“Private Little War” Remastered Review + Video & Screenshots [UPDATED]

by Jeff Bond

Action-packed and thought-provoking, second season Trek’s “A Private Little War” represents a fascinating collision of the sensibilities of Gene Roddenberry and Trek producer Gene L. Coon, always one of the unsung creative heroes of the series and the mind behind many of the show’s anti-war polemics.

While he became increasingly pacifistic later in life, Gene Roddenberry was a former military man who believed that some problems did indeed have military solutions. Coon had also served in the military but he came out of his experiences far more convinced that war and violence were the worst possible solutions to any problem. “A Private Little War” acts this ideological conflict out using the Vietnam War as a model and spinning the situation of superpowers working out their differences with smaller proxy forces down to a primitive level. Here the Klingons are introducing gunpowder and primitive firearms to a peaceful society of primitive humanoids that Kirk had visited and befriended earlier in his career. When Kirk discovers what’s happening he decides to continue the brinksmanship by arming the tribe led by his friend Tyree with just enough munitions to wage an even-handed war with the tribe the Klingons are supplying.

“Private Little War” spills over with Star Trek’s virtues and vices. It’s filmed on location and opens with a thrilling sequence in which Kirk’s landing party is chased by villagers with flintlocks and Spock is shot in the back—one of the most jarring moments of violence in the series.

The story divides its time in classic A plot/B plot fashion between scenes of Spock’s unconscious struggle to survive onboard the Enterprise after it leaves orbit to avoid the orbiting Klingon vessel, and Kirk and McCoy’s adventures on the planet. Even though Spock is sidelined, his scenes are still some of the most interesting in the story as Booker Bradshaw’s intriguing Dr. M’Benga coolly works to keep the Vulcan alive. The scenes on the planet take great advantage of DeForest Kelley, whose Dr. McCoy is uncomfortable in any situation outside of sickbay. McCoy’s suspicions of the motivations of Tyree’s Lady Macbeth-like wife Nona are right on the money and his dramatic showdown with Kirk over the military situation on the planet is one of the most fiery in the entire series.

Nancy Kovak’s Nona is certainly one of the most pneumatic and sensuous guest females in the series—a topless-from-the-back “shower scene” in a waterfall was shot with her and probably cut under request from network Standards and Practices, although it resurfaces briefly in Star Trek’s legendary blooper reel. Ironically Kovak, who was married to conductor Zubin Mehta, came off as prudish and conservative in later interviews and particularly dismissive of her sexy turn as Nona. Nona’s deceit and hunger for power is compelling and she drives the story’s tragedy in almost painful fashion, ultimately paying for her greed with her life. (Take a close look at the close-up of the hand phaser in her final scene as she prepares to offer it to the enemy villager’s leader—this is one of the only moments in the series where you can see a hint of the functionality of the moveable “targeting scanner” hood that was designed to flip up to aim this little weapon.).

For all its strengths, this episode has its detractors. The ridiculous wigs and hippy costumes of the villagers and the outrageous spine-backed Mugato ape (admittedly one of the show’s most recognizable alien monsters) provide plenty of unintended laughs if you’re looking for that, the “maka root” mysticism can be considered risible as well, and the story’s overt endorsement of the U.S. strategy in Vietnam has grated on many a viewer of the past few decades. But it’s one of the show’s strongest downbeat endings as Kirk’s painful decision bears the fruit of open warfare immediately—this has always been one of the original show’s great strengths to me: it’s ability to show Kirk making mistakes or decisions that aren’t conventionally heroic, decisions that force him to confront the awful burden of command and the toll in human lives that burden can often carry.

“A Private Little War” does receive a bonus shot from CBS-Digital in the form of brief footage of the Klingon vessel in orbit around Neural (which itself gets the usual “earth-like planet” treatment from the digital artists). It’s a nice touch in an episode that always forced us to imagine the Klingon ship involved and continues the Remastered project’s retrofitting of the Klingon warship design into its first and second seasons. And while the final shot is the same “planet receding behind the warp engines” shot first introduced in “All Our Yesterdays,” it does work quite effectively with the episode’s moody Alexander Courage music cue as the story comes to its downbeat, reflective close.


higher quality version at YouTube


Remastered vs. Original


Even unconscious…the ladies can’t keep their hands off Kirk.

