Study Guide

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Summary

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Summary

Even in the 23rd century, midlife crises happen.

So it is for James T. Kirk (William Shatner): space cowboy, smirky savior of the universe and current Starfleet admiral. We first find him in the midst of training a new crew for the starship Enterprise: a crew intended to replace him and his buddies. (Ouch.)

A morose birthday celebration is followed by a low-key training exercise meant to put those fresh young cadets through the paces of a starship cruise with the safety rails firmly in place.

Elsewhere, one of Kirk's former junior officers, Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Chekov's current commanding officer Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) are surveying planets for a super-secret science project: the Genesis Device, an engineered missile that can be fired at a dead planet and instantly turn it into a paradise. Terrell's ship, the Reliant, is off looking for the right dead planet to test the thing.

But, like all such Frankenstein-like creations, the Genesis Device has a wrinkle: shooting it at a dead planet gets you a paradise. Shooting it at a living one gets you a paradise… after it destroys every living thing on that planet first.

They find more than they bargained for. After detecting life forms on a planet that's supposed to be rock-infested emptiness, they beam down to find a squad of marooned bad guys. They were left there by Kirk back in his young, stud-muffin days and promptly forgotten about while the formerly livable environment took a turn for the sand-stormy.

Led by the implacable unfrozen 20th-century madman Khan (Ricardo Montalban), they stick a pair of mind-control ear worms in Chekov and Terrell (and yes, it's just that squicky) before seizing control of the Reliant and heading off to carve them up some Kirk steaks.

Kirk and his crew learn about this when they get a garbled message from Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), former flame and the scientist in charge of Genesis, who demands to know why Kirk is "taking Genesis away" from her. Turns out, that's just Khan…trying to draw Kirk out and get hold of the Genesis Device himself.

It works. Kirk and the Enterprise think that Carol is in some kind of trouble, and Starfleet agrees. The ship goes on its merry way, only to cross paths with the Reliant, which was lying in wait for them. (Space pirates; what are you gonna do?).


Khan phasers the righteous snot out of the Enterprise …and would have finished the job were it not for Kirk's fast thinking and the Reliant's eminently hackable shields system. Both ships retreat, damaged beyond the ability to continue the fight. The Enterprise limps its way to space station Regula One, headquarters of Project Genesis, with the Reliant threatening to return and finish the job at any moment.

Kirk and an away team beam over to the space station, where they find a lot of dead doctors and Chekov and Terrell…still secretly under the influence of the ear worms. He also finds the transporter room with coordinates seemingly in the middle of a nearby dead moon. After a terse conversation with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) about the progress of repairs to the Enterprise—bad news, apparently—they follow the transporter coordinates to see what's what.

There, they find an underground cavern occupied by Dr. Marcus, her son David (Merritt Butrick), and a doctor moonlighting as one of the series' infamous Red Shirts…along with the Genesis Device. Chekov and Terrell take the opportunity to spring a trap: killing the Red Shirt and revealing their status as Khan's personal zombots. Khan, who's been listening the whole time, orders them to kill Kirk.

That's apparently a bridge too far. Terrell, fighting the ear worm's influence, phasers himself into oblivion rather than shoot Kirk, while Chekov collapses and sends the ear worm slinking out of his brain for Kirk to conveniently phaser. Khan settles for the draw, beams the Genesis Device onboard the Reliant and heads off looking to finish the job on…the Enterprise, leaving Kirk and Co. stranded in the cavern for all time.

Kirk and Dr. Marcus have a heart to heart about their relationship, getting older, and the fact that David—who really doesn't like Kirk much—is actually Kirk's son (which Mom has kept secret from him). They take a look at the bountiful wonderland in the rest of the cave, courtesy of an earlier stage of the Genesis experiment, then Kirk checks back in with Spock.

Things are better than they had first suggested, and the ship has enough power to beam them back up. Kirk and Spock had super-cleverly spoken in code (suspecting, rightly, that Khan would be listening in) and fooled their nemesis into believing the Enterprise was more damaged than it was.

