Study Guide

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Quotes

  • Mortality

    KIRK: How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

    It's important to note that Kirk is really just mouthing platitudes here. He's going "by the book" to give the party line to Saavik. He doesn't actually believe this at all, and you can kind of sense it in the flippant way he lectures Saavik about it. Don't worry, Saavik. Our boy will learn.

    McCOY: Jim, I'm your doctor and I'm your friend. Get back your command. Get it back before you turn into part of this collection. Before you really do grow old.

    With his usual tact and delicacy, McCoy spells out what this trip means to Kirk: a chance to escape not a literal death, but a spiritual one. Kirk needs to be on a starship to feel alive, and if he denies that, he may as well just start fitting himself for the coffin right now.

    KHAN: What do you think? They've killed twenty of my people, including my beloved wife.

    From symbolic death to a literal one, courtesy of those darn space eels that will apparently eat your brain completely after turning you into Khan's loyal zombots. Proof that the villain of the piece is playing for keeps.

    McCOY: But, dear Lord, do you think we're intelligent enough to... Suppose, what if this thing were used where life already exists?

    SPOCK: It would destroy such life in favor of its new matrix.

    The Genesis Device is interesting from a symbolic standpoint because it doesn't just kill everything on the planet. It does so while creating new life, suggesting that you can't have one without the other. That's heavy, man.

    McCOY: No! You'll flood the whole compartment!

    KIRK: He'll die!

    SCOTT: Sir! He's dead already.

    McCOY: It's too late, Jim.

    This is the first time in his life Kirk has to confront the inevitability of death. Nothing he does—nothing—can stop Spock from dying, and the lesson isn't going down smooth.

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

    Unlike Kirk, Spock is much more accepting of his own mortality. In fact, he sees it as something very noble, something that serves the ends of benevolent logic, which he has dedicated his entire life to.

    KIRK: We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world, a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel that sacrifice a vain or empty one... and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings.

    This is where it really hits home—Spock's gone and he ain't coming back—but it also emphasizes that mortality really isn't the end. Spock's death brings new life. And the great circle continues, Simba.

    DAVID: Lieutenant Saavik was right. You never have faced death.

    KIRK: No, not like this. I haven't faced death. I've cheated death. I've tricked my way out of death... and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.

    A real moment of self-realization from Kirk here: the wisdom that Spock always knew but he denied, now right in his face and refusing to let go. It's a tough pill to swallow, but you can't be a hero if you don't grow or change.

    KIRK: Captain's log, Stardate 8141.6. Starship Enterprise departing for Ceti Alpha Five to pick up the crew of the U.S.S. Reliant. All is well. And yet I can't help wondering about the friend I leave behind. "There are always possibilities," Spock said. And if Genesis is indeed life from death, I must return to this place again.

    And with that earlier realization comes understanding and peace. Kirk can accept mortality and the loss of his friend, then move forward with a newfound appreciation of the galaxy he's saved time and time again.

    McCOY: He's really not dead. As long as we remember him.

    And that's kind of the point, isn't it Bones? What you do in life will be remembered by those who care about you, which is the best way to obtain immortality.

  • Friendship

    SAAVIK: Course heading, Captain?

    KIRK: Captain's discretion.

    SPOCK: Mister Sulu, you may... indulge yourself.

    SULU: Aye sir.

    Mr. Sulu doesn't have a lot to do in this movie, but this is a sweet little moment. It's an acknowledgement of the bond between him and his two superior officers, one of those bits of dialogue that the first film forgot to include, but which hold the heart and the soul of Star Trek.

    SPOCK: You are my commanding officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.

    That gets us right in the bro-feels, Spock. This is not a guy who lies, and he wants Kirk to know that, whatever happens, he's got his buddy's back.

    SCOTT: I had me a wee bout, sir, but Doctor McCoy pulled me through.

    KIRK: Oh? A wee bout of what?

    McCOY: Shore leave, Admiral.

    This is a remarkably serious film, with blood-crazed vengeance and doomsday devices and space eels squicking their way right into our ear-canal-based nightmares. And here, in the middle of it all, is a joke about venereal diseases: a little nudge in the ribs for our rotund chief engineer.

    KIRK: Well... shall we start with the Engine Room?

    SCOTT: We'll see you there, sir, and everything is in order.

    KIRK: That'll be a pleasant surprise, Mister Scott.

