“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and Keeping On When All Goes Wrong

KHAAAAAAAAN!!!! KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!

All right, did you get that out of your system?

Memes aside, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is my favorite film of all time. I consider it to be one of the greatest ever made. Here’s how to know if you should be friends with someone. Make them sit down to watch Wrath of Khan.

Did they like it? Great! They’re an interesting person with an actual soul.
They didn’t like it? That’s fine. Tell them politely but firmly to leave.

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I’m going to quickly run through my praise for this film, because honestly people have discussed the merits of it in far greater detail than me. I recommend watching Lorerunner’s rumination on the film, as he comprehensively addresses all of the praise I give. Basically, I agree with everything he says, plus it’s a great way to spend a couple hours of your life.

Suffice it to say, the atmosphere of this film is outstanding, but unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, mise-en-scène isn’t only thing it’s got going for it. James Horner (of both Titanic and Avatar fame) knocks his first true film score out of the park, rivaling that of Jerry Goldsmith’s orchestrations from the previous movie. The visual effects are mostly fantastic, but some shots (especially of Regula I) don’t hold up so well in HD. Still, if there’s one film I regret not being alive for to see in theaters, it’s this one.

The acting is also great, especially Kirstie Alley’s take on the Vulcan Saavik. And, of course, there’s Ricardo Montalban’s truly inspired portrayal of Khan. Additionally, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the incredible way Nicholas Meyer directed this film. He took his minute budget as far as it could possibly go, and every scene is oozing with the talent of a big-budget action flick. The attention to detail of the sets and the constant movement of the characters are not lost on the viewer.

Spoilers ahead. Turn back now if you’re not cool with that.

So, so many things went right for the movie that I wasn’t really sure what to talk about, and I needed extra time to figure out how to properly express my thoughts on the matter. Do I delve into all of the amazing literary references? No, that’d be a job for an English major like Nikki.

Do I discuss the concept of aging and the increasing feelings of inadequacy accompanying it, including the tendency for pride to cause mistakes? Certainly I could, but not at this time, because I’m not looking at it from the perspective of Kirk. He’s turning 50, I’m 26. I’m still trying to make a name for myself, whereas he’s a seasoned starship captain.

Do I dare talk about the human need for vengeance? No, this is an optimist’s blog, and I don’t personally ever want to come to that point of refined hatred. I didn’t want to look back a year from now and grumble that I’d have to redo my Wrath of Khan retrospective because I had rushed to hit the publish button and just repeated what everyone else has already said.

So, once I eliminated the obvious, I realized a theme very apt was hiding just underneath the surface. McCoy said it precisely in what seemed like a throwaway line, something I didn’t really consider until re-watching this film: “It never rains but it pours.” Indeed it does, Bones, because in Star Trek II, crap goes downhill very quickly. I believe there’s a word for that: dark. Here are some of the major beats:

  • Kirk turns 50 – something he doesn’t take well.
  • Terrell and Chekov get captured by Khan and his crew and are mind-controlled.
  • The Enterprise is heavily damaged, and Scottie’s nephew dies.
  • Most of the Regula 1 crew is killed.
  • Captain Terrell dies.
  • Resources for Genesis, a planet-destroying super-weapon, are stolen.
  • The Enterprise is crippled in the Mutara Nebula battle.
  • Spock dies.

This is one of those cases in which life has arranged for events to be constantly spiraling downhill. Beat for beat, Khan was always getting the upper hand, and Kirk and crew were left to pick up the pieces and try to salvage what was left.

Life spiraling downhill happens all the time in fiction, especially when there’s a proper villain pulling the strings. In real life, it’s much more rare. Most of the time life proceeds on as normal, tonally average over the course of a given period of time. There may be spikes of either during the course of days, but overall there’s plenty of good and plenty of bad concurrently. The events may seem unrelated, but they balance out to create the peaks and valleys of life. For instance, a death in the family is balanced by having really good grades the same semester, or job insecurity is balanced by having a great friend group to go out with.

