Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered one of (if not) the best chapters in Franchise history. The movie is a sequel to both the Star Trek: The Original Series season 1’s “Space Seed” and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. For this week’s Trek Tuesday, we’re looking at how the seminal cinematic experience continues to inform Star Trek storylines.
The Wrath of Khan
The Wrath of Khan is directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also did an uncredited final script rewrite. The 1982 movie follows Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) facing off against an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán). As revealed in “Space Seed,” Khan is a human genetic augment. This means he possesses superior strength and intellect compared to a non-modified human. According to “Space Seed,” during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s, Khan and other augments seized control of a significant portion of Earth. Khan and his allies were subsequently exiled on the SS Botany Bay, a spaceship that carried their cryogenically frozen bodies deep into space.
In “Space Seed,” after the USS Enterprise encounters Botany Bay, Khan is revived and brought aboard. However, Khan soon instigates machinations aimed towards seizing control of the Enterprise to begin his empire anew. Fortunately, Kirk can repel Khan. At the conclusion of the episode, Kirk has exiled Khan and his allies to Ceti Alpha V. This includes former Enterprise historian Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), who became enamored with Khan after he had been thawed.
The Wrath of Khan is set two decades after “Space Seed.” The USS Reliant arrives at what they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI. This is to be the site of a test of the Genesis Device, created by Doctor Carol Marcus (Bebe Besch). To test the Genesis Device, the planet must be confirmed to be free of life. However, the Reliant crew discovers they are actually on Ceti Alpha V, which was rendered barely habitable just six months after Khan and his allies were stranded there.
Khan subsequently steals the Reliant and, using a distress signal as a false pretense, lures the Enterprise into a confrontation. Motivated by vengeance for his lost allies, especially McGivers, Khan wants revenge against Kirk. This leads to a battle in the Mutara Nebula. During the battle, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) sacrifices himself to keep the Enterprise safe.
Ultimately, Khan activates the Genesis Device. This kills him. However, it also results in the creation of the Genesis Planet. Spock’s coffin is launched out of the Enterprise and lands on the planet’s surface. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it is revealed this results in Spock’s resurrection.
The Wrath of La’An
Khan’s legacy is further explored in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds through the character of La’An Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). La’An is a descendant of Khan. While she has faced prejudice because of her last name, SNW is set before TOS, and therefore, she is unaware that Khan is cryogenically frozen aboard the Botany Bay.
Like Khan in The Wrath of Khan, La’An has personal tragedy in her past. Her family was killed in an attack by the Gorn. In episodes like SNW season 1’s “Memento Mori,” we see how this personal tragedy continues to affect La’An. In this episode, the soundtrack by Nami Malumad pays homage to James Horner’s score for The Wrath of Khan.
La’An’s relationship with her personal history is further complicated in SNW season 2’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” In this episode, La’An spares a young Khan to preserve her personal timeline. This episode also highlights how time travel causes Star Trek‘s master timeline to shift. The Eugenics Wars originally occurred on Earth in the 1990s. However, this episode reveals that certain events may move up and down the timeline but still seem predestined to occur.
La’An’s relationship with the Gorn and the fact that she descends from Khan are ongoing subplots on SNW. While neither has reached any sort of resolution, both draw heavily on the events of “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan.
Dal the Augment
The legacy of Khan was further expanded by Star Trek: Enterprise. In a three-episode arc early on in Enterprise‘s fourth season, the character of Arik Soong (Brent Spiner) was introduced. Arik believed that the fact that humanity abandoned genetic augmentation after the Eugenics Wars was a mistake. To this end, he engineered many augments himself. In the episodes “Borderland,” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments,” Arik’s augments took center stage. At the conclusion of this arc, Arik is returned to prison on Earth. There, he seemingly turns his attention from genetic augments to artificial intelligence, a storyline that will be picked up by Star Trek: The Next Generation.
However, Arik’s augment legacy would be continued by others. This is revealed in the Star Trek: Prodigy episode “Masquerade.” In this episode, Prodigy‘s main character, Dal R’El (Brett Gray), discovers he is a human augment. He is subsequently informed that he is the work of the protégées of Arik.
Dal is initially mortified to learn he is an augment. But ironically, heroic characters like Dal, La’An and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) support Arik’s assertion that not all genetic augments are predestined to become vicious warlords like Khan.
The Wrath of Khan has been directly referenced many times by Lower Decks. In Lower Decks season 1’s “Veritas,” Beta Shift discusses Khan’s “thicc, thicc chest” in Repair Bay 5. Fun fact: this is not a prosthetic. In the memoir I Am Spock, Nimoy wrote, “As Khan, Montalbán wore a costume that showed off his chest, which was so impressively developed that many viewers speculated it might be a false breastplate. I’m here to tell you: It most definitely wasn’t! Those were Montalbán’s enviable pecs.”
However, The Wrath of Khan also directly inspires Lower Decks season 1’s “Crisis Point.” In this “movie-style” episode, Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) adopts the persona of Vindicta, whose appearance and initial subterfuge bear a striking resemblance to Khan’s.
Mariner learns over the course of the episode that, unlike Khan, she is not primarily motivated by vengeance. In season 3’s “Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus,” the scientist who designed the Chronogami is Doctor Helena Gibson (Mary Holland). Gibson’s appearance and narrative function evoke The Wrath of Khan‘s Marcus. In fact, this sequence featuring Gibson reuses actual footage from The Wrath of Khan.
Beckett Mariner and the Ferengi Genesis Device
Lower Decks season 4’s finale, “Old Friends, New Planets,” pays homage to The Wrath of Khan with a black market Ferengi Genesis Device. Originally mentioned in “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place,” this G.D. may be a knockoff, but it seems to work just as well as the original. By the episode’s end, the G.D. is detonated, killing antagonist Nick Locarno (Robert Duncan McNeill) and creating a new M-Class planet, Locarno.
Obviously, these narrative developments parallel the conclusion of The Wrath of Khan. And just like Spock, Mariner undergoes something of a rebirth in this episode. Fortunately, unlike Spock, Mariner doesn’t have to go to the Black Mountain to discover she wants to be a part of Starfleet.
A Reliant Influence
The Wrath of Khan‘s influence expands well beyond the realm of Star Trek. The phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold” is credited as having originated in the movie. This quote is used to open Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill: Vol. 1, where it is properly credited as a Klingon proverb. This demonstrates how The Wrath of Khan‘s legacy continues to influence stories inside and outside of the Star Trek Franchise.
All these Star Trek episodes and The Wrath of Khan are currently available for streaming on Paramount+ except Prodigy‘s “Masquerade.” Find “Masquerade” on home video in Prodigy season 1 volume 2, or stream it when Prodigy season 1 arrives on Netflix.
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