Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures, 1982; see also 1982 in film) is the second feature film based on the popular Star Trek science fiction television series. It is often referred to as ST2:TWOK or TWOK. It is widely regarded by fans as the best film of the series.
In the Star Trek episode "Space Seed", the Enterprise encountered Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban) and his followers in cryogenic freeze aboard a "sleeper ship" named SS Botany Bay. The Enterprise crew revived Khan, who examinations revealed was genetically engineered as both physically and mentally superior to mere man. When the senior officers discovered that Khan was the same tyrant who escaped in the late 20th century, Khan was imprisoned in his "guest" quarters. He subsequently escaped from confinement and revived his followers, other "supermen" who helped him control a quarter of the Earth until the 1990s. They were joined by an Enterprise officer, Lieutenant Marla McGivers, who fell in love with Khan and helped them seize control of the Enterprise. Once defeated, Captain Kirk exiled them to the unhospitable but survivable Ceti Alpha V, where they could build their own civilization, rather than their talents going to waste in a Federation penal colony.
Fifteen years later, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is spending his birthday reviewing a training exercise. As expected, Lieutenant Saavik has lost the "no-win" Kobayashi Maru Scenario, "a test of character" every cadet is expected to fail. Questioning over her failure, Kirk assures her with the advice that "A no-win situation is something every commander may face."
Outside the training room, Kirk thanks Spock for the antique copy of "A Tale of Two Cities" that Spock has given him as a gift. Spock returns to the Enterprise to prepare for Kirk's inspection, and Kirk returns to his San Francisco apartment. Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) arrives, bringing illegal Romulan ale for refreshment, and antique reading glasses as a gift; the latter are also practical, since Kirk is allergic to the usual medication. In front of his guest, Kirk resumes brooding. The somber "party" prompts McCoy to demand why they're treating his birthday like a funeral. He charges that "This isn't about age, and you know it," implying that Kirk is using his birthday as a pretense. The truth is that Kirk regrets no longer commanding a starship, and he finds his duties as an admiral unsatisfying.
Meanwhile, the starship Reliant believes they have found a suitable test planet for Project Genesis. Over subspace communications, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) emphasizes that the planet has to be completely lifeless: "There can't be so much as a microbe, or the show's off." Captain Clark Terrell and first officer Commander Pavel Chekov beam down to the planet to confirm, but lifeless it is not. They discover cargo containers with signs of human habitation, but no people. When Chekov discovers a seatbelt with "Botany Bay" as an inscription, he grows terrified. Realizing who is on the planet, he tells Terrell they have to leave immediately — but Khan and his followers are outside and capture them. Khan's history is briefly laid out in an exchange with Chekov, who he remembers (see below, "Space Seed" actually was before Walter Koenig joined the cast). When Khan says that Kirk marooned them "here," Chekov accuses him of lying, because they were left on Ceti Alpha V. Khan angrily bursts out, "This is Ceti Alpha Five!" He explains, "Ceti Alpha Six exploded, six months after we were left here." The shock shifted Ceti Alpha Five's orbit such that it went from inhospitable to nearly unsurvivable. Khan realizes the Reliant mistook the planet as Ceti Alpha Six, but when he questions Terrell and Chekov about their mission, they are silent. Khan then uses the slug-like young of "Ceti Alpha Five's only remaining indigenous inhabitant" to gain control over Terrell and Chekov; the creatures burrow through the ear canal to the brain, leaving them in a highly suggestive state. Khan nods with satisfaction: "That's better. Now tell me, why are you here; and tell me where I may find...James Kirk."
As Kirk inspects the trainee crew on the Enterprise, a garbled and enigmagic message comes from Carol Marcus at Regula One. When communications become completely jammed, he assumes command from Captain Spock to take the Enterprise to Regula to investigate. On the way, they encounter the Reliant, which is unresponsive to hails. Saavik starts to quote General Order Twelve, but Spock interrupts her: "Lieutenant, the Admiral is well aware of the regulations." In a serious lapse of judgement, Kirk has the Enterprise continue with shields down as it continues hailing. The Reliant finally responds, claiming that its chambers coil is overloading its comm system. When Spock sees that their coil emissions are normal, Kirk orders the shields to be raised. It is too late: the Reliant is already locking phasers, and it fires on strategic areas of the Enterprise, causing severe damage. The crippled ship is then hailed to discuss terms of surrender. On visual, a smug Khan can hardly contain his glee as he declares he is avenging himself on Kirk. Kirk offers to surrender himself and beam over, if Khan will let the Enterprise and its crew go. Khan accepts if Kirk also turns over all they have on Genesis, a good sign since it means Khan didn't find any Genesis data at the Regula station. Kirk stalls, claiming difficulty in retrieving the data. This brings a few moments that they use to lower Reliant's shields with its own transponder code. The Enterprise uses its last bit of phaser power for precise shots that damage the Reliant and force its retreat.
