak and lost their military prowess, so it’s going to be a long time before they can take on the entire known galaxy. Perhaps the Vedalans have seen into the future – since they seem to be capable of compressing time and altering memories, it’s not impossible, though I wish we knew whether they used unknown technology or something akin to magic to accomplish that and telekinesis – but we’re not given any solid reason that Kirk and Spock should risk their lives over the sort of religious fervor that Star Trek usually tries to defuse with logic and science.
Then there are the newly introduced aliens. I like that the Vedalans choose a group of beings with skills regardless of their positions in life – the insectoid is a thief, the dino-Gorn a thug – in fact it’s a bit reminiscent of the people Picard will later encounter doing archaeological work on The Next Generation. But come on, this is not only Star Trek but a kid’s cartoon! Whose bright idea was it to have the female tracker keep hitting on Kirk, so explicitly that his refusals become unintentionally hilarious — since when does Kirk, for whom no woman is typically too old or too green or too dangerous, let a little thing like work get in the way of a flirtation? Kirk appears utterly fixated on Spock, saying only “fascinating” and defending Spock when Lara announces that Vulcans are too cold for her taste and she finds Kirk attractive, then risking himself to save Spock while Spock goes on about how Kirk’s first duty should be to the mission. He turns Lara down again later when she suggests that they make some happy “green” memories in case they die on this mission, to which Kirk replies that he already has a lot of green memories. I wouldn’t want to be a parent trying to explain to my children why that woman seems more interested in being along with Kirk to make memories than in finding the artifact that she from all hunters in the universe was chosen to track down. It’s a lot easier to explain why the Vedalans picked a complaining weakling insect-thief.
I really don’t like the way “jihad” here has been warped to mean a vendetta over an artifact that is never fully explained – we know that the Soul contains the brain patterns of the Skorr holy leader, though not what that means, whether Alar’s thoughts are accessible in some way or whether the item is essentially a reliquary. Still, one can see the roots of several later Star Trek episodes in the storyline – the cloning of Kahless, the galaxy-wide hunt for the artifacts containing a message from the progenitors of many of the spacefaring races of the Alpha Quadrant – and the Skorr are sadly one of many species who have found peace and stability yet have members who long for their former warlike glory. It’s an awfully pat ending to have him declared insane with a promise to “cure” him, and there may be Prime Directive-related implications. I’m not sure whether the Vedalans are obligated to follow the same rules as Starfleet, but if Tchar really believes he’s fulfilling a religious obligation, rewiring him as a pacifist isn’t much of a solution, particularly if his peaceful people would truly be willing to toss off their current beliefs and go to war for the Soul, as both Tchar and the Vedalans believe. There are plenty of visuals in “The Jihad” that would have been impossible on the live action original series, yet both the ships and some of the aliens look recycled, and one longs for the sophistication of the original series writing even if the visuals might have been impossibly cheesy.