Happy 40th Birthday to Wrath of Khan, The Film That Saved Star Trek

Happy 40th Birthday to Wrath of Khan, The Film That Saved Star Trek
Image: Paramount

Star Trek is no stranger to cinema, and the franchise’s quality of films tends to fluctuate with each new release. We’ve seen plenty of pretty good films from the series, and we’ve also seen films that weren’t as good as they could’ve been. Everyone’s got their own favourites, but if there’s one thing that can be agreed upon, it’s that Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan stands above the rest.

Released exactly today in 1982, Khan served as a sequel to both the original 1979 Star Trek film, and the 1967 episode, “Space Seed.” Directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also did uncredited work on its final script with Jack B. Sowards, the film has cast a long shadow over Star Trek. Whether it was due to the shocking death of Spock (Leonard Nimoy), its substantially improved acting, or having a great villain in the form of the late Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, Khan the film was nothing short of a success back in the day. At the time of its release, it came out to strong reviews and was a box office hit, earning $US97 ($135) million worldwide. Even beyond financials, it spawned a brief sub-franchise for the film franchise, kicking off a trilogy that included 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. And it’s why, at least prior to the 2009 reboot, the Trek fandom held to the belief that even-numbered entries would be the only good films in the series.

Image: ParamountImage: Paramount

Wrath of Khan is one of those films where even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve likely absorbed some of it through cultural osmosis. You know it through its iconic scream or its funeral scene. You’ve likely heard it likely referred to as one of the best sequels of all time, and cited when someone talks about the second entry of a trilogy being the darkest of the three, alongside Empire Strikes Back. It’s also something of a technological trailblazer, as it has the distinction of being the first feature film to have a sequence made entirely with computer graphics.

The greatness of Khan — both the film and its titular villain — has never really been in question, and no one knows this better than Star Trek itself. The reboot films did a version of the film back in 2013 in the form of Star Trek Into Darkness. (Maybe it’s improved in the near decade since?) More recently, the new series Strange New Worlds has given us a member of his extended family in the form of Christina Chong’s awesome security chief, La’an Noonien Singh. It’s often credited with being the film to get waning fans back into the franchise after the original film garnered a mixed response. Without it, would we have Star Trek as it we know it now?

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