Study Guide

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan A Tale of Two Cities

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A Tale of Two Cities

2285 Was the Best of Times, 2285 Was the Worst of Times

Continuing our whirlwind tour of Literary Classics in Outer Space, Star Trek II makes a series of overt references to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Mr. Spock gives a copy to Kirk on his birthday, and Kirk ends up quoting it at a couple of key points.

The novel covers the events of the French Revolution, and ends with the heroic self-sacrifice of Sydney Carton, an alcoholic lawyer who goes to the guillotine so his friends can be safe.

Sound familiar? It should: Spock should change his name to Spock Carton.

Star Trek II uses A Tale of Two Cities in the same way it used Moby-Dick—to show us where the film got its ideas from and acknowledge the literary notions at the core of its space opera laser blasts.

That lesson isn't lost on Kirk, who had never understood what it really meant to give up your life for another person's, and who only sees it after Spock is gone. But rather than pouring salt in his wounds, it helps him find some peace, accepting Spock's death and moving forward with a newfound respect for the wonders of life.

He even goes so far as to say Sidney Carton's last lines with a peaceful smile on his face.

KIRK: "It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. A far better resting place that I go to than I have ever known."

CAROL MARCUS: Is that a poem?

KIRK: No. Something Spock was trying to tell me. On my birthday.

Now if only they could work Tristram Shandy in there somewhere, our nerdy bookworm hearts would be full.

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