    Again with the ribbing. Scotty and Kirk have been through a lot together, and even though Kirk is his superior officer, he's going to razz his buddy a little bit about the less-than-perfect way he runs his little corner of the Enterprise.

    SAAVIK: (in Vulcan) He's never what I expect, sir.

    SPOCK: (in Vulcan) What surprises you, Lieutenant?

    SAAVIK: (in Vulcan) He's so...human.

    SPOCK: (in Vulcan) Nobody's perfect, Saavik.

    Spock's humor is certainly on the dry side, but this is the same kind of self-deprecating wit we see the crew of the Enterprise toss out at each other all the time. It also serves an important narrative purpose: by bringing Saavik into the fold, it makes sure we understand that she's a part of the crew now too.

    McCOY: Go? Where are we going?

    KIRK: Where they went.

    McCOY: Suppose they went nowhere.

    KIRK: Then this'll be your big chance to get away from it all.

    McCoy was always the crew's straight man, with his outbursts of temper and general fussiness. The camaraderie, even in the face of mortal peril, helps make Kirk a little stronger and keep the crew tight in the face of a very serious threat.

    SAAVIK: You lied.

    SPOCK: I exaggerated.

    Little joke, Spock? Again, we're reminded that Saavik is now a member of this merry little band, even though she's much younger.

    CHEKOV: Could you use another hand, Admiral?

    KIRK: Man the weapons console, Mister Chekov.

    Here's a much more serious demonstration of friendship. Chekov's betrayal clearly looms large in the man's mind, even though he was compelled by the space eel in his ear and really didn't have a choice. He wants to make amends to the people he betrayed…and Kirk, mensch that he is, accepts his friend's help without a second thought.

    McCOY: Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No human can tolerate the radiation that's in there!

    SPOCK: As you are so fond of observing, Doctor, I'm not human.

    McCOY: You're not going in there!

    Spock and McCoy fight like cats and dogs, and McCoy was awfully casual with the whole "green-blooded, inhuman" thing just a short while ago. This moment confirms that McCoy never lets his temper get in the way of the deep and abiding friendship he has with this man.

    KIRK: Of my friend, I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most...human.

    This is a riff on Saavik's earlier comment on how human Kirk is. It affirms the connection between the two men, their bond, and the fact that a man as "human" as Kirk considered the alien Spock more "human" than anyone he's ever met.

  • Revenge

    KHAN: You are in a position to demand nothing, sir. I, on the other hand, am in a position to grant...nothing. What you see is all that remains of the ship's company and crew of the Botany Bay, marooned here fifteen years ago by Captain James T. Kirk.

    Khan pushes this as the reason he wants to get even with Kirk, and it's a good one. But it's not the only one. There's his wife, for starters, which is the real purpose of the exercise and which slithers out in the odd line or two.

    CHEKOV: You lie! On Ceti Alpha Five there was life, a fair chance!

    KHAN: This is Ceti Alpha Five! Ceti Alpha Six exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress. It was only the fact of my genetically engineered intellect that enabled us to survive!

    Yeah, that would make us cranky too. We're not saying that what Khan does is right…but he's definitely got a legitimate beef.

    JOACHIM: We're all with you, sir, but consider this. We are free. We have a ship and the means to go where we will. We have escaped permanent exile on Ceti Alpha Five. You have proved your superior intellect, and defeated the plans of Admiral Kirk. You do not need to defeat him again.

    KHAN: He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him. I'll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round Perdition's flames before I give him up.

    First of all, shout-out to the Moby-Dick quote here, which Meyer set up by showing us a copy of the book itself on the Botany Bay. More important, it reveals another possible reason for revenge beyond the dead wife thing and the exile thing. It's plain old-fashioned ego.

    Kirk beat Khan, and Khan is not a man who likes to be beaten. So he's coming back for the grudge match, just to show Kirk who really has the biggest stones in the universe.

    KHAN: Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us "Revenge is a dish that is best served cold?" It is very space.

    This is a great line. It's intended to convey the notion that the best revenge is one you take your time with: where you think it through and plan it out with preparation and care instead of rushing off half-cocked in a blind rage. The odd thing is, that doesn't sound very Klingon, since they're a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of species.

    The phrase itself can be traced back centuries, but the first actual appearance of it was in the 1885 play Prince Bismark, which reads "we did not
    act like drunken demagogues, but like responsible politicians who saw the
    wisdom of eating cold the dish of their revenge." (Source)

    It's also been attributed to the Mafia, and a number of other sources. But if we're being frank, it was Khan that really brought the statement into the popular front… so much so that Quentin Tarantino cited it as an "old Klingon proverb" at the start of his revenge epic Kill Bill.

