Study Guide

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Introduction


Release Year: 1982

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Writer: Jack B. Sowards

Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Ricardo Montalban


Sometimes great things catch on immediately—Star Wars, Harry Potter, or (we presume) the peanut-butter-banana-and-bacon sandwich.

Sometimes, things spark on the second try: Jane Eyre was Charlotte Bronte's second novel. Seven was David Fincher's second movie. (Pop quiz: in which of these texts is a hostage held in isolation for an inhumanely long time? Trick question: the answer is in both.)

But there's a reason people say that "third time's the charm"…and we think that reason is the story of Star Trek.

It's hard to believe, but once upon a time, Star Trek was just a little sci-fi show that not a whole lot of people watched…and which got canceled after only three seasons. But that was before the fans got a hold of it and turned it into a Big Fat Hairy deal. From their enthusiasm came movies, and from the movies came more TV shows, which begat more movies which begat…well, which begat Star Trek as a bonafide phenomenon.

  

And yet, none of it would have happened were it not for Star Trek II, which opened in 1982 and recovered nicely after the first Star Trek movie boldly went…well, it didn't go straight to the top of the fan favorites list. Star Trek The Motion Picture left fans cold (wags dubbed it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture), and left the question of whether the franchise had another entry in it seriously up for debate.

Enter Nicholas Meyer, an unknown director without much familiarity with Star Trek, who reimagined the whole thing without losing the character and heart that made fans fall in love with the franchise in the first place. Basically, give this guy a gold star.

As a result, the low-budget film—which made do with a lot of recycled sets and reused effects shots—turned into a big hit, and is now widely regarded as the best thing that ever came out of the Star Trek franchise. Yes: ever.

It updated the adventures of Captain Kirk (William Shatner, who else?) and his crew to reflect their advancing age, pitting him against one of his nemeses from the original series and resulting in a finale that discerning fans think is the high point of the whole interstellar ball of wax.

In addition to its bona fides as a piece of space opera history, it also featured literary allusions galore and a final death scene that still gets us misty-eyed thirty years after we first saw it. (The only other cinematic moment that does that to us is when Bambi's mom bites the dust.)

Considering the length and breadth of the Trek phenomenon, that's nothing to sneeze at, and if you need to understand why people go so nuts over the crew of the Enterprise, this movie makes for the perfect place to start.

Just be warned: much like Khan's revenge cycle, a Star Trek habit is easy to start…but pretty near-impossible to break.

What is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan About and Why Should I Care?

Not everyone loves Star Trek. We know this and understand this…though sometimes we have a hard time accepting it. (We're currently reading a book called Everyone Is Okay: Even People Who Like Star Wars More Than Star Trek, and our pop culture counselor tells us we're doing really good work.)

But regardless of whether you spend your days dressed in full Spock-ears regalia or just shrug and see what else is on, you have to be aware of Star Trek as a phenomenon.

"Big deal," we can hear you say. "Every show has a fan base like that!" But back in the early 1970s when Star Trek was in its interstellar infancy…they didn't.

Neither did they have an internet to reach out to fellow fans, make connections, or form a virtual community the way everything from Game of Thrones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do now. Trek's fans (called Trekkies or Trekkers, depending on who you ask) did it all the old-fashioned way: hand printing newsletters, organizing get-togethers, and keeping their beloved show on the pop culture radar until Hollywood once again realized it could make money with it.

First and foremost, Star Trek II takes full advantage of all that hard work. The original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979, was considered a bit of a mulligan: too obsessed with trying to imitate 2001: A Space Odyssey to give fans the personality, character and overall fun that they loved about Star Trek in the first place.

With help from director Nicholas Meyer, Star Trek II righted that ship, trading in on a lower budget to bring us an awesome adventure featuring Kirk, Spock and the gang as fans remembered them.

And its success allowed the Trek phenomena to continue, through four more movies with the original cast, the highly successful Next Generation TV show, three more TV shows, another round of movies with the Next Generation cast, a full movie reboot in 2009, and Spock knows how many novels, comic books, web series, fan fiction, fanciful doodlings on cocktail napkins and a near-constant source of parodies on late-night television.

None of that would have been possible had Star Trek II not successfully infused the whole thing with fresh energy and reminded everyone what was so awesome about Trek in the first place.

Need more? Well there's the fact that it's not only a terrific bit of space swashbucklery—with Khan's marauding pirates squaring off against Kirk's Enterprise in the ultimate battle of Ham vs. Ham—but that it's one of Trek's few real moments of grappling with age. Everyone made jokes about the original crew getting progressively older as the movies went on (Shatner had just turned 50 when he made this and was 63 when he finally bowed out of the role), but Khan really got in there and grappled with it.

It presented a James T. Kirk who was getting older and finally forced to confront the mistakes of his youth and the consequences he had merrily run away from, and who now finally showed up with a bill come due. It tinged the sci-fi action with some deeper meaning and helped remind everyone that this jumped-up space opera had its share of genuinely profound moments.

That's a whole lot to cram into a tight 113 minutes, but Wrath of Khan manages it. Without it, Star Trek wouldn't be the same…and neither would the lives of millions of Trekkies worldwide.

