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

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 4, 2012 at 11:02AM

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.
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Star Trek: Wrath Of Khan

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").

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., Star Trek 2, On This Day In Movie History, Features


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