    KIRK: Khan!

    KHAN: You still remember, Admiral. I cannot help but be touched. Of course, I remember you.

    KIRK: What is the meaning of this attack? Where is the crew of the Reliant?

    KHAN: Surely I have made my meaning plain. I mean to avenge myself upon you, Admiral. I've deprived your ship of power and when I swing round I mean to deprive you of your life. But I wanted you to know first who it was who had beaten you.

    See, there's the ego again. Had Khan just opened fire, the Enterprise would have gone down in a hail of blazing visual effects, and vengeance would be satisfied. But Khan just has to rub Kirk's nose in it, and in the process undoes the immense tactical advantage he had. Way to go, Captain Narcissist!

    KIRK: You were going to kill me, Khan. You're going to have to come down here! You're going to have to come down here!

    KHAN: I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on... hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me. As you left her. Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet...buried alive…buried alive!


    Here we get Khan's first, best reason for revenge: his wife, who died on Ceti Alpha Five and who he clearly loved like nobody's business. He rarely allows himself to express that pain, but when it comes out…man does it send chills down the spine. (Also, KHHHAANNN!!! is still just so epic.)

    KIRK: This is Admiral Kirk. We tried it once your way, Khan. Are you game for a rematch? Khan? I'm laughing at the superior intellect.

    KHAN: Full impulse power!

    JOACHIM: No sir! You have Genesis! You can have whatever you—

    KHAN: Full power! Damn you!

    And…yeah. This would be a time to walk away ahead of the game. But Khan, being Khan, just isn't able to. His quest for revenge has caught him in the same trap he's laid for Kirk. And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Khan's resemblance to another vengeance-crazed captain here: a one-legged dude named Ahab.

    KHAN: Joachim!

    JOACHIM: Yours... is... the superior...

    KHAN: I shall avenge you.

    It's a nice thought, but—having already doubled down on the whole revenge thing—it's going to be hard for Khan to get even more revenge-y solely for the sake of poor old sensible Joachim.

    KHAN: No Kirk…the game's not over…to the last I will grapple with thee…

    A little Ahab quote, just to make sure we're absolutely clear how far Khan is willing to go here.

    KHAN: Now... Now… You can't get away... From Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee...

    Our final Moby-Dick reference, and it's worth noting that Khan deliberately chooses to quote Ahab's last words as his own. He regrets nothing—and if he had a chance to do it again, he probably wouldn't change a single thing.

  • Competition

    SAAVIK: I don't believe this was a fair test of my command abilities.

    KIRK: And why not?

    SAAVIK: Because...there was no way to win.

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

    SAAVIK: No sir. It has not.

    Saavik, like Kirk, doesn't like to lose. She's bothered by the notion that there are some scenarios that you just can't win, and the need to find a way around it drives her forward as an officer. It's a tough way to live, but you can see the results in the officer she's becoming.

    KIRK: You're bothered by your performance on the Kobayashi Maru.

    SAAVIK: I failed to resolve the situation.

    KIRK: There is no correct resolution. It's a test of character.

    SAAVIK: May I ask how you dealt with the test?

    KIRK: You may ask. That's a little joke.

    Saavik isn't strictly competing with Kirk here, but she is interested in seeing how he topped the scenario she couldn't, perhaps in hopes of finding a way to top it herself.

    SPOCK: Really, Doctor McCoy, you must learn to govern your passions. They will be your undoing. Logic suggests...

    McCOY: Logic? My God! The man's talking about logic! We're talking about universal Armageddon! You green-blooded, inhuman...

    The joke goes that Spock is the passionless superego and McCoy is the rampaging id, both competing to have the final word of advice for their buddy Kirk. That competition helped define the original series.

    SPOCK: The prefix code?

    KIRK: It's all we've got.

    It always pays to have an ace in the hole out in space: in the kind of game they're playing, they're playing for keeps.

    KIRK: Khan, how do I know you'll keep your word?

    KHAN: Oh, I've given you no word to keep, Admiral. In my judgment, you simply have no alternative.

    You can sense the battle of wits and wills here: Kirk with a little surprise waiting for his enemy, Khan convinced that he's finally gutted out a win after fifteen years. It's a deadly game, but it's still a game, and to paraphrase Kirk, neither of them likes to lose.