Trivia

Believe it or not, Star Trek II was filmed on a budget. That meant they didn't always have the money for high-end effects. Luckily, they already had plenty of effects shots from the first film…and with some judicious editing, hardly anyone noticed. All of the effects shots of the Enterprise leaving space dock and heading into the cosmos were actually from Star Trek: the Motion Picture, recycled for use here. The VCR was still pretty novel, and most people likely hadn't seen The Motion Picture in years. That made it pretty easy to perform a little sleight of hand and shave a few million dollars off of that budget. (Source)

Poor Chekov gets that space eel stuck in his ear after a tense reunion with Khan in the Botany Bay…but in fact, it's not really a reunion. The original Star Trek episode with Khan, "Space Seed," took place in the show's first season. Walter Koenig didn't start working on the show until the second season…meaning that we never see Khan interact with Chekov in the original episode and Chekov doesn't even appear. Of course, there's nothing to say that Khan didn't run into Chekov somewhere on the Enterprise (maybe they grabbed some coffee in the rec room or something), but it's odd to note that they didn't seem to have any past before the whole ear-worms thing made it complicated. (Source)

Paul Winfield, who plays the ill-fated Captain Terrell here, wasn't done with Star Trek, despite his character phasering himself instead of letting the ear-worm chew on his brain. Nine years later, he appeared as Captain Dathon in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "Darmok." (His character belongs to an alien species who speaks only in metaphor, which we think is the coolest thing in the universe.) The episode is widely considered one of the best The Next Generation ever produced, leaving Winfield with a pair of wins in his Star Trek column. (Source)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Resources

WEBSITES

IMDB Entry
Here's IMDB's entry on The Wrath of Khan.

Memory Alpha Entry
Memory Alpha, the wiki for all things Trek, has an entry for The Wrath of Khan.

Star Trek.com Entry
Here's StarTrek.com's look at The Wrath of Khan.

TV Tropes
TV Tropes takes its own unique look at the movie.

BOOKS, TV, MOVIES

Space Seed
IMDB's page covering the original TV episode that inspired the film.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Or, as wags have dubbed it, "The Motionless Picture."

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
If you want to know what happens next, tune in to this pretty good entry, directed by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. And for the second movie in a row, his last lines get us right in the feels.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek II, III and IV form a sort of jury-rigged trilogy, and after all the sturm und drang of Khan and Spock, they wisely decided to go a little lighter here. Nimoy returns to the director's chair as Kirk and the gang go back in time to save the humpback whales from extinction.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
With Nimoy an established success in the director's chair, Shatner thought he'd take a shot at it. We never, ever speak of the results.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Nicholas Meyer returns, as the original crew bids farewell to the franchise at last. It's not the best of the series, but it does pretty well for itself nonetheless.

Star Trek: Into Darkness
We're going to jump ahead to the recent reboot of the saga, the second entry of which posited an all-new conflict against Khan. It did not go over well with the fans, but—with the exception of that cop-out ending—we don't think it's all that bad.

Star Trek Beyond
Not only have we stopped numbering, but we've dropped the colon, too. Boom.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Rotten Tomatoes Page
If you need reviews, then Rotten Tomatoes has 'em…with The Wrath of Khan sitting pretty at a tight little 88% rating.

Roger Ebert's Review
The great Roger Ebert gives us his thoughts.

30 Surprising Facts
A little bit of trivia from the folks over at The Geek Twins.

Ethics and the Kobayashi Maru
The Onion's AV Club goes into the nuts and bolts of the no-win scenario.

A Chat with the Producer
CNet talks to Wrath of Khan producer Robert Sallin.

VIDEO

The Original Trailer
Here's the film's snazzy trailer, along with a link to let you purchase a download for a reasonable price.

Director's Cut Scenes
Like a lot of movies, Star Trek II got a director's cut for its DVD release, with added scenes that make the character interactions more in-depth. This informative video demonstrates the changes.

Khan Speaks
Ricardo Montalban talks about his most famous role.

Promotional Interviews
Shatner, Nimoy and the gang talk Wrath during the original promotion for the film.

Nicholas Meyer
The director lends his view to the shoot.

Robot Chicken
We love Robot Chicken around here, but frankly speaking it's usually a little blue. Not for this Khan parody, though, which properly puts the "opera" in space opera.

Khan Hawks Cars!
A vintage ad featuring Ricardo Montalban. What the heck is fine Corinthian leather anyway?

AUDIO

The Soundtrack
Take a listen to James Horner's soundtrack from the film.

IMAGES

The Poster
Back in the dark days before Photoshop, you had to actually paint a picture for the poster. The Wrath of Khan did pretty well on that front.

Don't Pick at It
Ricardo Montalban gets in touch with his inner roadkill in a behind-the-scenes shot from the film.

"If I Squeeze Here…"
Shatner and Meyer mess around on the set.

Filming
Another behind-the-scenes shot of the film being made.

"Gimmie Some Sugar, Baby…"
Kirstie Alley and Leonard Nimoy on set.

So That's How They Did It
Another shot demonstrating how Khan pulled off that power lift of Chekov.

A Little Before and After
A quick shot of Montalban in the original episode and again of him in the movie.

Tumblr Goodness
Ready to go down the rabbit hole? Tumblr's got the hook up.