“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.”– Khan Noonian Singh
When Nicholas Meyer and Jack Sowards came on to Star Trek II, they actually had no knowledge of Star Trek lore. They corrected that by watching the entire series. They were inspired by the episode “Space Seed”, in which Khan makes his first appearance. At the end of the episode, Khan is exiled with the other survivors of Botany Bay.
What makes Star Trek II such a great story is its allusions to literary classics like Paradise Lost and Moby Dick. (we even see these books on Khan’s shelf) Khan is like Lucifer, cast out of Heaven to dwell in Hell.
Here at least we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
Khan is the perfect foil for Kirk. What better way to illustrate Kirk as the hero than to have him challenge Lucifer himself?
Kirk is flawed by two weaknesses: his confidence and his inability to accept loss. We learn early in the movie that when he took the Kobayashi Maru, a simulator that tests how a person will perform in a no-win situation, Kirk cheated. He is ruthless and unconventional not only because of his strategic prowess (see the episode “Balance of Terror”), but also because he does not wish to lose.
Another theme in this movie is age. Throughout the movie, Kirk has reminders of his advancing age. Spock gives him a copy of Tale of Two Cities for his birthday. Most of the crew he is surrounded by when he is introduced consists of cadets fresh out of the Academy. Even Khan is a reminder of how old Kirk is getting–he is the one foe from the old series he never defeated.
In the movie, Khan tells Kirk he wants to do worse than kill Kirk. Death is too easy. No, he wants to hurt him. He does this in two ways. First, Kirk loses his son David, a man he barely got to know because he promised to stay out of his life (David also serves as a reminder of his mortality). The second is more indirect–Spock’s sacrifice. Kirk and Spock were very close friends throughout the “five-year mission” of the original series. We see numerous examples of how much Kirk valued their friendship in both the series and the first two movies. Through Spock’s death, Khan has mortally wounded Kirk’s resolve.
Wrath of Khan is one of my three favorite Star Trek movies. It is a cerebral action movie, not as flashy as the first, but here, less is more. The effects don’t hamper the story, they enhance it. I would be foolish not to recommend it.
In May, I will continue my celebration with the third movie, The Search For Spock.