Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982]; Vengeance, and The Real Life Events Behind the Kobayashi Maru Test

Aʟʟ ᴏᴜʀ Pᴀsᴛ Rᴇᴠɪᴇᴡs —

a review by the Crow.

Captain‘s log, Stardate 96654.67: Before I jump into my opening statement for the review, here’s a tiny Team Update:

The Azure-Winged Magpie is much more ill than at first thought. She’s going to be in sickbay for at least another few days, and will probably return some days after that. However, she has let me know that she’ll be back before The Corvid Review‘s Star Trek Month is over. I was intending — in the light of her absence — to wrap up the festivities by covering the Star Trek movies, Star Trek Continues, and at the one or two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery that would have released by then. As of this moment, that’s still the plan, but as we all know, my plans have a habit of being interfered with by a certain Magpie.

It’s now a matter of record that I did not enjoy Star Trek: The Motion Picture; however, because of my utter disappointment at the movie (which I’d actually thought I’d like), I decided to fire up its successor: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The Wrath of Khan (TWoK, for short) is considered the best Star Trek movie by nearabouts everyone. No other movie in the franchise has ever come close to comparison. 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot had people clamouring for the title, as did 2016’s Star Trek Beyond; yet, when the dust cleared, and the claims died down, TWoK continued to reign supreme in the greater discourse.

At least, it meant — yesterday — to me that I wasn’t going to feel as crushed as I did following TMP.

And here’s a pertinent anecdote:

People have a (rather annoying) habit of likening me to a Vulcan whenever I mention I’m fond of Star Trek. However, I have little love lost for that fictional species. Give me Andorians. Give me Augments. They are my peoples. And here, we have one of the most notable of one of those kinds, returned, and very vengeant.

And how does he fare in his return? Well, let me tell you…


STAR TREK II
The Wrath of Khan

SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE

Immediately, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Not only does it look competent, but it feels competent. Something has certainly changed in the (less than) three years between this movie and the last. It does away with much of the forced grandeur of the first movie, and elects to instead employ a much more “direct” story.

And this story begins with a moment that has gone on to become a classic element of the series’ lore: the “Kobayashi Maru” test. Before I go on any further, I’d like to speak a little of the real-life events that the test’s name references, both because the events share a certain history with myself, the Azure-Winged Magpie, and others here on The Corvid Review, and because I find that not too many people know about the events in question.

The following is a quick account of the Komagata Maru:

Image Source

The Komagata Maru

A hundred and five years ago, nearing the sparking point for the First World War, a Japanese steamship (the SS Komagata Maru) was chartered by one Gurdit Singh Sandhu. His intention was to ferry a group of people (mostly Punjabi Sikh men) from British Hong Kong to Vancouver, Canada in the hopes of obtaining entry to the country for work. While the ship only carried under a hundred and sixty-five passengers when it left Hong Kong, the final number of passengers numbered three hundred and seventy-six. However, the strict laws regarding immigration (specifically the then-relatively-recent laws regarding granting immigration to Punjabi men, and thereafter South Asians as a whole) led to a long stand-off with Canadian officials, and resulted in some minor violence between the police and the passengers (through relation to this case, three murders were also committed elsewhere in Canada). 

A little over two months following their arrival in the waters near Vancouver from their final pit stop in Yokohama, Japan, the three hundred and fifty-two (reports on the exact numbers vary between here and the voyage’s final stop) passengers who had been denied entry — including Gurdit Singh Sandhu — accepted a decision made by the British Columbia Court of Appeal and turned around, heading back towards Hong Kong. 

The ship stopped in Japan and lightened its passenger complement, somewhat. However, instead of proceeding to Hong Kong as planned, the ship proceeded towards the Bay of Bengal — establishing and maintaining contact with German elements along the way (since the Great War had already begun by then). Due to rising feelings of disenfranchisement within the passenger complement of the Komagata Maru, and the overall tensions between the Colonials and the Colonised in India, violence sparked following the ship’s arrival. In summary: twenty of the passengers (all Sikhs) were killed upon arrival, and the majority of the rest were rounded up and imprisoned. 