    JOACHIM: They've damaged the photon-control and the warp drive. We must withdraw.

    KHAN: No! No!

    JOACHIM: Sir, we must! The Enterprise can wait. She's not going anywhere!

    Wow, somebody doesn't like letting go, does he? Even when it's in his best interests. On some level, Khan's in this solely to win…to show Kirk who had "beaten" him at long last.

    KHAN: Kirk! Kirk, you are still old friend.

    KIRK: Still, "old friend." You've managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.

    This is one of those moments where characters overtly refer to their conflict in terms of a sport, a game or some other competition. If you believe this phrase, Khan isn't trying to kill Kirk; he's just aiming at a "target" that he can't quite nail down.

    SAAVIK: Sir, may I ask you a question?

    KIRK: What's on your mind, Lieutenant?

    SAAVIK: The Kobayashi Maru, sir.

    KIRK: Are you asking me if we are playing out that scenario now?

    SAAVIK: On the test, sir, will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know.

    This is a girl who does not like to lose, and when she does, she ends up staring up at the ceiling thinking about it. All. Night. Long.

    McCOY: Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario.

    SAAVIK: How?

    KIRK: I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship.

    SAAVIK: What?

    DAVID: He cheated!

    KIRK: I changed the conditions of the test. I got a commendation for original thinking. I don't like to lose.

    And again, we are talking about this in terms of a game, complete with rules that Kirk broke and a passion for victory that drove him to it. In this case, competition is also a character trait, defining how Kirk got here and why even someone like Khan has a very hard time taking him down.

    SAAVIK: Trouble with the nebula, sir, is all that static discharge and gas clouds our tactical display. Visual won't function and shields will be useless.

    SPOCK: Sauce for the goose, Mister Saavik. The odds will be even.

    Not even Spock is immune to the tendency to describe things in competitive terms: eliminating the opponent's advantage and trying to counter with a few of their own.

  • Old Age

    McCOY: Admiral? Wouldn't it be easier to just put an experienced crew back on the ship?

    KIRK: Galloping about the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor.

    UHURA: Now what is that supposed to mean?

    Kirk is saying that it's time to hang up the spurs here, that maybe he and the gang need to find a nice desk job instead of saving the universe and such. In his mind, we may as well just roll the credits now. That's the attitude that his journey has to change.

    KIRK: It had the virtue of never having been tried. Oh, by the way...thank you for this.

    SPOCK: I know of your fondness for antiques.

    KIRK: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Message, Spock?

    SPOCK: None that I'm conscious of...except, of course, happy birthday.

    Interesting quote. We wonder if it's going to have some kind of payoff later on in the picture.

    McCOY: Damn it, Jim, what the hell's the matter with you? Other people have birthdays. Why are we treating yours like a funeral?

    It's a fair question, implying that Kirk's strengths lay in his virility and youth, and now that he's old, he doesn't have anything practical to contribute.

    McCOY: Jim, I'm your doctor and I'm your friend. Get back your command. Get it back before you turn into part of this collection. Before you really do grow old.

    Bones implies that youth lies in taking action, and that as long as Kirk sits behind a desk, his mojo will be gone. He's not entirely wrong, but Kirk getting back his command means a chance to learn new things to help him adjust, instead of reliving the glories of younger, studlier days.

    SULU: I'm delighted; any chance to go aboard the Enterprise.

    KIRK: Well, I for one am glad to have you at the helm for three weeks. I don't think these kids can steer.

    The implication here is that age brings skill and wisdom that those young whipper-snappers don't have.

    SPOCK: If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material.

    This is another way of saying you're only as old as you feel, and that if Kirk thinks he's still got it in him to go cruising around the galaxy, who cares how old he is?

    SULU: Sir, you did it.

    KIRK: I did nothing... except get caught with my britches down. I must be getting senile. Mister Saavik, you go right on quoting regulations!

    There's a little humility in Kirk after all: the old Kirk (which is, ironically, the young Kirk) would never have admitted to an error like that.

    KIRK: I did what you wanted. I stayed away. Why didn't you tell him?

    CAROL: How can you ask me that? Were we together? Were we going to be? You had your world and I had mine. And I wanted him in mine, not chasing through the universe with his father. Actually, he's a lot like you. In many ways.

    This is one of the most important pieces of dialogue in the film: Kirk has to face the consequences of the decisions he's made. That, more than the possibility of growing old, is what's eating at Kirk: the notion that he missed some cool things. Like a kid. He's got a kid.

