Star Trek Three - The Search For Spock
By Richard A. Coyle
The Star Trek III Phaser became known as the "return to the grand old days" model. Fans viewed it as the direct descendant of the Classic Pistol Phaser with the return of its small black Phaser Type One and its distinctive top-mounted position, unlike the model seen in the first two ST movies. The ST III model was designed by the Lucas Film special effects department, ILM, and it seems to follow the design details of many of the space ships that also débuted for this movie.
Editorial comment: In the author's opinion too much of the I L M space ship designs permeate the ST III Phaser. No discernable controls are present, and the tapering shape of the grip makes it a slippery model to hold. The lack of a trigger guard also makes this a very unsafe weapon to carry.
Within the film and throughout the many appearances it made within the television show Star Trek - The Next Generation, this design was never taken apart, nor was the Phaser One ever shown alone.
This particular model was hand made as a master pattern first; then it used to produce an RTV (room temperature vulcanizing) rubber mold. From these rubber molds you can cast many pourable materials, such as candle wax, fiberglass resin, BondoŇ (auto body repair plastic), plaster, and some low melting point metals. This model was made by pouring polyurethane plastic to make the castings.
If you look closely you can see the ragged mold lines running across the handle and body. This was a cut out mold, done in one shot around the mold master model. For this type of mold, when the mold rubber has cured, one simply takes a knife and cuts around the model to remove it from the mold. This leaves a line that can lead to mismatching, but it is a quick and easy method that can save a day or two in getting a model into production. Normally, you can either plan to fix this line by sanding it off (the correct method), or, as in this case, assume that it will never show on film. In the latter circumstance, the prop will never stand up to scrutiny in a still shot like this.
The mold master pattern was made with provisions to allow electronics during the final stages of casting assembly. The fine detail stage had a two-color square LED display placed into the blue triangular section on top of the Phaser one. This two-color LED was driven by a two-speed flasher circuit, which produced an interchanging two- to three-color display. The two colors inside each LED were red and yellow; when both were lit, the display color appeared to be orange. Due to the dual polarity of the two- color LEDs, each of the four squares within the single square of the main LED housing contained two LEDs; so in each square there were eight LEDs in total, and each square in the main square could show first yellow, then red. These flashed at two different rates producing a charming and eye-catching display. It is commonly held by fans that this display was the readout of its level of dilithium crystal power.
Editorial comment: A lighted power meter display is useful when the user requires it to check function, but as a real weapon used under real field conditions, this lighting could be a danger to the holder under low-light conditions. Such a blinking light would draw attention, most likely hostile, from a distance. Ideally this feature should have a "defeat" switch on such occasions.
In the rectangular area just forward of the triangle, there are four rectangular LEDs that provided firing indicators. These four LEDs fired two at a time, alternating with each other - i.e., one and three would light, then two and four would light, etc. This sequence would continue for as long as the weapon was firing.
Editorial Comment: Again, in real life, this feature would be unneeded, as you would see the weapon fire. Possibly this feature would aid as a diagnostic in case of a misfire or as a safety feature.
At the rear there is a master power switch or safety.
Editorial Comment: This means you need two hands to turn it on or off. In the real world this would be unacceptable. Check any firearm -- one hand, normally your right hand, can activate any safety on any weapon.
Also note this movie prop had NO working light effects at the tip. It fired no light and the tip was solid.
This weapon model began appearing in Star Trek - The Next Generation with the episode, "The Final Mission," in which Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher take a shuttlecraft to help an outpost of miners and then crash land on a breathable moon, where they undertake survival measures. This model was the older shuttlecraft's weapon stock. It was changed slightly by wrapping the handle with leather strapping to form a grip cover.
Editorial Comment: This modification was a definite improvement over the original smooth, painted slippery handle.
It also shows up on the wall of Captain Kirk's log cabin in the Nexis dimension of the of the first NG Star Trek movie, "Generations."
No tip lighting; tip has small recess only. A parting line is visible throughout the center of the main body, which is a jagged uneven weaving line. The mold was cast around the model and then cut out as discussed above, which caused this kind of parting line. Clear white plastic rectangular LEDs that flash red are present in the Phaser One top, and there is an open hole in the bottom. The circuit board embedded in epoxy. A corresponding hole is present below in the pistol body to hold a 9-volt battery, and there is a smaller hole to the back of the trigger in the pistol body. There were three connectors and upwards on back of the trigger switch, with a slip-on connector to plug the electronics in the Phaser One to the trigger of pistol body.
If any paint wears off, the plastic should be cream or white under surface paint. Red and white reflector was used for trim on top of the Phaser One, next to the four LEDs. Any details different from these should be suspect.
The author, while working on "Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home," was rummaging in the propmaster's truck box and found an old memo that claimed they (the studio) had spent $XXXXX on the last picture in prop rental and repairs, and that the current deal (i.e., Star Trek III) with ILM was cheaper than the last one; this time they got to keep the props for later use! Sadly, this did not work out to any advantage, as they experienced what had become the norm on the Paramount Studios' lot: most were stolen, and what was left by the time I came on for ST IV generally did not function any longer. So only a couple were available for subsequent use. Although they were still some around for ST IV, these mustered only a brief appearance in the holster of a guard. I was told that by the time of Star Trek V that these props were all missing from storage. The models seen in later shows and films are actually recasts from props owned by a few collectors.
There continues to be some confusion concerning the details of this model. First there was, at one time, a role playing board gaming data book by the FASA gaming company that included depictions based on incorrect pictures of ILM's early prototypes and drawings. Several fan-produced books of drawings based upon this earlier book, reproducing the errors, followed this misinformation and perpetuated the confusion. Finally, the newest book, "The Art of Star Trek," has fallen victim to the same mistakes, because they received almost the same non-filmed ILM early drawings and photographs of prototypes. The industrious collector can, with a study of the laser disk releases of the films and with the aid of stills, correctly identify the final modified models that were actually used in the film. The photos used within this article are of the actual models found on the set and within the prop cases on the studio lot. Cross checking these photos with the film images will verify these facts.