Still considered by most to be the best film of the franchise, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released on June 4th, 1982, or exactly 30 years ago today. So today in a guest blog for TrekMovie, Star Trek novelist Dayton Ward remembers what were surely, the best of times from three decades ago…
“Surely, the best of times.”
Summer, 1982: After the commercial and critical oddity that was 1979′s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, those of us who were all into the Trek were worried what this sequel might bring. Would it be like the first movie (which was boring as all hell compared to Kirk drop-kicking and karate-chopping a big green lizard), or the TV series we still loved? The TV commercials certainly seemed to imply the latter, with lots of phasers firing and starships blowing the shit out of each other, William Shatner snarling into the camera and Ricardo Montalban flexing his pecs at us. This movie definitely looked like it was going to kick things up a notch. Or three.
Though it doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days, on this occasion? The trailers got it right.
30 years after its release, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains the choice of many fans as being among the best–if not the best–of the Star Trek theatrical films. Pretty much every movie that’s come since is compared to Khan, usually with respect to each successive sequel’s choice of villain. Kruge, Sybok, Chang, Soran, Ru’Afo, Shinzon, or Nero? None of those pansies hold a candle to Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically-engineered mighty man who came to the Final Frontier by way of a 20th century sleeper ship way back in the classic first season Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”
Khan and his crew, marooned by Kirk on the remote plant Ceti Alpha V at the end of that episode, are left to their own devices, but a planetary catastrophe soon after their arrival forced them into a constant struggle for simple survival. By the time another starship arrives, the U.S.S. Reliant commanded by Captain Clark Terrell and with former Enterprise crewman Pavel Chekov serving as its first officer, Khan’s pretty much gone ’round the bend. Seizing control of the Reliant by means of one of those cool movie critters that turn people into obedient zombies, Khan sets off to unleash BLOODY VENGEANCE on the man responsible for his downfall: James T. Kirk.
Oh, it’s on now.
Directed by Nicholas Meyer from a story by veteran TV producer Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards (who also wrote the original screenplay, which Meyer then rewrote…in 12 days), Star Trek II hits almost every right note and avoids the pitfalls which tripped up its theatrical predecessor. The humor as well as the friendships and camaraderie shared by Kirk and his crew–all but absent from the first film–are here to lend perfect balance to the drama and tension driving most of the story. Even the color palette is warmer this time around, from the red paint on the Enterprise doors to the crew uniforms, which now look more like something of a natural progression from those of the original series.
Ricardo Montalban, reprising his role from “Space Seed,” pulls out all the stops as the maniacal Khan, obsessed with avenging himself upon Kirk. Strong efforts from supporting actors Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield and Kirstie Alley in her first film role, round out a solid performance by the main cast (wild-eyed “KHAAAAAN!” bit from William Shatner notwithstanding). Though some footage of the Enterprise is lifted from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there are plenty of new space scenes to satisfy the Trekkie tech heads among us. James Horner’s musical score, shifting with ease between quiet contemplation and rousing action, is a bow tying up the whole sweet package.
If this film had failed, it arguably could’ve been the death knell for Kirk and the Enterprise gang. Instead, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a critical and commercial success, bringing with it a fresh new energy to what we now call “the Star Trek franchise.” It paved the way for future sequels and the eventual television spin-offs, along with merchandising and other licensing ventures that continue to this day.
“I feel young.”
Shit, I feel old.
Happy 30th Birthday, Star Trek II.
Article cross-posted at Fog of Ward Blog.
For a nice tribute to TWOK, check out this fan made trailer (by Milarc)
And if you live in the Chicago area, you should check out this lecture by TrekMovie’s John Tenuto: "Star Trek II: Behind the Scenes" on Tuesday, June 5th at 7pm at the Warren Newport Library.
POLL: is TWOK the best?
Dayton Ward has been modified from his original version. He’s been formatted to fit this site, to write in the space allotted and edited for content. Reader discretion is advised. His latest novel, "Star Trek: That Which Divides," is on sale at finer and seedier bookstores everywhere. Visit him on the web at www.daytonward.com.
for me the montion picure is way better than this film however a good fun film with a good proframnce from all
An awesome movie ….
Love this movie. It was the first Star Trek movie I saw on VHS in 1990, been a Fan since then. What I remember most of it was that I was scared of the bugs Kahn sets in Checkov’s and Terrell’s ear.
#1 Motion Picture was a terrible boring slow paced version of 2001.
I feel asleep watching it.
I saw this film on its opening weekend back in 1982. It thrilled me then, and 30 years on I still feel the same excitement!
There was a website I stumbled upon years ago which had some very interesting stills and script excerpts from filmed, but unused scenes for “TWOK”. Among these were a eerie child’s face peering from one of the cargo containers, and a rag swathed infant crawling towards the Genesis device on the Reliant tansporter platform. This hinted that the survivors of the Botany Bay had borne a new generation, but all references to them were cut out of the finished film.
