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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 TV series episode "Space Seed", the Enterprise encountered a group of genetically enhanced humans from the late-20th century eugenics wars, exiled on a sleeper ship. Revived, they proved to be psychopaths who attempted to take over the vessel. Once defeated, they accepted exile on an alien world, to build their own civilization. The group was led by Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), who fell in love with an Enterprise crewmember, who for her part left the ship to marry him.

15 years later, a mission to that system by the starship Reliant finds that one of the planets has exploded, causing the ecosystem of the exiles' planet to collapse. Mistaking the remaining world for the exploded one, the Reliant crew encounters the exiles, who overpower them and take over their ship. Khan blames the Enterprise's captain, James T. Kirk (William Shatner), for his exile and the losses his colony suffered when the planet's ecosystem collapsed.

The Reliant, it turns out, was scouting a planet on which to test Project Genesis, a terraforming device which interests Khan. He uses the Reliant to attack the space station where the Genesis project is based, a project which happens to be run by Kirk's former lover, Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and their son David (Merritt Butrick).

Kirk, meanwhile, is turning 50, and is having a mid-life crisis. His friend, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), suggests that he's always been happiest commanding a starship, rather than his current job as an Admiral. Kirk and McCoy then perform a routine inspection of the Enterprise, which is now a training vessel commanded by Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), when they are called away to investigate problems at the Genesis station.

The Enterprise encounters the Reliant, which seems to be having trouble with its communications system. Reluctant to act defensively against a supposedly friendly ship, despite regulations requiring it, Kirk is taken by surprise when the Reliant fires upon them, and Khan's control of the ship is revealed. Kirk nonetheless manages to damage the Reliant and escape, learning the fate of the Genesis project's staff. Kirk again manages to trick Khan, setting up a final showdown which costs Kirk dearly.


TWOK is at its core 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, who in the TV series was known for bending and breaking rules for expediency, here breaks Starfleet protocols in his encounter with Khan, and pays for it dearly, both in the deaths of members of his novice crew, and ultimately in the supreme sacrifice that Spock undertakes to save the ship from Khan's final gambit. Spock's death is one of the most powerful in the history of Star Trek, and Shatner gives the performance of his life both in the death scene and at Spock's funeral.

But ultimate the film is about rebirths: Khan is unable to see past his hatred to grasp what life he might still have ahead of him, and he takes his crew on a mission of death and - ultimately - suicide. Kirk, by contrast, refuses to give in to hate and through his love of his friends is able to find a new life for himself. He is also able to bridge the gulf between himself and his son, and his rapproachment 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 Lt. Saavik.

Much more action-oriented than its predecessor, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it was also much less costly to make, re-using many of the models from the first film, and having a more modest special effects budget. Nonetheless, it 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 assasinate John F Kennedy and set a corrupted time line right. Blaming the failure of the first movie on the constant rewrites demanded by Roddenberry, his sequel was turned down. He was ultimately removed from the production, reduced to an advisory position.

The movie as it was shot is the rewrite of three seperate 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. Nicholas Meyer wrote a new script using plots and characters from the other three.

The film was also directed by Nicholas Meyer, who later directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a phrase from William Shakespeare). Supposedly "The Undiscovered Country" was a working title for TWOK.

The grandly elegant music was scored by James Horner.

The next film in the series is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

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