The Enterprise limps its way to Regula One. (In the Director's Cut, after Peter Preston's death, Kirk says they escaped only because he knew something about starships that Khan didn't.) Kirk, McCoy and Saavik beam onto the station and find the staff brutally murdered, all memory banks erased, and Terrell and Chekov in stunned shock. Discovering that something was beamed into the center of the Regula planetoid (which the station orbits), Kirk calls the Enterprise and receives a very grave damage report. He instructs Spock that if the landing party doesn't signal within an hour, the Enterprise crew must restore what power they can and head for the nearest starbase. The five beam to those coordinates and discover three survivors, including Carol and David Marcus.
Terrell and Chekov suddenly pull out their phasers, order them all not to move, and call the Reliant. Khan orders Terrell to kill Kirk, but Terrell struggles with the order. After vaporizing the third Regula staff member, he turns his phaser on himself. Chekov collapses as the mind-controlling slug exits his body. Kirk then challenges Khan to come down to kill him, but Khan simply beams up Genesis, with the famous line that marooning Kirk is worse than killing him. So that she can have some time to talk privately with Kirk, Carol suggests to her son that he show McCoy and Saavik the "Genesis cave," with food "enough for a lifetime, if necessary." Her subsequent dialogue with Kirk reveals she was his old love, and that David is their son. She held custody because she wanted him with her, "not chasing around the universe like his father." David grew up resenting his father, possibly for the mere fact that Kirk was too occupied with command. When David says, "Mother, he killed everyone we left behind" (believing the worst in his father), he apparently recognizes Kirk, but Kirk doesn't realize the young man is his son. Kirk asks Carol, "Is that David?" with such surprise that he probably hasn't seen David in years, perhaps not since birth.
Saavik and McCoy are amazed when David shows them how the Genesis Device transformed the interior of the Regula planetoid into a life-rich environment. But, now unable to hail the Enterprise, they worry more for the ship and crew than for themselves. After relating the tale of how he was the only cadet to beat the Kobayashi Maru, Kirk surprises everyone by contacting Spock: their exchange before beaming down was a ruse to trick Khan, who they knew was intercepting any transmissions. Spock beams the party aboard, and Kirk begins thinking of how they can escape the Reliant, which is not as badly damaged and still has more firepower.
Kirk manages to outwit and outmaneuver Khan in the nearby Mutara Nebula. With the Reliant disabled and about to be boarded, Khan sets the Genesis Device to detonate. The Enterprise has lost warp power since the first battle, and on limited impulse it has no chance to escape. Spock, unnoticed in the desperation, goes down to Engineering. He is about to enter the reactor room when McCoy stops him, saying "No human can tolerate the radiation that's in there!" Spock replies that McCoy himself knows he isn't human; he then distracts McCoy and nerve-pinches him, apologizing that he has "no time to discuss this logically." Spock enters the room and successfully makes repairs amidst heavy radiation streams. On the bridge, a cadet notices the mains are back on line. Sulu engages the warp engines, and they narrowly escape the gigantic blast.
The final victory over Khan comes at a tragic price: even Spock's half-Vulcan body can't withstand all the radiation. Kirk races to engineering, arriving only in time to exchange a few brief words with his first officer and closest friend. After Spock satisfies himself that the ship is out of danger, he declares his friendship for Kirk, and dies. At the very emotional funeral, Kirk eulogizes his old friend, and Spock's body, encapsulated in a photon torpedo, is launched onto the newly formed Genesis planet. Afterward, David comes to his father's quarters to make peace: "I'm proud, very proud, to be your son." The final scene shows Kirk, McCoy, Carol and David on the bridge, watching the Genesis planet as the Enterprise heads to Ceti Alpha Five to rescue the Reliant crew.
The Wrath of Khan is in some ways a story of Kirk's mid-life crisis. Unsure of his place in the world, unable to break out of his rut as an Admiral, it takes his encounter with Khan and his assumption of responsibility for an untried crew to show him where he truly belongs. Unfortunately, the price is high.
Kirk was well-known for bending and breaking rules for expediency; in fact, in Star Trek VI, Klingon General Chang accused him of being a "career-minded opportunist" because of how often Kirk disobeyed orders. Kirk chose to ignore a Starfleet regulations in the first battle with Khan, and he paid for it dearly, both in the deaths of novice crew members, and ultimately in Spock's supreme sacrifice that saved the ship from Khan's final gambit. Spock's death is one of the most powerful in the history of Star Trek, and Shatner gave the performance of his life in both the death scene and at Spock's funeral.
