5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan'

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by Oliver Lyttelton
June 4, 2012 11:02 AM
7 Comments
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While "Star Trek" is now a huge, beloved franchise, recently reinvigorated by J.J. Abrams' reboot (and, fingers crossed, next year's sequel to that film), it wasn't always like that. The original 1960s series had low ratings, and only lasted three seasons, and while success in syndication let to a film version being greenlit in the aftermath of "Star Wars," that film, 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," proved hugely expensive, and less profitable than Paramount had hoped.

Instead, it was the second film, 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan," that really cemented its place in pop culture. Made for a quarter of the budget of the original, it won rave reviews, thanks to a faster pace and less reverent approach from non-Trekker director Nicholas Meyer, and earned the all-time biggest opening weekend up to that point, and is still held up as a high watermark for the franchise. 'Wrath of Khan' opened thirty years ago today, on June 4, 1982 (the same day as "Poltergeist"), and to mark the occasion, we've assembled five things you might not know about the sci-fi sequel.

1. Series creator Gene Roddenberry wrote an alternate sequel script involving the death of JFK.
After "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," series creator Gene Roddenberry plowed ahead with his own treatment for a sequel. Roddenberry's take involved Klingons traveling back in time to stop the death of JFK (who knows why?), leading the Enterprise crew to head back to try and restore history. Unsurprisingly, the questionable taste of the premise didn't win fans at Paramount, but the problems went beyond that. Roddenberry had insisted on frequent rewrites during production on the first film, and Paramount executives blamed the sky high cost (a whopping $45 million, roughly equivalent to $150 million today), as well as the film's sluggish pace, on him. As a result, Roddenberry was pretty much kicked off development of the sequel, given the mostly cosmetic title of "executive consultant," and replaced with TV veteran Harve Bennett ("The Mod Squad"), who told the studio that he could have made five movies for the cost of the original.

2. The script went through a number of iterations and titles while in development.
It was Bennett (a newcomer to Trek) who came up with the idea of using Khan, who'd featured in original series episode "Space Seed," as the villain, finding the lack of a major antagonist one of the flaws of the original. In November 1980, Bennett wrote a treatment entitled "Star Trek II: The War Of The Generations," in which Kirk discovers that his son is the leader of a rebellion (instigated, as it turns out, by Khan) on a distant world, with father and son eventually teaming up to defeat the old foe. TV writer Jack B. Sowards was hired to rush a script before the 1981 writer's strike: he delivered one called "The Omega Syndrome," in which Khan steals a Federation weapon known as the Omega System -- production designer Michael Minor would later suggest that it should become a terraforming tool called the Genesis Device. As production came closer, original series writer Samuel A. Peeples (who penned the show's pilot) was brought on to rewrite, but turned in a wildly different draft that dumped Khan in favor of two new alien creatures called Sojin and Moray, leaving the project without a script, and a fast-approaching deadline to begin special effects work. Between then and the film's release, it gained a brace of other working titles, including "Star Trek: The Genesis Project," "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" (reused for a later installment) and "Star Trek: The Vengeance of Khan" (which was retired when it emerged that George Lucas was calling the third "Star Wars" film "Revenge of the Jedi," although that too was later swapped out for "Return of the Jedi").
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7 Comments

  • Amanda Sowards | October 25, 2012 4:05 PMReply

    I must contest your understanding of the history of STII:TWoK. Having spent months reading pages as they printed out of the dot matrix printer beside my father's desk, I can assure you that the story Jack B. Sowards wrote was (save for the fabulous additions from Nicholas Meyer, like the Melville references) the movie that was seen onscreen. So much so, in fact, that a WGA panel awarded my father sole screenplay credit during and arbitration with Harve Bennett. Sam Peeples, a long-time friend of my father, worked on iterations of the script prior to my father's hiring, not after. The writers' strike only ended shortly before the beginning of principle photography. If Mr. Peeples had worked on the script after my father, he would have been doing so during the strike, and that would have made him a scab (which he most definitely was not). Thanks for letting me set the record straight.

  • jock123 | September 8, 2012 7:43 PMReply

    The supposed “huge budget” for “ST: The Motion Picture” was nothing to do with the movie itself - that was made for comparatively little money, and on time, meeting a release date from which the studio would not budge; the apparently large sum was arrived at by adding the cost of the movie to the development costs of “Star Trek: Phase II”, which was a reunion movie, then a TV series, then a movie again, then a TV series again, ad nauseam…
    Sets, costumes, scripts were developed, and casting took place at considerable cost to Paramount, who then shuffled this onto the eventual feature film budget - but as little if any of the stuff for “Phase II” made it into the Robert Wise film, it can’t really have been a surprise that it didn’t end up being profitable.

  • sundae | June 17, 2012 8:51 PMReply

    Nimoy didn't insist that Spock die, Harve Bennnet brought it up when they were discussing Nimoy's being in the film.

  • HarryBalszak | June 12, 2012 11:05 PMReply

    I saw this film on opening day. Had a blast. Still get choked up near the end.
    Hard to believe it's been thirty years.

  • Jim | June 4, 2012 9:26 PMReply

    Straight from Wikipedia, but thanks for remembering the film at least.

  • Brandt Hardin | June 4, 2012 6:35 PMReply

    The long-enduring debate of which Enterprise Captain would win in every fan’s epic showdown has spilled over with guts and gore. See the battle of the Zombie Captains as Kirk and Picard go head to head on the Zombie Walk of Fame at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/star-trek-zombies-from-zombie-walk-of.html

  • Tom | June 4, 2012 1:52 PMReply

    Good article. I wasn't aware that Roddenberry was practically forced out.

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