Not to be outdone, Spock takes unconscious play up a notch

“It’s Krell!” featuring side-kick Gene Shalit…worst talk show…ever

Domo Arigato Mr Mugato

Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). Amazon has also discounted the Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is to $96.95 (retail is $194.99).

Seasons One and Two of TOS-R ($96.95 and $63.99 respectively)

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Harry Ballz
May 18, 2008 9:52 pm

MUGATU? Ya gotta love it!!!

May 18, 2008 9:52 pm

I don’t really care for the effects they use on the planets… they look too CGI’d… for lack of a better term.

May 18, 2008 9:53 pm

Mugato who?

May 18, 2008 10:03 pm

I was wondering when that creature was going to show up. I love the Mugato!

May 18, 2008 10:39 pm

I don’t what the problem is unless your local channel where you get these reels are editing the shows even further. A few very intersting angles of the Enterprise are missing from this reel or you come back into the middle of the shot and part of the new effects shot is missing. I just finished the episode in particular the one of the Enterprise where we are looking up at the saucer from below as the ship is returning to orbit Towards the end of the episode.

May 18, 2008 10:41 pm

Where is the Mugatu’s uniform??? Hehehe! ;)

capt mike
May 18, 2008 10:44 pm
Here magatu magatu magatu magatu. Oh the magatu is just a cute little thing. Yeah with big fangs and lots of poison. This was a great edpisode with great acting. The cgi was pretty good showing us the klingon ship in orbit. but the magutu and it’s mate should have been red shirts. But the capt as alys is not only fighting the magatu but fighting off the hot sexy babe. Like Mccoy said in star trek 6. (What is it with you). Well doc he just gets all the hot chicks. But doc you violoted the prime directive your self in using your phaser to heat the rocks and not making sure that no one was watching you. The story with the klingons giveing weapons to the hill people was pretty good. Kinda like the soviets and the u.s did in the 60s with vietnam and using it as a social issue. I think gene did a great job of the social commentary of the day as he did in latter trek episodes. But it seems like always that man is not meant for the garden as the serpent always strikes. When kirk said to scotty to make a 100 flintlocks and then changed it to serpents thats was a great metiphor for the time as the u.s and soviets was doing in vietnam. All in all this was a great episode with a great story and the cgi was what it was supposed to be. An addition to… Read more »
capt mike
May 18, 2008 10:47 pm

Oh and did anyone notice that when spock was shot with the flintlock that there was a grean stain on spocks uniform. I just noticed this and i have seen this episode dozens of times.

May 18, 2008 10:56 pm

Dr. M’Benga rocks!

the guy that never posts
May 18, 2008 11:13 pm

They cgi’d in green blood stains on BOTH sides of his shirt!

How much sense does that make?

Plus, if Spock had been hit with a musket ball, he’s look more like something out of Mel Gibson’s the Patriot.

Oh, well

the guy that never posts
May 18, 2008 11:18 pm

One last thought

If they can CGI green blood onto Spock’s shirt, why cant they CGI Spock a more realistic green? Orion women too. Watch Court Martial again, there are a lot of Spock close ups. They only put make up on his cheeks. His neck & shoulders are quite pink, plus Kirk is super pink. The camera men & post production crew were always over correcting Spock’s green-ness. Nimoy says so himself in “I AM SPOCK”

I’d like to see Yvonne Craig CGI’d an even green when they redo “Whom Gods Destroy”

May 18, 2008 11:36 pm

Just get us the complete series on blu ray

OR Coast Trekkie
May 19, 2008 12:11 am

I like the size/scale of the original planet better.AGreed that the planet looks a little too CGI’ed but eh, it’s kind of what I have come to expect.

