Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

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Template:Infobox Movie (2)

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, and even many non-fans regard it as an excellent science fiction film.


Actor Role
William Shatner Admiral James T. Kirk
Leonard Nimoy Captain Spock
DeForest Kelley Dr. Leonard McCoy
James Doohan Commander Montgomery Scott
George Takei Commander Hikaru Sulu
Walter Koenig Commander Pavel Chekov
Nichelle Nichols Commander Uhura
Bibi Besch Dr. Carol Marcus
Merritt Butrick Dr. David Marcus
Paul Winfield Captain Clark Terrell
Kirstie Alley Lieutenant Saavik
Ricardo Montalban Khan Noonien Singh
Judson Scott (uncredited) Joachim, Khan's assistant

Plot summary

Template:Spoiler In the Star Trek episode "Space Seed", the USS Enterprise encountered Khan Noonien Singh 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 normal humans. 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 had helped him control a quarter of Earth until the 1990s. They were joined by Enterprise officer Lieutenant Marla McGivers, who fell in love with Khan and helped them seize control of the Enterprise. After defeating Khan and his crew, Captain James T. Kirk exiled them to the inhospitable 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 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." Further, he counsels, "how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life."

Outside the training room, Kirk thanks Captain Spock for the antique copy of A Tale of Two Cities that Spock (who now commands the Enterprise) has given him as a gift. Spock returns to the Enterprise to prepare for Kirk's inspection, and Kirk returns to his San Francisco, California apartment. Dr. Leonard McCoy 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 sombre "party" prompts McCoy to demand why they're treating his birthday like a funeral. He charges 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 USS Reliant believes they have found a suitable test planet for Project Genesis. Over subspace communications, molecular biologist Dr. Carol Marcus -- head of the project team, which is located aboard Spacelab Regula One -- emphasizes that the planet must 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 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 V!" He explains, "Ceti Alpha VI exploded, six months after we were left here." The shock shifted Ceti Alpha V's orbit such that it went from inhospitable to nearly unsurvivable. Khan realizes the Reliant mistook the planet as Ceti Alpha VI, but when he questions Terrell and Chekov about their mission, they are silent. Khan then uses the slug-like young of "Ceti Alpha V's only remaining indigenous inhabitant" -- the ceti eels -- to gain control over Terrell and Chekov. The creatures burrow through their victims' ear canals to their brains, leaving them in a highly suggestive state. Khan nods with satisfaction, once again addressing Terell and Chekov: "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, which has set out on a training cruise, the Enterprise receives a garbled and enigmatic message transmitted to Kirk from Carol Marcus at Regula One. The message complains of Kirk's apparent order -- relayed by the brainwashed Chekov aboard the Reliant at Khan's direction -- that the Genesis Device be immediately transferred to Reliant upon the starship's arrival at the spacelab. When communications become completely jammed, he assumes command from Spock and orders the Enterprise to divert course to Regula to investigate.

En route to Regula One, the Enterprise encounters 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 judgment, Kirk neglects to raise Enterprise's shields down as it continues hail the Reliant. The Reliant then responds with a voice message, claiming that the starship's chambers coil is overloading its communication's system -- a claim that Spock's scans immediately refute. With the ships nearly on top of one another, the Reliant both raises her shields and locks phasers on the Enterprise. Kirk orders the shields to be raised, but is too late: the Reliant has fired a direct hit on the Enterprise's engine room, causing severe damage. The crippled Enterprise 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 information the Enterprise has on Project Genesis -- a good sign, notes Spock, as it means Khan didn't find any Genesis data at the Regula station. Kirk stalls, claiming difficulty in retrieving the data. This allows Kirk and Spock precious few moments to instead retrieve the Reliant's security access prefix code from the Enterprise's computers -- the Enterprise transmits the code, ordering the Reliant's computer to lower the starship's shields. The Enterprise uses its last bit of phaser power for precise shots that damage the Reliant and force its retreat.

(In the Director's Edition, Peter Preston's death scene in Sickbay is extended to include an exchange between Kirk and McCoy, wherein Kirk laments his earlier lapse of judgment: "We're alive only because I knew something about these ships that he [Khan] didn't.") . The Enterprise limps its way to Regula One. 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 one 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.

File:Kirk scream.jpg
William Shatner's enraged scream of "Khan!" in this film has become a staple of pop culture.

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, and the following, widely parodied exchange ensues (see YTMND):

Khan: "I've done far worse than kill you, Admiral. 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."


Carol suggests to her son that he show McCoy and Saavik the "Genesis cave," with food "enough for a lifetime, if necessary," to ensure an opportunity to talk privately with Kirk. 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 everybody 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 monitoring the Engineering station announces the main engines have come back on line. With seconds to spare, Kirk orders Commander Hikaru Sulu engage the warp engines, and the Enterprise narrowly escapes just as the Genesis Device detonates.

The final victory over Khan comes at a tragic price: even Spock's half-Vulcan body cannot withstand the lethal dosage of radiation he has suffered. 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 features a captain's log voiceover entry by Kirk (indicating the Enterprise will head to Ceti Alpha V to rescue the Reliant's stranded crew), followed by a brief conversation between Kirk, McCoy, and Carol on the Enterprise bridge as they whimsically watch the new Genesis Planet on the viewscreen. Both the log entry and the conversation are steeped in symbolism, and muse provocatively about how Spock's death is not an end, but a beginning:

Kirk (voiceover): "Captain's log, stardate 8141.6. Starship Enterprise departing for Ceti Alpha V to pick up the crew of 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."

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. It's a far better resting place that I go to than I have ever known."

Carol: "Is that a poem?"

Kirk: "No. Something Spock was trying to tell me on my birthday."

McCoy: "You okay, Jim? How do you feel?"

