Updated: Sep 10, 2020
I caught the second half of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on TV recently. This was the best Star Trek movie ever made, but not for the reasons current directors seem to think. This movie did not succeed just because it had a great villain. It succeeded because it did what Star Trek did best. It explored the human condition.
The Human Condition
This movie has me contemplating so many things. Life. Death. Sacrifice. Friendship. Growing older. Revenge. I could write a full post on each of these things. The mark of great entertainment is how much it makes you think. Not how many explosions there are.
The movie opens with the Kobayashi Maru simulation. We meet Lt. Saavik, who promptly gets everyone “killed” by the Klingons. When the simulation is over, she tells Kirk that it wasn’t a fair test of her command ability because there was no way to win. His response is profound.
“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” – Kirk
Later, you find out that Kirk cheated and reprogrammed the simulation so that he could win. He never truly faced death. But somewhere deep down, he knew enough to say those words.
In The Wrath of Khan, we see an aging Kirk questioning his place in the universe. He learns that he has a grown son he never knew. McCoy gives him glasses so that he can see to read. He is, in effect, having a mid-life crisis. Growing older is something that we all must face. We all wonder if we have fulfilled our purpose and if there is there more to life.
Kirk accepted promotion to admiral, but in doing so gave up his passion…captaining a starship. Spock and McCoy both tell him bluntly that he made a mistake. How many times do we do what is expected of us when our passion is elsewhere? We know where we belong, but we cave to pressure. We take the safe job, and we are miserable.
The Wrath of Khan looks at the dangerous combination of science, ethics, and the military. Do scientists have the right to create life? What is their responsibility if they can? And what if that tool of creation is used as a weapon? At this time in history, those questions are closer to being science fact than science fiction.
“I was not attempting to evaluate its moral implications, Doctor. As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.” – Spock
In the tradition of Moby Dick, the movie also looks at the cost of revenge. Khan could have started a new life, but his lust for vengeance destroyed him, his people, and anyone else who got in his way. How many times do we let hate keep us from moving forward?
The most significant event of The Wrath of Khan is Spock’s death. He never faced the Kobayashi Maru. But he was still faced with a no-win scenario. His decision was true to his beliefs, because he sacrificed his life to save everyone else. I wonder if I would have the courage to make that choice?
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. ” – Spock
The core of this movie is the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and that is why it is the best Star Trek movie. It is about friendship, growing older, sacrifice, and facing death. It shows the importance of having people in your life who will tell you hard truths. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was much more than just a blockbuster with lots of action and special effects. Oh, it had that too. But first and foremost, it was pure Star Trek. Not like the flashy present day movies and current series. This was my Star Trek. It meant something.
“I have been and always shall be your friend. ” – Spock
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the best Star Trek movie ever made. It is rare these days to find a sci-fi movie that ponders deep life questions and is still entertaining. We need more entertainment like this today. We need movies and shows that examine society and ask hard questions. Perhaps more self reflection would help us to become a more thoughtful and better people. It certainly couldn’t hurt.