Here’s a link to an article that goes into much more depth about the incident. Once Star Trek Month ends on The Corvid Review, we’ll revisit Punjab and Canada in a certain other capacity. 

Coming up on the USS Kobayashi Maru is one Lt Saavik (Kirstey Alley), who I assume has been introduced to the movie to be set up as a sort of “successor” to Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Of course, she fails the test (as all who have attempted it — bar one cheater — have), and the the test itself forms an underlying plot-line for the movie. It’s not very well done, but it does exist, and it works well-enough.

Elsewhere, Dr Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her son David (Merritt Butrick) are heading up a team of scientists working on a project known as “Genesis”. While on a mission supporting them, Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and Something Chekov (Walter Koenig) of the USS Reliant (NCC-8888) travel to the planet Ceti Alpha VI — or a planet they think is Ceti Alpha VI — and are quickly swarmed by the augmented crew of the SS Botany Bay.

Enter Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán). He’s not exactly the man we know and remember from Space Seed, but at first sight, one could hardly be faulted for thinking he’s the same man when he first starts to speak. I’ve always had an issue with my readings of the story of The Wrath of Khan — in that Khan seems “dumb” in them. The concept of the man is one I greatly admire. He’s essentially superman (which he is referred to as, multiple times), but throughout TWoK, he makes what I’ve called “schoolboy errors” in the past. Now, having watched the movie, I’ve understood that I was mistaken. After all, the title should have given it away.

Khan, in this movie, is driven by anger — an anger that repeatedly blinds him. In the fifteen years between Space Seed and this movie, he’s lost his mind. The events of the movie are completely directed by his fury. Everything falls into place. Even a mind like Khan Noonien Singh’s is damaged by hardship. I like that, strangely. He’s become a perfect example of a flawed villain. Unlike the new version of Khan from Into Darkness (who is by all metrics perfect), this Khan is damaged and tied together by a sudden, and ever-rising current of rage (I have promised that Into Darkness will be given “special treatment“, soon).

And it begins just as Chekov gives away the fact that no one was ever told of what happened in Space Seed — that Khan and his followers have remained forgotten relics of the past.

KHAAN!

— Admiral Kirk, James T.; The Wrath of Khan

Of course, now I’m going to talk about the performances. While the above scene has been distributed countless times over the years for humorous effect, in the context it’s presented in, it’s actually a fine piece of work. No one does a bad job, here, unlike in The Motion Picture. Our “new face” Saavik does a fine job, and the characters seem more in harmony than we’ve seen them since the series. However, Montalbán steals the show. He nails his character with almost every beat he’s given.

One choice I found strange was the references to Charles Disckens’ A Tale of Two Cities as well as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (the most awfully-boring book ever written, but a book I think everyone should at least try to read, once). They’re clever and play well with each other (some very good writing going on behind the scenes), but they feel very out of place when they appear the movie. Something just doesn’t feel “right”.

The “space battles” are handled relatively well, with a slow, nautical approach to them. The power of the starships can be distinctly felt, and there is a rising tension from one battle to the next. The Genesis plot is also rather good, and it’s a shame we haven’t seen it revisited in later iterations of Star Trek.

All-in-all, good work. Nicholas Meyer certainly breathed new life into Star Trek following the dud that was The Motion Picture. It really feels like an episode that’s been blown-up for the big screen, and I’m beginning to think that Star Trek is at its best when it just does what Star Trek does. Less wanting to be the next SF blockbuster and more being an upscale of the TV episodes might just be the series’ strength. With all that said, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan comes well-recommended by the both of us (the Azure-Winged Magpie sends her regards) at The Corvid Review. It’s a good old-fashioned space adventure.

— Crow out. 


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Final Ratings

 

THE CROW: 6.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8/10


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See Also


Here’s the official poster:


41 thoughts on “Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982]; Vengeance, and The Real Life Events Behind the Kobayashi Maru Test”

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