Wrath of Khan may be the least “Star Trek” of all the films


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has long been considered the greatest of all the films, despite it representing little of the show’s ideals.

Star Trek fans have long prided themselves on the fact that unlike Star Wars, Star Trek actually stands for something. To them, Star Wars is just laser battles, giant space stations and loud explosions. On the other hand, they will say that Star Trek is filled with ideas and concepts that make it the deeper, thinking-person’s science-fiction franchise.

And when it comes to the various television shows, including Star Trek: Discovery, this is very true. From the very first episode of the original Star Trek the show tried to teach through example. Broaden the perspective of the viewer and make them think in a different way. Which is what the best science-fiction is supposed to do.

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Fans have always taken that ideal of what Star Trek is supposed to be and represent very seriously. It is a huge part of the reason the Kelvin Timeline films are so hated by a section of the fanbase. They see those as a corruption of what Star Trek is. Story and meaning replaced by fancy effects and action. Style over substance.

If that is the case then, how do you explain the success of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

In our recent ranking of all the Star Trek films based just on budget versus box office, Wrath of Khan comes in first, making almost a 700 percent return on investment. But aside from the money made, Wrath of Khan has always been seen as the best of all the films from an artistic standpoint as well. It regularly tops the lists of greatest Trek movies and yelling “KHAAAAAANN!!” at a convention is almost a rite of passage for any self-respecting Trek fan.

Yet when you look at the movie, it has almost nothing to do with those Star Trek ideals fans hold so dear.

At its essence, Wrath of Khan is a revenge story, two enemies doing battle in space to the death. Sure, Kirk is feeling old and Spock dies, but those are just small parts of what is an almost two hour action/adventure science-fiction film.

Think about it. What do most Star Trek fans remember the most about Wrath of Khan? Kirk talking about getting old to McCoy? The scene in the Genesis Cave where Kirk and Carol Marcus try to resolve their failed relationship?

Of course not. You think of the U.S.S. Reliant attacking the Enterprise. You think of the battle of the Mutara Nebula and Khan getting his final revenge by activating Genesis. You think of Kirk and Spock outwitting Khan by turning off his shields. And naturally, you think of a disgusting space slug going into Chekov’s ear.

The last time I checked, none of that had anything to do with creating a broader perspective or looking at cultural issues in a different way. All things considered, Star Trek II has a lot more in common with 2009’s Star Trek reboot than it does with any of the best episodes of the original television series.

When it comes to Trek movies that hold true to the ideals put forth by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home does a much better job. It gets the message across, does it in an entertaining way and represents everything the fans hold dear about Star Trek.

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The problem? Wrath of Khan is a hell of a lot more fun to watch. And for none of the reasons Trek Nation says they love about the franchise. Something to think about next time you hear a Trek fan saying they hate Discovery or the Kelvin Timeline films because they aren’t “true” Star Trek.