Probably the image of a baby headed for it’s death was considered a bit too dark for film in this vein, and may have been found disturbing by preview audiences ( if there were any). I would love to find that website again. Anyone have any clues?
That fan made trailer is awesome!!! Although “from the imagination of Gene Roddenberry” is probably inaccurate. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a big fan of the movie. In fact he found Khan’s dialogue to be pretty laughable, but in his defence when he heard Montalban deliver it he said he managed to pull it off. He also wasn’t a fan of Kirk killing the creature in the genesis cave.
Happy anniversary ST 2.
30 years?! Wow…I feel old too!! Yikes!!
Time flies when you’re waiting for the next lame installation in the Trek fil franchise…lol!!
I liked Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but The Wrath of Khan was a better film. It didn’t lose its dramatic momentum like TMP. TWOK was more than just action thought. It had ideas. Revenge. The limits of science. Sacrifice. Aging. Friendship.
Is there any question this is the best Trek film? I still remember going to see it as a 10 yo. What a great time to be a kid back then. :)
Happy 30th Wrath of Khan!
They”ll try to best it, but they’ll keep failing.
Still the best and probably always the best. Sends shivers down my spine and thrills to my heart when I see it to this day. Everlasting congratulations to Nick Meyer, cast and crew for saving Star Trek then and there. A fond remembrance to the great members of the Trek family who have passed on since then.
I’m 58 years old now but no matter — I feel young.
That trailer gave me chills! Now I have to watch the movie again. It’s been too long since I had a trek marathon. Those even numbered movies really set the standard for any modern attempts at a great Star Trek movie. High hopes for number 12.
The Wrath of Khan is surely one of the most exciting and well-produced science fiction movies of all time.
I remember fondly those days when we were more of a united fan base, without the rancor that sometimes afflicts us now.
No one could believe that Spock was dead, and now we know that he still lived, but we all knew that Star Trek — the movie, the characters, the vision — was an enteprise of which we could be proud.
The phenomenon of Star Trek is quite simply the best that science fiction has ever produced. Its central philosophy of reasoned acceptance and respect of other peoples and cultures while hewing to justice, right, and order puts it uniquely above other SF franchises.
At the same time, it did not deny the metaphysical. It stood for heroism and heroics; sacrifice for what was right; and friendship among all. Certain things — the soul, call it — transcend the physical.
Where is that Star Trek that we remember so well?
It still lives.
In the words of the movie itself:
10 there is always that little thing called ‘personal preference’.
I love TWOK, loved it then and love it now. Shame that in the bluray release they color timed it so Regula is now gray instead of brown like it was back in 1982.
I love the “slow motion picture” – I guess I’m one of the few that do. But TWOK is also amazing. Two totally different movies and I love them both for different reasons.
I should clarify: I don’t “hate” any of the Trek films, but in 1979, ST:TMP didn’t do much to wow 12-year old me. I learned to appreciate it as I grew older. On the other hand, ST II, on that opening weekend in 1982, was BOSS, and still is :)
18 – This!
ST II: TWOK was the first Star Trek movie I ever saw. My Dad taped it off of ABC back in ’89 and then let me watch it (I was 8) in half hour increments. What an impression it made!
I remember re-watching it time after time, and I remember being scared, not of the ceti eels, but of Spock’s death at the end. I would watch it right up until the big E warped out and then shut off the vcr and rewind.
Of course I’ve seen it all the way through many times now, and the emotional punch of that empty chair on the bridge still gives me goosebumps…
Happy 30th, TWOK
I like TMP, as well. It was grand and moving in its own way.
In fact, there isn’t a single Star Trek movie I actually dislike; there are just some that are less likeable than others, from my standpoint. But they’re all far better — every one of them — than most of the bilgewater that comes from Hollywood these days.
Now, there are some that I have to be in the mood to see. If I need a boost, I wouldn’t really want to see ST: Nemesis. If I want to see my old friends in Trek (Kirk and company), then of course I would prefer to watch any of the TOS movies, or Star Trek (2009) over the TNG movies. If I want a sense of futurism pushing the boundaries of what we know, I would see TMP, or Star Trek: First Contact — the latter of which would feature my newer friends from Trek (Picard and crew).
It is difficult sometimes to conceive that 33 years have passed since I saw TMP in the theaters. I have changed, and we all have changed, since that time, but the images in celluloid are frozen. TMP is a slice of time — a past vision of the future — that still inspires.
For everything there is a season. It seems sometimes that for everything there is also a Trek.
There is a journey that each of us can, and do follow. Whether that path leads is something we cannot really know, but only anticipate with hope and confidence.
Im going to see it tonight on the big screen. The alamo draft house is doing the summer of 1982, and Khan is being shown over the next few days
I was 13 and saw it in the theatre in 1982. I feel privileged to have been there.
This is my favorite movie.
“wild-eyed “KHAAAAAN!” bit from William Shatner notwithstanding”
That is actually my favorite scene from the movie. :)
The interesting thing about it is that, for the rest of the movie, Meyer got Shatner to give a really subdued and excellent performance (by making him repeat scenes until he gets tired, he said on the DVD commentary).
