Shiny Shelf


Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

By Jim Smith on 01 May 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

It’s hard to say anything positive about ‘The Wrath of Khan’ that hasn’t already been said. It’s a tight, well-written, well-directed film that boasts some titanic performances and contains many wonderful sequences. It has a thematic unity rare in genre cinema, taking the slightly oafish ‘Star Trek’ habit of quoting from literary greats and using it to make substantial statements about ageing, about friendship and about the role of heroic archetypes in culture. It is, in short, a wonderful film.

If there are any negatives in ‘Khan, it’s that its artistic, commercial and critical success has led to it being viewed as some kind of model for a successful ‘Star Trek’ movie. This is something that it is assuredly not. ‘Khan’ is a one off, a perfect meshing of several interesting agenda and the possibilities offered by (amongst other things) ageing actors returning to iconic roles, Nimoy’s (then) desire to put ‘Star Trek’ behind him and Meyer’s (then) glancing cultural familiarity with ‘Star Trek’. It is, in many ways, successful because it is a new take on ‘Star Trek’. Emulating it misses the point that the ‘newness’ is as much of a part of the success as the specifics of that new take.

There is much in ‘Khan’ that is, while not inherently anti-‘Trek’, not exactly common in the series before this point. This is a story dominated by a fight to the death with a single villain. That’s not something ‘Star Trek did a lot of before 1982. It’s a story in which revenge is the primary motivation. That’s not something ‘Star Trek did a lot of before 1982. It’s noticeable that the ‘Star Trek’ films that have been noticeable creative and commercial successes since ‘Khan’ have not aspired to be it. The ones that have failed have. Nicholas Meyer, writing two further entries in the series, was very careful not to repeat himself. It was others who pastiched him, leading to duds such as ‘Nemesis’ and ‘Generations, which reach for, and never grasp, the shadow but not the substance of the greatness of ‘The Wrath of Khan’.

While ‘Khan’, like the rest of its series greats, will continue to assert an influence on ‘Star Trek’ in terms of story, themes, ideas, character and continuity, it can’t be the only source. That devalues it, as well as the effort to create something that follows and equals it.

New ‘Star Trek’ should be just like ‘The Wrath of Khan’. Unafraid to be different.


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