Robert Bernardo
May 19, 2008 1:15 am

Nice added effects to the episode. The hand phaser shots seem to be enhanced, the cross-dissolves when the first and later the second mugatu are blasted are not noticeable anymore, and there is the surprise of seeing the Klingon ship in orbit. Not only visual effects but an added sound effect — when our heroes are escaping through an archway in the town, bullets are supposedly slamming into the arch with the resultant sound effects; however, the last bullet hitting the arch never had a sound effect… until now!

the guy that never posts wrote:

> They cgi’d in green blood stains on BOTH sides of his shirt!

Incorrect. In the original, unremastered episode, green blood was seen on the front and back of Spock’s shirt after he was shot.

May 19, 2008 4:12 am

Yeah Mugatu!
Were there green blotches in the middle of their oceans or is it my puter?
Love this ep. Still feels like true Trek and very relevant today.

May 19, 2008 4:36 am

I liked the closing music when the Enterprise leaves orbit at the end of this episode. It set the mood for the planet’s gloomy future of war between the Gene Shalit Villagers and “The Apple” blond wigged country people.

I still think the best shot of the Enterprise is the old version when view from the rear–that model looked great, the lighting was perfect, and the movement was timed well to give the feeling of how big the ship is.

May 19, 2008 4:49 am

This episode has a lot of merits, yet, it’s not nearly as good as I remember. kind of a downer episode (which most social commentaries are, but still). Seems like the “solution” was arrived at too easily and then the planet was left to sort it all out.

May 19, 2008 5:07 am

Loved the whole coldwar allegory on this one, the Magatu still looks like an actor in a really bad ape suit.with horn stuck on top , but the episode is a really good one.

May 19, 2008 5:13 am

Why did the phaser not work for Nona when she fired it?.

Also, I got the impression that Nixon watched this episode to figure out how to end the war in Vietnam. Since the Enterprise just left, why can’t the US leave as well?

May 19, 2008 5:31 am

#19 – The phaser probably didn’t work because Nona didn’t know where the trigger was. It actually is on the underside of the phaser 1.

star trackie
May 19, 2008 5:35 am

Great new effects! M’Benga! Mugatu! Kinutu women!! Shatner in fur!

What’s not to love??

May 19, 2008 5:38 am

Nancy Kovack (Mrs Zubin Mehta) as Nona. Oh yeah.

This is an important chapter in Trek lore. It really added a depth to Kirk’s past and mythos.

May 19, 2008 5:42 am


Gene Shalit Villagers

Ha. Very funny.

May 19, 2008 6:18 am

To whatever animal died to make Nona’s pants: Well done! Well done!

May 19, 2008 6:26 am

Trigger on the underside of phaser 1? Never heard that one before. The button is on the top, but she didn;t know which button it was.

May 19, 2008 6:41 am

Agreed # 16…. The solemn music during the orbital departure of the Enterprise makes for a great and rare disconcerting ending. Where as the “bridge crew laughing out loud, or slapping Scotty in the stomach”, type endings were the general rule and out number the few somber conclusions at least twenty to one.

May 19, 2008 6:47 am

“Spock you’re alive?!…Well, I should have known, you can’t kill a computer.” ~the irascible Dr. McCoy

May 19, 2008 6:54 am

The best solemn ending ever as in “City On The Edge of Forever.” In general those types work better than the “everybody laughing” endings.

May 19, 2008 6:58 am

#2 Agreed.. the planet looks like TNG era

May 19, 2008 7:19 am

End credits for this episode spelled it “Gumatu”.

May 19, 2008 7:21 am

I always thought the villagers looked more like Father Guido Sarducci. .;>}

May 19, 2008 7:29 am

Too bad they didn’t render out Los Angeles in the background when Nona was being attacked by the Villagers either. I thought for sure that would be a “fix”.

I thought the CGI’d planet looked utterly ridiculous. It looks like Nintendo friggin’ rendered it.

May 19, 2008 7:40 am

The Mugatu was originally called the ‘Gumatu’ – however Deforest Kelly keep mispronouncing the name and calling it Mugato so they decided to stay with that.