Ultimately the film is about life, death, and rebirths, and the relationships between two generations: Kirk with David, his son; Scotty with Peter Preston, his nephew; Spock with Saavik, his protege; and Khan with Joachim, one of his henchmen. (Some fans believe Joachim was Khan's son with the deceased Marla McGivers.)
Unable to see past his hatred, unable to conceive what life he might still have ahead of him, Khan took his crew on a mission of death and, ultimately, suicide. Kirk, by contrast, refused to give in to hate, and through his love for his friends he found a new life for himself. He was also able to bridge the gulf between himself and his son, and his rapprochement with David in many ways best represents the emotional core of the film.
We also see Kirk's friendship with Spock and McCoy portrayed in greater depth than ever before. McCoy is someone Kirk can talk to and work through things with, but Spock, despite being an alien, provides incisive insights of which McCoy is incapable.
During the film, Khan quotes extensively from Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick, while Kirk quotes from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Each character in some ways follows the path of the protagonist of their respective books.
The film is notable for being the first major role for Kirstie Alley, who played Lieutenant Saavik. Although she appears only briefly in Star Trek, the character of Saavik, and in particular Alley's portrayal of her, resonated with fans. Valeris in "Star Trek VI" was originally supposed to be Saavik, but Gene Roddenberry changed the character upon discovering that Alley was unwilling to play her in the film. Furthermore, many believe that fans would never have accepted that Saavik consciously betrayed the Federation.
It was much more action-oriented than its predecessor, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but Star Trek II was much less costly to make with its more modest special effects budget. It re-used many models from the first film, including the three Klingon battle cruisers in each movie's opening scene. (No small criticism of Star Trek: Generations is that it reused footage of an exploding Klingon bird-of-prey, but this is nothing new.) Nonetheless, Star Trek II owes its success to being primarily a character vehicle.
After the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, producer Gene Roddenberry wrote his own sequel, involving the crew of the Enterprise traveling back through time to assassinate John F. Kennedy and set a corrupted time line right. This sequel was turned down by Paramount executives, who blamed the failure of the first movie on the constant rewrites demanded by Roddenberry. He was ultimately removed from the production, reduced to an advisory position.
The film was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who later directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a phrase from William Shakespeare). According to Meyer, "The Undiscovered Country" was a working title for "The Wrath of Khan." It was replaced, without his knowledge, by studio executives. (He later re-used it, for the sixth Star Trek film, which he again directed.)
The film's story is a rewrite of three separate scripts: "The Omega Device" by Jack Sowards , involving the theft of the Federation's ultimate weapon; a script featuring Saavik by Samuel Peeples ; and a script featuring Khan by Harve Bennett. Director Meyer wrote a new script using plots and characters from the other three.
During filming, rumors abounded among fans that Spock would die. Meyer didn't want this expectation to overshadow the rest of the film, so he scripted Spock's "death" in the first scene - the character pretending to be injured in a training exercise, and slumping against a wall - so as to mislead viewers into being surprised at the film's ending. After the first scene, as Kirk and Spock left the training facility, Kirk quipped, "Aren't you dead?" Originally, Spock's death was supposed to be permanent, as Nimoy no longer wished to appear in future sequels. But as Nimoy has said, he changed his mind during filming, hence the mind-meld with McCoy before he goes to certain death, and Kirk's musing that he must return to Genesis.
The grandly elegant music, also considered by many fans as the best of the series, was scored by James Horner. There is widespread praise for his "Krull" work, which borrowed several themes from the "Wrath of Khan" score.
Khan's recognition of Chekov is a retcon, since "Space Seed" was produced before the character of Chekov was added to the television series. A humorous story Walter Koenig likes to tell at conventions about Khan's recognition of Chekov: While Khan still had free reign of the Enterprise, he entered one of the ship's bathrooms. After waiting for Chekov to leave the only stall, and leaving Khan with no toilet paper, Khan exclaims "I will never forget your face, Mister Chekov!"
The film also introduces Star Trek fans to the "red jacket" uniform, widely regarded as one of the most popular and attractive Star Trek costumes in comparison to the colored shirts and tunics of the Original Series and Next Generation. In addition, the fictional history of Star Trek indicates that the uniform seen in Star Trek II, adopted circa 2274, was one of the longest issued uniforms of Starfleet lasting well into the 24th century and not replaced until 2362 with the uniforms worn in the Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at StarTrek.com
- DVD Journal review
- Flash animation of the infamous screaming scene
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