So, for that one scene, where Shatner is actually called upon to go way over the top (intentionally); wild-eyed William Shatner method acting, it stands out all the more.
One of the best story’s and villian you could ever wish for !!! Love this film !!!!
This movie had so many great bits…
“You lied”, “I exaggerated”
“Kirk to Spock, its two hours are you ready? “I don’t like to lose”
“So much for the little training cruise”
“What a tranquilizer?”
Its going to be great to see the movie once again on the big screen, can’t wait.
I was stationed in the SF Bay area when that movie came out. And it was amazing. I think I saw it a dozen times, even though watching Spock’s death tore me up.
Hard to believe it’s been 30 years, but that movie is still the best of the bunch with the original cast.
Should be “Want a tranquilizer?”
Love it of course, but I think The Search For Spock is, for me at least, part of the same movie. I always watch TSFS on the heels of TWOK. Four hours of complete bliss.
I love most of the TREK films, merely like a few of them.
I loved Star Trek II (still do), but I also still love ST TMP more. Yes, I am one of the few, the proud. ;-)
I still don’t understand the comments that the first motion picture was humorless?… have they forgotten:
“Mr. Spock, your child is having a tantrum.” or
“What do you suggest we do? Spank it?” or
“Spock, you haven’t changed a bit” and the response…
“Nor have you, doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates.” or
Right, now that we’ve got them just where they want us.”
Each of the films have their strong points. Yes, even “Star Trek V” and “Nemesis.”
Nicholas Meyer actually WROTE the screenplay perhaps the writer should correct this article as Meyer/Bennett have gone on record as saying Nick wrote the screenplay but there was not enough time for him to go through the process of receiving screen credit for it.
Back to the movie yep its still the best Star Trek movie & one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. I doubt it will ever be beaten as far as Trek movies go the only thing it did wrong was due to budget issues having to re-use shots from STMP & ILM not being given enough time/money to perfect a few obvious matte paintings.
TWOK is responsible for all Trek that followed as none would have been possible without the success/brilliance of Meyer/Bennett they are the unsung heros of modern Star Trek.
My Daughter is the same age now that I was when this movie came out… Crazy.
A bit off topic, but this reminded me of the poster of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/07181953/7334847740/
Best Trek Movies.
#11. The Final Frontier
#7. The Search for Spock.
#6. The Motion Picture.
#5. The Voyage Home.
#4. The Undiscovered Country.
#3. First Contact
#2. Trek 2009.
#1. The Wrath of Khan!.
That is my list of the Trek Movie’s.
@6 check this
Khan is the best, and First Contact is also right up there with it.
I was 11, and really disgusted at the Ceti eel sequence and the death of Spock!
Though thoroughly entertaining, I think TSFS III was more in the theme of Trek than TWOK.
30. It is ENDLESSLY quotable isn’t it? From the top down, through all the supporting characters…
“Captain. This is the garden spot of Ceti Alpha VI.”
TWOK equals the most rewarding experience Star Trek has ever provided…
Complete and utter Trek Bliss. VERY had to come close to this film.
I am so jealous of the people near the Alamo Drafthouse showing it on the big screen. We have a wonderful classic movie palace near, and I emailed them to please consider “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” for their summer film series due to the 30th anniversary. I received a very nice reply stating “unfortunately we are not able to get the film to show. As you know if is very difficult to get the permission to show the films from GEORGE LUCAS!!!!! Very sad.
Oh well, I shall be watching Khan tonight, probably reciting along with the dialog.
Here’s to another 30 years!!!!
MC you forget one of the best lines ..”I know engineers, they love to change things”
The best Trek films are The Wrath of Khan, First Contact and The Undiscovered Country. To me it’s hard to beat these three films.
Khan is still one of the best vilains in Trek and because Ricardo Montalban was so iconic and fantastic in this film, this is why it would be a mistake to redo him.
Going to see KHAN on the big screen here in Austin in 4 hours :)
Wrath of Khan is also the movie that got me into Trek. Thank you very much and still loving it all these years later.
If I do a “best of list” I split off the TNG series, from the classics because the TNG films were inferior to the classic series films. They didn’t stay true to the characters, and tried to turn Picard into the action hero he never was.
I see Star Trek 2 and 3 is two parts of the same movie. If I had to make a list of my favorites I would have to put them as
1. Trek 2
2. Trek 3
3. Trek 4
4. Trek 1
5. Trek 6
6. Trek 5
I really like the DE version of TMP. It was a bold choice at the time not to make a Trek movie look like Star Wars, and more like 2001.
Looks like a lot of the showings are sold out in San Antonio
Glad I got my ticket 2 weeks ago
Where did you get the trailer from? lol
I Khan’t believe I’m so damned old!
I’m about the same age as Shat doing this movie.
Oh well, I still love this flick.
Will be watching it tonight in 1080 on my 100″ projection screen…
2 of my favorite ST 2 commercials