In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk asks Sulu the crew complement of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, and Sulu answers immediately from memory.

KIRK: Mister Sulu, what is the crew complement of a Bird-of-Prey?

SULU: About a dozen officers and men.

Why would Sulu know the answer moreso than Kirk himself?

  • 6
    It's possible Kirk knew the correct figure, but was seeking confirmation from a source he trusted. Dec 3, 2023 at 22:12
  • 14
    Or, by habit, Kirk is asking a question of someone to send the message to the entire bridge crew that this kind of strategic information is something they all should know.
    – Andrew
    Dec 3, 2023 at 22:23
  • 9
    I suppose you have to speculate it was rhetorical and/or Admiral Kirk wasn't super focused on the latest Klingon stats as it wasn't his area of responsibility anymore. Like United States Southern Command versus Central Command. An Admiral might know trivia but best to check. He's focused on cadets and super science when we see him in STII. Dec 3, 2023 at 22:35
  • 1
    Just to expand on why ask Sulu specifically, as well as being the Helmsman, Sulu was the Tactical Officer, so it was his job to know these sort of facts about potential enemy vessels.
    – dkwarr87
    Dec 5, 2023 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


The script would suggest that he's momentarily distracted by grief and is essentially thinking aloud here, using Sulu as a sounding-board for his plan.

Kirk turns to face McCoy. His face is hollow, his eyes staring. Then, in a voice strained with grief.

KIRK: Mr. Sulu, what is the crew complement of a Bird of Prey?

SULU: About a dozen officers and men.

KIRK (thinking) With some on the planet...

Under normal circumstances he'd probably keep his thought-process to himself until it was time to spring his trap, but since this is a film, he basically needs to telegraph what's happening to the audience.

  • 17
    "but since this is a film, he basically needs to telegraph what's happening to the audience." -- I feel this should be more prominent. Talking to another character is one way for a movie to do exposition without making it too much in-your-face.
    – Tom
    Dec 4, 2023 at 9:36
  • 8
    @Tom - I always like to go with the in-universe reason first.
    – Valorum
    Dec 4, 2023 at 10:52
  • 7
    @Tom true, but Start Trek's authors were particularly notorious for failing to give sufficient credible back story or reason to expository dialogue. I often find trying to invent non-existent universe reason does more to damage the suspension of disbelief than simply accepting the occasional moment of seeing the artists hand. Dec 4, 2023 at 14:21

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