Kirk: "Young (voice cracking). I feel young."


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: The Undiscovered Country, Klingon General Chang accused him of being a "career-minded opportunist" because of how often Kirk disobeyed orders. Kirk chose to ignore 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 scenes 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.

The Kobayashi Maru test is representative of the no-win scenario. As a cadet, Kirk essentially cheated by secretly reprogramming the simulator so that he could win. In doing so, he missed the whole point. Kirk has made a career of being able to gamble and win, to outwitting his opponents and always having a clever, ingenious trick up his sleeve, even when his opponent is smarter and stronger than he. Because of this, he feels that he has never truly faced death but cheated it all his life. And that it took Spock's ultimate sacrifice to drive home for him the entire point of the Kobayashi Maru test: "How we face death is at least as important as how we face life."

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. The character of Saavik, and in particular Alley's portrayal of her, resonated with fans. Alley, not wanting to be typecast as a sci-fi actress declined to continue her participation in Star Trek and in the next two films Saavik was portrayed by Robin Curtis. Valeris in Star Trek VI was originally supposed to be Saavik, but Gene Roddenberry changed the character, in part, because it was noted that most fans would never have accepted that Saavik consciously betrayed the Federation. (Director Nicholas Meyer took exception to this, pointing out that he created the character of Saavik and knew her better than Roddenberry.)

This is also the first Star Trek episode or movie where damage to the outer hull of the Enterprise is seen.

The film 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 and TV production schedule. It re-used many models from the first film, including the three Klingon battle cruisers in each movie's opening scene. (One criticism of Star Trek: Generations is that it reused footage of an exploding Klingon bird-of-prey, but such recycling is nothing new.) Nevertheless, Star Trek II owes its considerable success to being primarily a character vehicle. It rescued the franchise.

After the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, executive producer Gene Roddenberry wrote his own sequel, involving a plot he had touted before in which the crew of the Enterprise travel 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 relative failure of the first movie on the constant rewrites demanded by Roddenberry. He was ultimately removed from the production and reduced to an advisory position.

The film was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who later directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. According to Meyer, "The Undiscovered Country", a quotation of William Shakespeare, was also a working title for "The Wrath of Khan." It was changed, without Meyer's knowledge, by studio executives.

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 in a matter of weeks using the best pieces of plot and the best characters from all 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 pretends to be dead in a training exercise, 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 after his good experiences during filming, hence the mind-meld with McCoy before he goes to certain death in the engine room, and Kirk's musing that he must return to Genesis.

The evocative "sailing ship" music, considered by some fans as the best of the series, was scored by James Horner. Horner has often been accused of self-plagiarism - his score for "Krull" would borrow 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 never forget a face, Mr. Chekov!" In Greg Cox's 2005 novel, "Star Trek: To Reign in Hell" Cox comes up with a valid explanation of how Khan recognizes Chekov: in Space Seed Chekov had led a charge with security officers to retake Engineering which failed miserably. Also, when Khan, Marla McGivers and his people are left on Ceti Alpha Five, Chekov beams down to give Khan supplies. He also gives McGivers the Starfleet metal necklace that Khan is seen wearing in this film.
  • The film 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 The Next Generation. In addition, the fictional history of Star Trek indicates that the uniform seen in Star Trek II, adopted sometime between the events of The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, was one of the longest issued uniforms of Starfleet, lasting well into the 24th century. (However, later versions of this uniform, as glimpsed at in several TNG episodes, would see the turtlenecks worn underneath the jacket eliminated.)
  • The commentary on the special edition DVD for the film claims that the visual of the Genesis Device's impact on a barren planet is the first CGI effect ever used in a movie. The Wrath of Khan was released in the United States 35 days before the release of Walt Disney Pictures' CGI-intensive Tron , itself released on July 9th, 1982. Industrial Light and Magic contributed to both films.
  • Some of the footage from the Genesis Device demo video shows up in the laserdisk arcade game Astron Belt.
  • Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) were never actually face-to-face at any point during the film. All of their interactions are over the viewscreen or through communicators. Shatner describes in his book Star Trek Movie Memories (ISBN 0060176172) how their scenes were filmed four months apart.
  • The Wrath of Khan had the lowest budget of any Star Trek film. Most of the film was shot on the same set, as the bridge of the Reliant was a redress of the Enterprise’s bridge.
  • In the novelization by Vonda N. McIntyre, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Saavik's heritage is revealed to be half-Romulan. In addition, Sulu is given the rank of Captain, and is soon to command the U.S.S. Excelsior. (A prior version of the script includes mention that Admiral Kirk had signed orders granting Sulu the captaincy of the Excelsior, however this was omitted from the final script, and the appearances of the vessel do not reflect this original plot point.) "Regula One" is given the name Regulus. Carol Marcus is the lover of Vance Madison, one of the scientists on the space laboratory.
  • The Dan Aykroyd movie Doctor Detroit features a female villain named "Mom." The closing credits for Doctor Detroit ends with "Coming soon: Doctor Detroit 2: The Wrath of Mom. This was apparently bogus, as no movie with that title has ever been released.
  • Inside joke: Among the "antiques" visible in Kirk's San Fransisco apartment is an ancient home computer that is recognizably (based on the trapezoidal shape of its monitor) a Commodore PET. At the time Star Trek II was filmed, William Shatner was the celebrity pitchman for Commodore computers. (In the DVD commentary for the Director's Edition, the computer is pointed out but referred to as a Commodore 64.)

External links


de:Star Trek II: Der Zorn des Khan fr:Star Trek II : La Colère de Khan id:Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan it:Star Trek II- L'ira di Khan ja:スタートレックII カーンの逆襲 sl:Zvezdne steze 2: Khanov bes sv:Star Trek II Khans vrede