Why Star Trek II is the Best Sequel to Any First Film in Any Genre


Following the critical disappointment of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the franchise’s fate was up in the air. Legend has it that after attending the premiere, William Shatner said, “That’s it. We gave it our best shot, but there’ll be no more Star Trek movies.”


But that was back when movie studios would still take the occasional gamble on a property with potential, despite starting off on the wrong foot. And Paramount Studios gave the challenge of redeeming the Trek film franchise to veteran television producer Harve Bennett.


Bennett’s first step was to go back and watch the original Star Trek TV series from start to finish. Convinced that the first movie lacked a compelling villain, he combed through each episode with an eye to finding just the right bad guy to drive the sequel.


Upon seeing the 1967 episode “Space Seed,” Bennett was intrigued by the story’s antagonist. A deposed superman exiled in space and rescued by the Enterprise, only to be left on a remote planet after trying to hijack the ship, cut a compelling figure. And so, Star Trek II found its heart in the passionate but ruthless Khan Noonien Singh.



The Wrath of Khan was Bennett’s first movie production. And rolling the dice on a TV producer who decided to take an even bigger risk by making the first-ever feature film sequel to a TV episode paid off in spades.


There’s an old saying: “Victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” The Star Trek movie franchise as of 1982 embodied that proverb. Roddenberry was blamed for the first film’s mixed reception and cost overruns. For the sequel he was demoted to a production role and effectively removed from the project. Meanwhile, Harve Bennett, Samuel A. Peeples, and director Nicholas Meyer all wrote drafts of the script. on-set suggestions from the actors, as well as pre-screening feedback from fans, helped shape the finished movie.


And what a movie!



I’ll spare you the affected objectivity here. In my informed opinion, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best


  • entry in the canonical Star Trek franchise
  • science fiction movie sequel
  • hard SF/military SF movie


and in the running for best sequel to any first film in any genre.



Praising this movie’s manifold virtues is gilding the lily, but since you came here for a substantive review, here are some highlights:


  1. The pacing – They fixed it. Each scene is necessary and leads into the next with not a second wasted. And the story holds viewers’ attention, because of …
  2. The characters – Our beloved Enterprise crew were MIA in the first movie, during which they were replaced by weird wooden robots. But in Wrath of Khan, they’re back and more compellingly motivated than ever. Kirk wants to resolve his midlife crisis by proving he’s still got what it takes. Spock wants to help his protégé rise to one day fill his shoes. Scotty wants the same for his nephew. And of course, Khan wants revenge. That’s just for starters, since characters’ arcs intersect throughout the film, creating new motives and tensions with mounting stakes – the Kirk/David conflict being a high point. Even secondary characters always have important things to do. Authors take note: This is how you write an ensemble cast.
  3. The action – This is where they figured out the submarine-warfare-in-space formula of Star Trek combat. And Wrath of Khan features this kind of action at its best. No other original cast Trek film takes advantage of the Z axis in ship-to-ship battles. And it’s particularly well-served by …
  4. The effects – With Wrath of Khan, we have arrived at Peak Practical Effects. You never see real, solid models getting battered and blown apart on the big screen anymore, and our culture is the poorer for it. CG just can’t pick up the slack. If it could, it would have by now.
  5. The music – The crown jewel of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score. To call TMP’s soundtrack a tough act to follow is a massive understatement. The challenge of topping it is akin to outdoing John Williams’ original Star Wars score. Yet relative newcomer James Horner beat the odds and crafted a spacy, swashbuckling score you can throw on and write operatic space battles to. I know I do.



Bonus: WoK gives us a number of Star Trek firsts:


  • First female Vulcan whose name starts with an “S”
  • First- and only – time Bones says “Damn it, Jim”
  • Frist mid-beam-up conversation


But the one element that cemented this film’s legacy is the spoiler that was spoiled by the studio before the movie even came out.



And it’s a now-cliché plot point that almost no other IP gets right.


But Star Trek did, and we’ll discuss how in the next review.


Until then, check out the mil-SF series I wrote some scenes for while grooving to the Wrath of Khan soundtrack:



Originally published here

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Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is the #1 best selling author of Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You. His sci fi horror books have racked up Dragon Award nominations and won. Let him edit your book to perfection. Read more of his work at brianniemeier.com or pick up his books via Amazon.