Sadly, it's still pretty damaged. Warp power is inoperative—otherwise, they'd kick on the afterburners and come back with a whole fleet to whomp Khan's buckwhacking hiney—and they don't have as much firepower as the Reliant either. But there's the Mutara Nebula nearby, which would render phaser lock and shields inoperative and basically give the two ships a level playing field. Kirk and the gang head toward it with all deliberate speed and then goad Khan into following them.

It's game on inside the nebula as the two ships circle each other looking for an edge. Spock finally suggests one by noting that Khan thinks two-dimensionally, like a ship at sea, rather than three-dimensionally, like a spaceship in a nebula.

The Enterprise hits the "reduce altitude" button and waits for the Reliant to pass over it, then pops up behind it and phasers it into the Stone Age. High fives and Romulan ales all around.

Kirk and the gang prepare to beam aboard and take Khan into custody…

…except that Khan has an ace up his sleeve: the Genesis Device, which he starts building up to a detonation which will destroy the Reliant and the Enterprise along with it. They need warp speed in three minutes in order to escape the explosion…which is something they just can't do with their busted engines.

As the ship tries desperately to limp away, Spock takes matters into his own hands. He heads down to the engine room, then uses his Vulcan nerve pinch to disable Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), who's standing between him and the irradiated doohickey preventing the ship from going.

He enters the irradiated engine core to fix the damage and restore light speed just in the nick of time…taking Cherobyl levels of radiation in the process.

The Enterprise speeds away as the Genesis Device goes off, destroying Khan and the Reliant and imbuing the nearby planetoid Nebula One with its mojo. The planet reshapes itself into a bountiful swath of green and Kirk starts up with the high-fives again…until he gets a comm call from McCoy, telling him to get his butt down to the engine room before Spock's organs turn to goo.

Kirk and Spock have a final, tearful good-bye through the clear walls of the engine core, with Spock accepting his fate and admonishing Kirk not to grieve, since "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." What a hero.

A funeral service is held, and Spock's body is placed in a photon torpedo and launched at the newly formed Genesis Planet.