John in Canada, eh?
May 19, 2008 7:43 am

The first third of this episode played better than I remembered; some nice tension as McCoy works on Spock in the transporter room, as an example. But, as with many of Roddenberry’s scripts, the pace seems to peter out near the end.
Nice to see the Klingon ship in orbit — but it seemed to be travelling much more quickly than the more sedate pace of the Enterprise.

May 19, 2008 7:47 am

#8, 10, and 11: They did not CGI the green blood on Spock. That was always there in the original as well. BUt what I noticed was that there were no bullet holes in the shirt. A gun that can Go right through a person without harming their clothing.

May 19, 2008 7:57 am

I often wonder why it’s always a battle cruiser when klingon ships are there. I mean, Klingon Ships weren’t originally shown until the third season. Why can’t for once where there was a ship we originally didn’t see, it could be a bird of prey or something. I mean it showed in ENT that they had them at the time. And I don’t want to hear any of that “Enterprise is not canon” crap. I believed it was and so did the makers. The makers clearly stated that TAS was not canon that is why it is not considered canon.

May 19, 2008 8:19 am

“The Klingons had no stomach for fighting”

I never liked the plot devise that stranded Kirk&Co. and then closed so perfunctorily in the final act. When this whole CG thing started, I remember thinking about this episode and wished that they would include a scene or two from the off-screen battle of the original. Once they started and I saw the changes made, I realised that my hopes would never be fulfilled by this project.

I have rarely complained about the work CBS has done (certainly much less than the complaints I read, which I find a little unforgiving) but I’m going to publicly stamp my foot, just this once.

RE: The above, sidestepped battle. I no longer expect to get added footage but couldn’t the Enterprise, in orbit in the last act, show some kind of battle damage? To reverse the crime done by the opening quote to the Klingon mystique, the ship should have looked a little charred. Why, the ship’s damage could be a metaphor for the damage done to the Prime Directive.

Regardless, I always loved this episode because it didn’t leave on one of those group-chuckle moments that the second season was prone to. I remember the chill I got the first time Kirk closes his communicator and I realised that was the last word. It was a depressing ending and kudos for that..

May 19, 2008 8:26 am

#25 – The top of the Phaser I contains three distinct items. From right to left…. a gauge indicating how much charge the phaser had left, a small little guide that acted as a makeshift sight (the thing most people refer to as the trigger) and a dial that allowed you to change settings.

Actors from the series and the prop people have all indicated that the trigger for the phaser was on the underside of the weapon when questioned at conventions.

Denise de Arman
May 19, 2008 9:03 am

Love that CGI shot of the Enterprise looking up from below – I do not think I have ever seen it from that particular angle before.

Many good things about this ep: Dr. M’Benga, Nona, Kirk and the maka root deal. Has anyone noticed that when McCoy came in he found Kirk huddled, as if in a stupor, next to Nona while they slept? That, plus the fact that she claimed he could refuse her nothing, makes one wonder if he gave the weapons to the villagers as his decision or because he really was under her spell. We also find out about the Vulcan healing trance in this episode – yet another cool physiological oddity for Spock’s character.

May 19, 2008 9:38 am

Hated the wigs in this episode. Shatner mustve relished his kissing scene with Nona. Top 3 best looking babes on Trek.

May 19, 2008 9:43 am

8, 10, 11, 35: Spock’s bloody shirt.

Yes, 35 is correct, the green stains on both sides of Spock’s shirt have always been there (go watch an older copy of the episode or look at the screencaps at Trek Core if you doubt it). But they always looked too light, too much like grass stains imo. And yes, I have always thought they should’ve put holes in the shirt but I’m certain that didn’t happen because 1.) too cost prohibitive to have wardrobe destroy one of Nimoy’s uniforms or make an extra for this epidode, and 2.) I doubt the sensors would allow it, green blood or no. Only in recent years have TV shows been allowed to show things so graphic as a realistic gunshot. In the 60s on westerns they couldn’t even show the shooter and victim in the same shot at the same time. And in the 80s when did anyone actually get hit by a bullet on the A-Team? Even in ST6 the Klingons had pink blood in order to avoid a PG-13 rating or higher.

