Star Trek sequel — please, no Khan!

Star Trek sequel — please, no Khan! June 29, 2010

Anthony Pascale at notes that we are now exactly two years away from June 29, 2012 — the intended release date for the next Star Trek movie. This is kind of remarkable, when you think about it, because the last Star Trek movie came out over a year ago, and gaps of three years or more are almost unheard of in this franchise; indeed, the only longer gaps on record are the four years between Insurrection (1998) and Nemesis (2002) and the six and a half years between Nemesis and last year’s reboot.

Anyway. Along the way, Pascale once again floats the possibility that the sequel might bring back Khan Noonien Singh, the villain who was played oh-so-memorably by Ricardo Montalban in an episode of the original TV series and then again, 15 years later, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). And this, I think, would be a bad idea, for several reasons.

First: The new movies are taking place on an alternate timeline that branches off from shortly before the birth of James T. Kirk. And when Khan was first introduced in the original series, he was drifting in space in suspended animation and had been doing so for over two centuries. So that means Khan, in this new timeline, would have to be drifting in space in suspended animation right now, and Kirk-Pine would have to find Khan in pretty much the exact same condition that Kirk-Shatner found him in. Among other things, this means that Khan will not be the vengeful Captain Ahab that he was in Wrath of Khan; he simply doesn’t have any of that history yet, i.e. the history of being resuscitated by Kirk, seducing one of Kirk’s crewmembers, trying to take over the Enterprise, being left on Ceti Alpha V by Kirk, witnessing the death of his wife and many other followers when Ceti Alpha VI explodes, and nursing his hatred of Kirk for years afterwards. The Khan of the original series may have been a noteworthy villain on some level, but he was not yet what most people think of nowadays when they think of “Khaaaaaaan!” — so anyone who goes to the next movie expecting a remake of Wrath of Khan will be sorely disappointed. Or at least, they should be — and if they aren’t, it will almost certainly be because the filmmakers have ignored the continuity issues that they themselves wrote into the reboot, and thus, some other group will end up being disappointed.

Second: Spock-Nimoy actually died because of Khan. (And then he was brought back to life by the Genesis Wave.) Spock-Nimoy has now come back in time and knows where all these future threats lie (and not just Khan, but V’Ger, the Whale Probe, the Borg, etc.). So if Spock-Nimoy doesn’t warn Starfleet or Spock-Quinto about all these various threats, then that, in a nutshell, would be lame. Very, very lame. At any rate, there is no reason why anybody should be “surprised” when they come across Khan on this new timeline, the way they were when they came across him on the original timeline. There would be no need to get acquainted with the man, to figure out whether he really is the Khan of history, to take time sussing out whether he really is a villain like the history books seem to indicate and, if so, what he is capable of; instead, thanks to Spock-Nimoy’s encounters with Khan, the people of this timeline should know in advance exactly who he is and just how careful they ought to be around him.

Third: The whole point of Khan, originally, was that he came from the 20th century. I repeat: He came from the 20th century. Not the 21st century, which is where we are now, but the 20th century. Back in the 1960s, when the character was invented, it was established that Khan had been a genetically-engineered super-human who ruled a vast swath of the Earth’s population for several years in the 1990s … and then, when he and his followers were deposed, they fled our planet in one of those large “sleeper” ships that we use to get from planet to planet within our solar system. …Oh, wait, what’s that? We didn’t use sleeper ships in the 1990s, and we didn’t use them in the 2000s either, and now that we’re in the 2010s we still don’t have any plans to use them in the immediate future? Oops. Now, of course, no one expected the Star Trek franchise to last this long, and to keep on churning out new stories nearly 50 years after the series first began. And back in the 1960s, the 1990s must have sounded pretty futuristic (but without being too futuristic; like I say, the whole point of Khan, originally, was that he came from the 20th century, i.e. our century). So I don’t hold any of this against the original episode. But details like these have created anomalies that the other Star Trek shows have had to steer around (e.g., when the cast of Star Trek: Voyager was sent back in time to North America in 1996, they never mentioned that Khan is supposed to be ruling a huge section of Asia at that time). Do the makers of the new movie actually want to open this can of worms, either by acknowledging the continuity problems or by ignoring the existing continuity altogether?

Fourth: Does the new movie series want to be its own thing, or is it forever going to be aping the original series? Granted, this is a problem that has plagued other branches of this franchise; when Star Trek: The Next Generation made the jump to the big screen, its first two movies were tied to the original series and used time-travel to make this connection (Generations featured Kirk, Scotty and Chekov, as played by the original actors; while First Contact featured Zefram Cochrane, as played by a brand-new actor), but its next two movies were not connected to the original series, and they are generally regarded as two of the weakest and least successful Star Trek movies ever made. So keeping the new movies tethered to the original series makes a certain sense, on that level; it keeps things within a certain “safety zone”. But then, if all Abrams and company are doing is a sort of karaoke version of the original series, can we really say the series is boldly going anywhere any more?

Fifth, and on a related note: The J.J. Abrams movie has already borrowed several elements from Wrath of Khan, from the Centaurian slugs (which look and function a lot like Ceti eels) to the vengeful-widower villain to the Kobayashi Maru subplot to the closing Leonard Nimoy voice-over. The next movie should probably find a new well to drink from.

Anyway. There are probably other reasons I could mention, but these are the first that come to mind. Can you think of any others? Or, conversely, can you think of any reasons why adding Khan to the mix would be a good thing?

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