    And the kid's been doing some really cool stuff, and he missed it, because he was out spooning with space ladeez.

    KIRK: There's a man out there I haven't seen in fifteen years who's trying to kill me. You show me a son and he'd be happy to help him. My son…my life that could have been…and wasn't. And what am I feeling? Old. Worn out.

    CAROL: Let me show you something that'll make you feel young as when the world was new.

    And by admitting he feels old, Kirk takes the first real steps toward not feeling so old any more. It sounds like pop therapy, but it's also an important stop on the Hero's Journey: the part where you confront and acknowledge your deepest fear in order to defeat it.

    McCOY: You okay, Jim? How do you feel?

    KIRK: Young. I feel young.

    See? One of pop culture's most beloved characters can die in heartbreaking fashion, and we can still have a happy ending!

  • Life, Consciousness and Existence

    DAVID: Every time we have dealings with Starfleet, I get nervous. We are dealing with something that could be perverted into a dreadful weapon.

    Something we were saying about life and death being two sides of the same coin?

    SPOCK: Lieutenant, have you ever piloted a starship out of Space dock?

    SAAVIK: Never, sir.

    SPOCK: Take her out, Mister Saavik.

    SAAVIK: Aye sir.

    SPOCK: For everything there is a first time, Lieutenant.

    That's profound, man. It also reminds us in the middle of a movie about growing older, that something new always arises to take its place…and that that's really kind of awesome.

    KIRK: I told Starfleet all we had was a boatload of children, but we're the only ship in the Quadrant. Spock, these cadets of yours, how good are they? How will they respond under real pressure?

    SPOCK: As with all living things, each according to his gifts.

    That's not really an answer, Spock, but okay. It is accurate. And more importantly, it reveals that no one really knows how someone will respond in a situation until they're actually in that situation.

    CAROL: The reformed moon simulated here represents the merest fraction of the Genesis potential, should the Federation wish to fund these experiments to their logical conclusion. When we consider the cosmic problems of population and food supply, the usefulness of this process becomes clear. This concludes our proposal. Thank you for your attention.

    SPOCK: It literally is Genesis.

    KIRK: The power of creation.

    There's a fairly big literary precedent for this kind of musing. It comes from Frankenstein, the story of a man who sought to take the power of creation for himself only to see it all go pear-shaped. Considering what Genesis is capable of here, it's actually a very apt comparison.

    McCOY: But, dear Lord, do you think we're intelligent enough to... Suppose, what if this thing were used where life already exists?

    SPOCK: It would destroy such life in favor of its new matrix.

    McCOY: It's new matrix? Do you have you any idea what you're saying?

    SPOCK: I was not attempting to evaluate its moral implications, Doctor. As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.

    McCOY: Not anymore! Now we can do both at the same time!

    Well said, McCoy. The Genesis device can be seen as a metaphor for the atomic bomb, but with an added twist: genuine creation attached to all the destruction.

    SPOCK: Don't grieve, Admiral... it is logical. The needs of the many... outweigh…

    KIRK: ...the needs of the few.

    SPOCK: Or the one.

    This is Spock's reason for doing what he does, a tenet of logic that he accepts as an absolute good, and which he gives his life to fulfill. Suddenly, dying for that doesn't seem so bad.

    KIRK: We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world, a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel that sacrifice a vain or empty one... and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels... his was the most... human.

    This is a cry-worthy moment, made all the more powerful because of Shatner's understatement. He really is just barely keeping it together, isn't he? Some lessons are just that powerful. Some friends too.

    KIRK: I know nothing.

    DAVID: You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.

    KIRK: Just words.

    DAVID: But good words. That's where ideas begin. Maybe you should listen to them.

    This is important because it's the younger generation delivering the lesson to the older one, indicating a reversal of positions of authority. Also, it makes us cry every time.

    DAVID: I was wrong about you and I'm sorry.

    KIRK: Is that what you came here to say?

    DAVID: Mainly. And also that I'm proud...very be your son.

    That's what we're talking about: spiritual resolution, full closure, and an old wound that finally heals. It's even got that Hero's Journey sweetness to make it all go down smooth.

    McCOY: He's really not dead. As long as we remember him.

    KIRK: "It's 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: Is that a poem? 

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

    Like Khan, Kirk ends things with a quote from classic literature. But as Khan's was all fire and blood and bitterness, Kirk's exemplifies peace, wisdom and acceptance.