May 19, 2008 9:46 am

I was always liked the Dr. M’Benga character, and wished we could have seen him in other episodes too. He had great screen presence for someone who was not on camera for very long. I remember being intrigued by him when I was an eight year old watching this show in the early 70’s.

I noticed the green stain on Spock’s shirt a long time ago, and was always disappointed by the lack of a hole. Always liked this episode despite some flaws.

Poor Nimoy got slapped a number of times during the three seasons of TOS. Let’s see:
by Nurse Chapel & M’Benga in A Private Little War
by his mother in Journey to Babel
by the Romulan Commander in Enterprise Incident

Any others?

May 19, 2008 9:56 am

Izbot, I thought about the 1960’s sensors too. I would have been happier if they made a black smudge/mark on the back of his shirt like they did after he was hit by lightening in “The Apple.” I agree with your assessment of the green stains looking like grass stains.

Heywood Jablomee
May 19, 2008 9:58 am

This was Mugatu’s first and, sadly, last outing in the Star Trek franchise. His story is a perfect example of how fame and fortune can be cruel mistresses to a simple horned ape from a quiet corner of the galaxy. After he got out of Betty Ford, he told me that doing that episode was both fun and trying. But his main complaint was that Shatner kept demanding more screen time, and shortened what was a main role for Mugatu in the ep down to the mere forty five seconds it is today. That, and that fur doesn’t grow back over phaser burns.

May 19, 2008 9:59 am


And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout Shatner, either.

May 19, 2008 10:01 am


Certainly made my little mugatu spring to life, I’ll tell you…

May 19, 2008 10:16 am


Kirk slapped him around pretty good in a few episodes specifically in the one where Spock was loving Charles Bronson’s wife.

May 19, 2008 10:18 am
Another sloppy thing CBS-D didn’t fix: Just after Spock is shot and the landing party does an emergency beam-out, the transporter effect washes over the team but not Dr. McCoy’s various equipment scattered around them. Instead the equipment just does a fade out with no sparkle effect. The CBS-D team have said in many interviews that they all sit down and watch the episode several times, making lists of things to add or fix before working on the episode. They often clean up or enhance the hand-phaser effects (as they did in this very episode) but I haven’t seen them do any noticable fixes on some of the more dodgy-looking transporter effects. Seems to me it would’ve been a quick and easy fix so did they just miss it? I have always noticed it. Also would’ve been nice had they added a simple “heat wave” effect (I’m forgetting my grade school science terminology!) above the rocks McCoy heats up in the cave. I think they did this kind of thing in “For the World is Hollow” when Kirk and Spock are trapped in the Oracle’s control room and are being cooked. Storywise I have always thought this episode made a huge mistake in basically condoning U.S. policy on the Viet Nam war which was going on at the time. Even with a few hundred years’ hindsight Kirk states that arming both sides to maintain a balance of power, despite going on “year after bloody year”, was still the “only” solution… Read more »
ster j
May 19, 2008 10:25 am

# 28–I agree. Those eps withthe more serious endings seemed more realistic. Let’s see. There was City on the Edge of Forever, A Private Little War, The Paradise Syndrome (which had Kirk acting throughout the credits; a great effect! It was like getting bonus footage), All Our Yesterdays. Hmm… I’m thinking the 3rd season eps ended on a serious tone more oftean than the other seasons.

ster j
May 19, 2008 10:33 am

#43–But Spock’s blood is a lighter shade of green! You can see the difference when Spock gives his father the transfusion in Journey to Babel. It goes into the filtration device as apple green and comes out the other side a deep emerald green. There is also a small vial of reddish serum hanging beneath. See here:
(That’s Journey to Babel, picture # 245. I kow that these Trekcore links don’t work well.)

Oh, and as to the Klingon’s pink blood on ST6–I thought that was a joke that such a macho species would have such wimpy colored blood!