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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  • Dude, that is so self-evidently a horrible, horrible idea that I think the arguments are almost extraneous. 🙂

  • In my opinion, one of the reasons the new Trek was so well accepted was because it didn't lean so heavily on the past. Just slight story touches and playing with characterizations in a fun way, but a fresh story and descent special effects. Some of my Trekkie friends disliked it for the same reason, but I thought it was great and would prefer to be surprised, not by how they rework something old, but by how they offer up something fresh that's fun and thoughtful.

  • I'm actually rewatching ST: Voyager right now, up to the end of season five, and I share your frustration about ignoring Kahn in Future's End.

    To comment on what OneBigHappy said, I'd say one of the main reasons the new Star Trek was so successful was that it wasn't preachy. It didn't embrace blindly the misguided humanism of Gene's original vision. It didn't step up on a liberal soapbox and preach at us. It was good sci-fi action that focused on universal themes such as friendship, loyalty, and looking up to our parents.

    Humanism is what killed Star Trek, in my mind.

    So. Post-Trek we have a destroyed Vulcan, Spock Prime (who probably won't be back), and a whole universe of potentials such as Kahn. Perhaps they will forge new ground, such as having the surviving Vulcans "logically" attempt to eradicate all the Romulans in revenge or something.

    Possibly they could jump up to the Doomsday device, and do something creative there.

    Maybe the Romulans will get more attention than just the instant villain status they have enjoyed (not very enlightened of Roddenbery to humanize every other race BUT the Romulans).

    Or, since ST: Enterprise is still pure canon, they could do something with ideas brought up in that show. Kirk and company attempt to erradicate AIDS, I mean, Pa'nar Syndrome, or something.

    No matter what…Tuvok will never exist now. Which is a shame.

  • Looking forward, in the original universe post-Romulus being destroyed, I'd like to jump forward 10-15 years, and set up two different TV shows, each lasting 4-5 years. The first show would be space based and focus on what may be the last ever starship Enterprise, as they are still dealing with the ramifications of the destruction of Romulus and I'm certain subsequent retaliation from many races against Vulcan/Federation.

    Throughout the first five years, set it up so that the Federation falls apart both internally and externally, with the sole express reason for it's internal collapse being the arrogance of humanism that the Federation drives forward. Let it be proven that it was the utopia that led to it's downfall, an attempt to control man through that society. Obviously there are external factors, but it's man's base evil and humanistic arrogance that led to the fall of the once mighty Federation.

    End the first five years with the destruction of the Enterprise.

    The second five years, or second TV series, should be set on earth a few years later. Bring a few cast members on board from the prior show, but start with largely a fresh new cast. Earth is largely under a resistance fight, with many warring factions and races trying to control Earth and thus the "Federation". Romulans can be one sect, humans another, Klingons, whomever. Focus the series on personal and politically historical issues, shoot largely outdoors in Vancouver (yay Stargate!), focus on ground battles, and use space flight sparingly (such as things like fighter planes and the like).

    At the end of that series, bring about some sort of peace, and reforge the Federation, with a neutral galatic seat of power, one that is not so human-centric.

    As you can see, I've given this some thought.

    Or, just create a Star Trek version of Warehouse 13 or SWAT (Star Trek: MACOS)! lol

  • I dunno, I think the Romulans have been pretty well humanized right from day one. The episode that introduced them ('Balance of Terror') was partly about the perils of racial prejudice, and near the end, the Romulan commander tells Kirk: "You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend." Granted, I haven't followed every twist and turn of their representation on The Next Generation and subsequent shows, so it's possible that later episodes made them far more villainous; but it seems to me that the Romulans have never been entirely demonized.

    As for what's been happening on the original timeline since Spock fell into the black hole… Actually, the computer game Star Trek Online gets into that somewhat, and it even features a voice-over intro by Leonard Nimoy as Spock — though how Spock could know any of this stuff, when he is stranded on the new parallel timeline over 100 years in the past, is beyond me. Anyway, suffice it to say that the power vacuum left by the destruction of Romulus lures the Klingons into dreams of conquest, which puts a strain on their alliance with the Federation, and various other powers get into the mix as well. You can watch one version of the intro at YouTube, here.