This year for the Sci Fi Experience, I’m off on The Great Khan Adventure, tracing the story of Khan Noonien Singh through books and movies. So far I’ve watched a few episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, and read Greg Cox’s Khan trilogy (Eugenics Wars: Volume One and Volume Two, and To Reign in Hell). Getting down to the end of the Adventure, I spent New Year’s Eve watching The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home.
To Reign in Hell ends almost precisely where The Wrath of Khan begins. Chekov and his new captain, Terrell, beam down to Ceti Alpha V (thinking it’s Ceti Alpha VI–DON’T ask) looking for a test planet for the Genesis Project. There they encounter Khan and his followers, who, with the help of mind-twisting eels, take over their starship and set out to pursue Khan’s quest for revenge against Kirk. Meanwhile, Kirk and friends are aboard the Enterprise with a crew of trainee cadets. They rush to investigate when an urgent call comes in from Carol Marcus, reporting that someone is trying to steal Genesis, a device to “create life from lifelessness.”
It was fascinating (to coin a phrase) watching this movie directly after reading To Reign in Hell. There’s so much more room in books than in movies for details and background and character expansion. Don’t get me wrong, The Wrath of Khan is a great movie, full-stop, period. However–To Reign in Hell, despite some flaws, provides so much context and insight and character details.
For instance: we get a story on why Khan’s wearing that glove all movie, not to mention why he’s wearing a Starfleet emblem. Joachim becomes a fully-fleshed character in the book; in the movie, you know him as Khan’s lieutenant, and the only one in Khan’s crew being paid for dialogue. His name doesn’t come up until the very end of the movie, but I figured all along that he had to be Joachim, based on the book. In the movie Khan references his wife twice but never actually says her name; presumably he means Marla (and I see no reason to think otherwise) but by comparison, the book makes her a major character and explores their romance.
Of course, the order of creation is a little odd in that Cox watched the movie and then wrote the backstory–but I think that worked, because I felt like I got more from the movie when I was keeping Cox’s backstory in mind. Strangely enough, I’m not sure it would have worked the other way. Reading the book, I occasionally thought I might be getting more from it if I had watched the movie recently–but after watching it, I think that might have made the book feel more forced. Since the movie was fuzzy in my head, I didn’t get every single reference in the book, which, based on how many I noticed when I did watch the movie, might have become a bit much while reading…
Stranger yet, all this backstory and Khan-focus made me feel, well, strangely sympathetic towards him as a character. Don’t get me wrong, I know he’s a terrible person, and I dearly love Kirk, Spock and McCoy…but Kirk did strand him on Ceti Alpha V and poor Marla got killed and it was all really, really awful and you can see how a person could lose it a bit at that point…even if Khan’s reaction is rather beyond the stretch of justification.
Ah well, a purely reprehensible villain wouldn’t be very interesting.
It also felt rather strange when the events of The Wrath of Khan set up the next two movies–and yet Khan never gets mentioned again. Granted, Kirk has other things on his mind, but still. Khan seems to have loomed bigger in the audience’s mind than in the characters’.
Another interesting sidenote: I’ve been complaining ever since Star Trek Into Darkness came out that these people are not qualified to be crewing a starship, and I find Wrath of Khan justifies the complaint. Imagine if, at the end of the movie, Saavik was made captain and the trainee cadets were handed officer positions and told to go exploring. That’s basically what happens at the end of the 2009 movie!! Mumble mumble implausibility grumble…
On that subject, after watching the three classic movies and Khan-a-la-Ricardo-Montalban, I plan to finish up the adventure with a rewatch of Into Darkness and Khan-a-la-Benedict-Cumberbatch…which ought to be interesting directly after Wrath of Khan. Stay tuned!
Buy it here: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan