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Welcome to The Fourth Wall, CHIRP's weekly e-conversation on cinema. This week's subject is the sci-fi classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
This edition is written by CHIRP Radio volunteers Kevin Fullam and Clarence Ewing.
Even after over 60 years, 13 movies, 7 television series, and a galaxy of non-canon books, comics and Internet fan fiction, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), remains THE Star Trek story in many fans' minds. The story is actually pretty basic: take one iconic starship captain (William Shatner) and pit him and his crew in a pitched battle against a quintessential nemesis (Ricardo Montalbán) who's seeking ultimate payback for a past defeat and exile. Many lives are in the balance, and before it's over, there will be tragedy on both sides.
It’s been more than 30 years since the release of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, and it remains a jewel in the crown of science-fiction cinema, cementing one of the first mega-successful attempts at adapting a TV show into a film. Of course, the main pull quote from that film, Captain Kirk’s rage-filled retort to his arch-enemy (“KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!”) has been parodied and referenced in other movies and TV shows ad infinitum. But there’s so much more.
The general consensus is that of all the Star Trek movies, Khan is the best. I feel in this regard the public's view is spot on, even when comparing it to the stunning special effects of the recently rebooted Trek (alternate) universe. This movie carries a resonance that isn’t there with most, if not all, of the other Star Trek films. And I think it does so for these reasons:
It’s an all-around great story. Khan isn't just about spaceships waging battle. Just as important are the themes of friendship, revenge, aging, and past mistakes coming back to bite you in the ass. It helps that the cast had a few years to work together on the TV series so they could get to know the characters and build relationships that they could carry to the big screen.
It’s Shakespeare in space. The most successful lead actors in the Star Trek franchise tend to be the ones who have a lot of experience performing Shakespeare, where the ability to generate powerful emotions while standing next to cardboard cutout scenery is a must. Subtlety and irony is not what’s required in a space opera. William Shatner and Ricardo Montalbán understood this and set the tone perfectly.
You don’t need to be a Trekkie to follow what’s going on. Other movies in the Star Trek franchise require more than a little background knowledge to fully appreciate the current story being told. An audience member doesn’t have to know that Khan is basically a sequel to an original Star Trek episode (“Space Seed,” Season 1, Ep. 22) in order to understand what’s going on. A cursory knowledge of what Star Trek is is all that’s required.