Kirk, attempting to read a copy of A Tale of Two Cities (which Spock gave him on his birthday) is interrupted by David. The young Dr. Marcus encourages him to listen to the wisdom of Spock's last words, and also that he is "proud…very proud, to be your son." He and Kirk embrace, and Kirk returns to the bridge to watch the sunrise on the new world, rejuvenated and at peace.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We arrive of the bridge of the starship Enterprise, and the whole gang's here…except for Kirk (William Shatner), who's apparently been replaced by the chick from Cheers.
    • Said chick is Saavik, a Vulcan prodigy of Mr. Spock's, and she's got her eye on a cargo ship in distress: the Kobayshi Maru.
    • She takes the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone to save the ship, something that doesn't sit well with the local Klingon armada.
    • They blow the Enterprise out of the water, killing everyone onboard…
    • …surprise: just kidding.
    • It was all a simulation, designed to show young Starfleet cadets what it means to face a no-win scenario.
    • Admiral Kirk appears and tells Saavik that no-win scenarios happen sometimes, a fact she's not especially keen on.
    • Mr. Spock—who's in the midst of training a new crew for the Enterprise, gives Kirk a copy of A Tale of Two Cities for his birthday. This is one Vulcan with sterling literary taste.
    • Kirk heads home while Spock returns to the Enterprise to continue molding young minds.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Kirk welcomes McCoy (DeForest Kelley) to his home.
    • McCoy brings the greatest gift anyone can give: illegal booze. (Also, a pair of glasses. Because old Kirk.)
    • He admonishes Kirk to get his command back before he really does grow old.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Out in the reaches of space, the Federation starship Reliant is looking for a dead planet to test the wondrous Genesis Device on.
    • Ceti Alpha Six looks like a good fit, but there's some weird readings on the Weird Readings O-Meter.
    • After hurriedly checking with Dr. Marcus (Bibi Besch) on space station Regular One to make sure it's okay, Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam down to check out the weird readings.
    • After the call, Dr. Marcus's son David (Merritt Butrick) opines that the Genesis Device could become an awful weapon if the wrong people got ahold of it.
    • Hmm: could this be foreshadowing? (Answer: yes.)
    • Chekov and Terrell beam down, only to find the ruins of an old ship, the Botany Bay.
    • Chekov promptly freaks the heck out and tries to split, but they're caught by the surviving crew of the Botany Bay. It's led by Khan (Ricardo Montalban), owner of the most imperious pectoral muscles in the whole universe.
    • Exposition time: Khan explains how James T. Kirk exiled him and his crew there fifteen years ago, after Khan kinda-sorta tried to kill him and hijack the Enterprise.
    • Starfleet thought the planet was Ceti Alpha Six; turns out, it's Ceti Alpha Five, which was rendered uninhabitable when Ceti Alpha Six exploded.
    • Kirk never bothered to check up on them (and Starfleet astronomy kind of fell down on the job too), and Khan's kind of cranky about it.
    • He introduces Chekov and Terrell to the local space eels, who crawl inside their ears and turn them into his obedient zombots.
    • Offscreen, Khan and his gang hijack the Reliant, strand the remaining crew on Ceti Alpha Five, and head off looking for some payback.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Kirk and the gang arrive on the Enterprise for an inspection and a little training cruise.
    • Over on Regula One, zombot Chekov calls in and says that the Reliant will be along to pick up the Genesis Device.
    • Dr. Marcus and her staff have kittens; they try to pin down who gave the order to pick up the device. Chekov—forced into being a lying liar because of the space eel—tells them it was James Kirk.
    • Dr. Marcus calls Kirk in a fine temper, demanding to know what he thinks he's doing with Genesis.
    • The call keeps breaking up (signal strength is still a problem, even in outer space) and Kirk can't get any more than the basics.
    • He decides to call Starfleet Command to figure things out.
    • The doctors try to think of a way to hide Genesis from the Reliant, which is most decidedly not supposed to be in the Genesis-picking-up business.
    • Kirk and Spock have a heart-to-heart.
    • Spock offers Kirk command of the ship, and confirms that he'll be Kirk's Number One Good Buddy until the day they die.
    • Kirk, Spock and McCoy research the Genesis Device: a missile that can be fired at a dead planet and turn it into a paradise.
    • One problem? Fire the missile at a living planet and every living thing on that planet would be wiped out in favor of "its new matrix."
    • Their heated discussion about the ethical implications of the Device are interrupted by the arrival of the Reliant.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • The Reliant approaches the Enterprise, claiming their communications are down. Kirk, thinking the Reliant is still in Starfleet hands, declines to raise the Enterprise's shields.
    • Khan fires on the Enterprise, wreaking all manner of havoc and rendering the ship unable to engage warp drive.
    • He calls up Kirk to gloat before blowing them out of the sky.
    • Kirk offers to beam himself over in exchange for letting his crew live.
    • Khan agrees, but only if Kirk turns off all the information connected to the Genesis Device.
    • Kirk ostensibly agrees, then quietly asks Spock to get Reliant's prefix code, which will allow them to hack into Reliant's command console.
    • The ruse works: Enterprise orders Reliant to lower her shields and blasts it silly with a few well-placed phaser shots.