But rare is not the same thing as never, and sometimes in life your resolve is truly going to be tested. These are the times when the rug is slipped out from under you so suddenly that you can’t react properly and don’t know what to do. This has happened to me twice: one medically-related issue and one socially-related issue.

Unfortunately in life, no situation is ever the same. It would be disingenuous for anyone, myself included, to try to force blanket advice on someone when times get rough – that’s called trying to be a fixer. It’s always important to assume that the victim of hard times has already thought of every solution you could, as they must live in that situation.

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Instead, for me, there is really only thing I can do when life gets stormy. It’s the same thing Kirk did – try to power through the rough times in life. Despite overwhelming darkness around him, to the very end he used his ingenuity and resolve to try to win. He carried on, because there was no time to get down on himself once the action started.

Kirk had a villain to defeat, and similarly we have situations for which we must win to carry on. They’re not as glamorous as the cosmic challenges on the big screen, but they are no less real.

For social issues with a group of peers in your life, winning may look like prevailing despite everyone being against you. For medical issues, carrying on may look like restoring the maximum possible quality of life through physical therapy or being really good at something you can do despite the situation. And for dealing with a death, winning may look like honoring them by achieving great things.

Any of these may be your battle. Your nemesis. Your Khan. If life truly is a choose-your-own-adventure, you have some freedom over your narrative. I choose to contextualize my life’s struggles like this: an enemy to be overwhelmed using tenacity and courage. You may find yourself with a new normal, and you’ll probably struggle with some depression in the sequel (again, like Kirk – more on that next week), but you will carry on.

So, this leads to the all-important question for you. What great challenge have you dealt with in your life? How did you overcome it, or are you still fighting that battle? Let’s discuss in the comments if you like. Also, have to seen Wrath of Khan? What did you think of it? I’ll be back next week for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, another great film. See you around!

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Matthew // Normal Happenings

Matthew Estes. STL-based Blogger. Graphic Designer. Happily Married. One day I'll actually complete a book I'm happy with. I love pizza, video games, and using way too many ellipses...

7 thoughts on ““Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and Keeping On When All Goes Wrong

  1. I have seen Wrath of Khan, quite a few times and I saw it in the theater. You’re correct. It was AWESOME that way. Maybe some time a theater in your area will host one of the mostly now forgotten marathons of the old Star Trek movies and you can see it for yourself. I admit I did not like the new Star Trek version of the Wrath of Khan at all. The original spoiled me. And there were people actually weeping in the theater when it was revealed Spock had been killed. My friend, a hard core trekkie sat there with her mouth hanging open.

    And to me this movie made III all the better. If you watch closely, McCoy is HILARIOUS (the only time I saw that character made deliberately funny. McCoy was sarcastic funny, not humorous per se. III redeemed him.)

    My personal “Khan” is declining health, both physically and mentally even though I’m only 58. Thank all the gods for blogging. One discovers all sorts of people and has a grand fine time mingling with people…from their own home. For people like me it’s a saving grace. It’s difficult for me to go out and I live alone on purpose. So the silence gets loud sometimes. No I have not overcome my problem(s) and I won’t. In this instance it’s a case of giving in gracefully and living as well as I can for however long it takes to die.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my post, and I wanted to say thanks for being such a long-time commenter and supporter of my blog! Rest assured next time I hear of TWOK in theaters, I will be buying a ticket.
      I appreciate you sharing your personal “Khan.” I’m sorry for what you’re going through, but I’m glad you’ve found blogging as a unique way to cope.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny enough, this post feels like it’s been written about me! Death in the family… job insecurity… But things aren’t all bad. My husband finally got his work permit and social security card. He’s able to start applying for jobs. We’re both happy and healthy in our relationship. We have an adorable dog together. We are carrying on.

    Also, Wrath of Khan was amazing. I’ll have to take some time to re-watch it. Great post as usual Matt!

    Liked by 2 people

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