Study Guide

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan The Kobayashi Maru

The Kobayashi Maru

Training Day

No, unfortunately this does not refer to the adorable cat Maru, who graces the interwebs by fitting his entire fluffy body into a way-too-small box.

In fact, there's nothing adorable (or fluffy, for that matter) about the Kobayashi Maru.

The Kobayashi Maru is a no-win scenario: a training exercise at Starfleet where the cadets have to try to rescue a damaged ship. And here's the fun part: the ship can't be rescued. Ever.

The idea is to throw the captain against a hopeless obstacle and see how he or she responds. Let that brave young cadet take a good long stare into the abyss, the logic goes, and then when they're really out there in the cold reaches of space, staring icy death right in the eye, they'll know themselves well enough to make the right call.

Or as Kirk explains to Saavik after she's succeeded in blowing the scenario room to smithereens:

KIRK: A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face, has that never occurred to you?

SAAVIK: No sir. It has not.

KIRK: And how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?

SAAVIK: As I indicated sir, that thought had not occurred to me.

Of course, it's funny that he would say that, because once upon a time a bright-eyed young cadet named James T. Kirk found a way to beat the no-win scenario…by reprogramming the simulation. Where we come from, we call that "cheating," but Starfleet felt differently and gave Kirk a commendation for original thinking. As he later (and rather snidely) tells Saavik later on:

KIRK: I don't like to lose.

And yet he does lose, as all cheaters do. Because, having never faced death, he has absolutely no idea how to deal with real loss.

When Spock dies, it shatters him: it forces him to confront what he might have learned in the scenario back in his Eager Young Space Man days. And, while he puts up a brave front, it leaves a mark that he's never experienced before. His confrontation with Khan is the Kobayashi Maru scenario in essence.

And this time, he's not going to be able to hustle his way out of it.

Spock has his own take on the whole thing, which he displays with his sacrifice to save the Enterprise. Kirk, when faced with a hypothetical no-win scenario, cheats for his own glory. Spock, staring down the real thing, cheerfully lets the radiation of the busted engine turn his innards to goo in order to let the rest of the ship escape.

He offers self-sacrifice instead of Kirk's self-serving aggrandizement, and—in addition to costing Kirk his best friend—shows Kirk the price of his devil-may-care attitude. Only then can Kirk learn the lesson he should have learned as a squeaky young cadet. Spock may know that when he gives the whammy to Kirk, just seconds before his death:

SPOCK: I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?

As a symbol for the no-win scenario—and how we all deal with it when it's our turn in the chair—you can't get much more on-the-nose than the Kobayashi Maru.

Maybe that is actually better than a test involving a cute box-loving Japanese kitty.

This Is Not a Test

When Spock dies, it shatters Kirk, forcing him to confront what he might have learned in the scenario back in his Eager Young Space Man days. And, while he puts up a brave front, it leaves a mark that he's never experienced before. His confrontation with Khan is the Kobayashi Maru scenario in essence.

And this time, he's not going to be able to hustle his way out of it.

Spock has his own take on the whole thing, which he displays with his sacrifice to save the Enterprise. Kirk, when faced with a hypothetical no-win scenario, cheats for his own glory. Spock, staring down the real thing, cheerfully lets the radiation of the busted engine turn his innards to goo in order to let the rest of the ship escape.

He offers self-sacrifice instead of Kirk's self-serving aggrandizement, and—in addition to costing Kirk his best friend—shows Kirk the price of his devil-may-care attitude. Only then can Kirk learn the lesson he should have learned as a squeaky young cadet. Spock may know that when he gives the whammy to Kirk, just seconds before his death:

SPOCK: I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?

As a symbol for the no-win scenario—and how we all deal with it when it's our turn in the chair—you can't get much more on-the-nose than the Kobayashi Maru.

Maybe that is actually better than a test involving a cute box-loving Japanese kitty.

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