    • Reliant withdraws to conduct repairs and Enterprise limps its way towards Regula One.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Kirk, McCoy and Saavik beam over to Regula One, where they find a bunch of dead doctors…plus an alive Terrell and Chekov.
    • Chekov tells Kirk what happened, omitting the part that he and Terrell are basically Khan's obedient flying monkeys.
    • They discover the space station's transport, with coordinates set for the nearby dead planet Regula.
    • Kirk checks in with Spock on repairs to the Enterprise; Spock says that it will take two days to make repairs, but there's some wink-winking going on, so it may be a ruse.
    • They arrive in a cave deep underground, where they find Dr. Marcus, David and one other doctor (who conveniently forgot his red shirt), along with the Genesis Device.
    • Ambush time: Terrell and Chekov turn their phasers on the assemblage, blasting the redshirt doctor before signaling Khan nearby on the Reliant.
    • Khan orders Terrell and Chekov to kill Kirk.
    • They rebel; Terrell phasers himself rather than kill Kirk, and Chekov passes out while the space eel slides its way out of his ear.
    • Kirk blast the space eel into oblivion, then picks up the communicator for a few choice words with Khan.
    • Khan beams up the Genesis Device, leaving him and his crew free to wreak havoc on any inhabited planet that doesn't want to be wiped out to the last microbe.
    • He then leaves Kirk buried alive on Regula, prompting the most famous one-word shriek in movie history.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • Kirk and the gang assess; he and Dr. Marcus hash out their past, including the uncomfortable fact that David is Kirk's son and doesn't know it.
    • Kirk feels old. Dr. Marcus shows him the rest of the Genesis cave—which bears a suspicious resemblance to the Garden of Eden—and everybody chills out over a delicious meal of fruit.
    • Two hours after beaming down, Kirk signals Spock; they're ready to beam them all up.
    • Turns out that whole wink-wink nonsense was actually code: Spock said days when he meant hours, and Khan, secretly listening, thought the Enterprise was far more damaged than it was.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • The Enterprise takes off, but Reliant spots it and moves in to finish it off.
    • Luckily, the nearby Mutara Nebula can even the score, rendering the Reliant's shields useless and sensors totally inoperable.
    • Kirk uses the time-honored "neener-neener boo-boo" tactic to convince Khan to chase them into the Nebula.
    • The final battle commences, with both sides taking damage.
    • The Enterprise has to take its main engines offline, because radiation and stuff.
    • Kirk and Spock discuss strategy; Spock suggests that Khan is fighting like they're ships at sea instead of ships in space.
    • Kirk orders the Enterprise to drop down, and then pops up behind the Reliant as it passes overhead.
    • The Reliant takes a full-bore phaser blast right in the shorts, rendering it inoperable and all of the crew but Khan apparently dead.
    • Khan, however, is what we like to call a sore loser. Rather than admit defeat, he activates the Genesis Device.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • The Enterprise has mere minutes to hit warp speed, or the Genesis device will kill them all.
    • Spock, bright fellow that he is, figures out that someone needs to be exposed to toxic levels of radiation in order to restore the engines and let the ship get away…and that he's the only one with both the physical strength and technical know-how to do the job.
    • He excuses himself and moseys on down to the engine room, where McCoy tells him he can't go into the core. Silly McCoy.
    • One Vulcan nerve pinch later (plus a freaky fingers-to-the-cheek- thing that gives the filmmakers some wiggle room in the event they want to bring him back), Spock enters the engine core to fix the damage components.
    • Khan quotes Captain Ahab.
    • Kirk bites his nails.
    • Spock really seriously takes a hit for the team. And, just when all hope seems lost, he restores warp power.
    • Kirk orders the ship to warp speed and they rocket away just as the Genesis Device explodes, destroying the Nebula, the Reliant and Regula One as the planet Regula is bathed in its mojo.
    • Kirk, all cocky and relieved, calls down to the engine room to give Scotty a long-distance fist bump.
    • Instead, he gets McCoy, who sounds broken up and urges Kirk to get the heck down there before his first officer shuffles off this mortal coil.
    • He arrives to see Spock slumped over and dying in the engine core.
    • Spock delivers his final report to his commanding officer, admonishing him not to grieve before succumbing to his injuries and leaving both Kirk and the audience a sobbing wreck.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • The crew pays final respects to Mr. Spock before firing his body in a proton torpedo to the newly formed Genesis Planet (formerly Regula).
    • Kirk tries to read in his quarters, but he can't get settled and he breaks his glasses.
    • David arrives, telling Kirk that Spock was wise enough to understand the magnitude of his sacrifice, and that Kirk needs to accept that facing death is just as important as fighting for life.
    • Oh, also: that David is really super proud to be Kirk Jr.
    • They hug, happy feels all around, and Kirk returns to the bridge to watch the sunrise on the Genesis Planet: fulfilled and at peace.
    • Down on the Genesis Planet, we see Spock's torpedo coffin resting amid the ferns.
    • Spock's voice delivers the famous "space, the final frontier" line as we whoosh off into the stars and the credits roll.