Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a 1982 American science fiction film directed by Nicholas Meyer and based on the 1960s television series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. It is the second film in the Star Trek film series and is a sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The plot features Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the starship USS Enterprise facing off against the genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), a character who first appeared in the 1967 Star Trek episode “Space Seed“. When Khan escapes from a 15-year exile to exact revenge on Kirk, the crew of the Enterprise must stop him from acquiring a powerful terraforming device named Genesis. The film is the beginning of a story arc that continues with the film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and concludes with the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).
After the lackluster critical and commercial response to the first film, series creator Gene Roddenberry was forced out of the sequel’s production. Executive producer Harve Bennett wrote the film’s original outline, which Jack B. Sowards developed into a full script. Director Nicholas Meyer completed its final script in 12 days, without accepting a writing credit. Meyer’s approach evoked the swashbuckling atmosphere of the original series, and this theme was reinforced by James Horner‘s musical score. Leonard Nimoy had not intended to have a role in the sequel, but was enticed back on the promise that his character would be given a dramatic death scene. Negative test audience reaction to Spock’s death led to significant revisions of the ending over Meyer’s objections. The production team used various cost-cutting techniques to keep within budget, including utilizing miniature models from past projects and reusing sets, effects footage, and costumes from the first film. Among the film’s technical achievements is being the first feature film to contain a sequence created entirely with computer-generated graphics.
The Wrath of Khan was released in North America on June 4, 1982 by Paramount Pictures. It was a box office success, earning $97 million worldwide and setting a world record for its first-day box office gross. Critical reaction to the film was positive; reviewers highlighted Khan’s character, the film’s pacing, and the character interactions as strong elements. Negative reactions focused on weak special effects and some of the acting. The Wrath of Khan is considered by most to be the best film in the Star Trek series, and is often credited with renewing substantial interest in the franchise.
In the year 2285, Admiral James T. Kirk oversees a simulator session of Captain Spock‘s trainees. In the simulation, Lieutenant Saavik commands the starship USS Enterprise on a rescue mission to save the crew of the damaged ship Kobayashi Maru. When the Enterprise enters the Klingon Neutral Zone to reach the ship, it is attacked by Klingon cruisers and critically damaged. The simulation is a no-win scenario designed to test the character of Starfleet officers. Later, Dr. McCoy joins Kirk on his birthday; seeing Kirk in low spirits, the doctor advises Kirk to get a new command and not grow old behind a desk.
Meanwhile, the USS Reliant is on a mission to search for a lifeless planet for testing of the Genesis Device, a technology designed to reorganize matter to create habitable worlds for colonization. Reliant officers Commander Pavel Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to the surface of a possible candidate planet, which they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI; once there, they are captured by genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonien Singh. Fifteen years prior (see “Space Seed“), the Enterprise discovered Khan’s ship adrift in space; Kirk exiled Khan and his fellow supermen to Ceti Alpha V after they attempted to take over the Enterprise. After they were marooned, Ceti Alpha VI exploded, shifting the orbit of Ceti Alpha V and destroying its ecosystem. Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife and plans revenge. He implants Chekov and Terrell with indigenous creatures that enter the ears of their victims and render them susceptible to mind control, and uses the officers to capture the Reliant. Learning of Genesis, Khan attacks space station Regula I where the device is being developed by Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus, and their son, David.
The Enterprise embarks on a three-week training voyage. Kirk assumes command after the ship receives a distress call from Regula I. En route, the Enterprise is ambushed and crippled by the Reliant, leading to the deaths and injuries of many trainees. Khan hails the Enterprise and offers to spare Kirk’s crew if they relinquish all material related to Genesis. Kirk stalls for time and uses the Reliant’s prefix code to remotely lower its shields, allowing the Enterprise to counter-attack.
Khan is forced to retreat and effect repairs, while the Enterprise limps to Regula I. Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik beam to the station and find Terrell and Chekov alive, along with slaughtered members of Marcus’s team. They soon find Carol and David hiding deep inside the planetoid of Regula. Khan, having used Terrell and Chekov as spies, orders them to kill Kirk; Terrell resists the eel’s influence and kills himself while Chekov collapses as the eel leaves his body. Khan then transports Genesis aboard the Reliant.
Though Khan believes his foe stranded on Regula I, Kirk and Spock use a coded message to arrange a rendezvous. Kirk directs the Enterprise into the nearby Mutara Nebula; static discharges inside the nebula render shields useless and compromise targeting systems, making the Enterprise and the Reliant evenly matched. Spock notes that Khan’s tactics are two-dimensional, indicating inexperience in space combat, which Kirk then exploits to critically disable the Reliant.
Mortally wounded, Khan activates Genesis, which will reorganize all matter in the nebula, including the Enterprise. Though Kirk’s crew detects the activation of Genesis and attempts to move out of range, they will not be able to escape the nebula in time due to the ship’s damaged warp drive. Spock goes to the engine room to restore the warp drive. When McCoy tries to prevent Spock’s entry, as exposure to the high levels of radiation would be fatal, Spock incapacitates the doctor with a Vulcan nerve pinch and performs a mind meld, telling him to “remember”. Spock successfully restores power to the warp drive, and the Enterprise escapes the explosion. The explosion of Genesis causes the gas in the nebula to reform into a new planet, capable of sustaining life.
After being alerted by McCoy, Kirk arrives in the engine room. Before dying of radiation poisoning, Spock urges Kirk not to grieve, as his decision to sacrifice himself to save the ship’s crew is a logical one. A space burial is held in the Enterprise‘s torpedo room, and Spock’s coffin is shot into orbit around the new planet. The crew leaves to pick up the Reliant‘s marooned crew from Ceti Alpha V. Spock’s coffin soft-lands on the surface of the Genesis planet.
The Wrath of Khan‘s cast includes all the major characters from the original television series, as well as new actors and characters.
- William Shatner as James T. Kirk, a Starfleet Admiral and former commander of the Enterprise. Kirk and Khan never confront each other face-to-face during the film; all of their interactions are over a viewscreen or through communicators, and their scenes were filmed four months apart. Meyer described Shatner as an actor who was naturally protective of his character and himself, and who performed better over multiple takes.
- Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically enhanced superhuman who had used his strength and intellect to briefly rule much of Earth in the 1990s. Montalbán said that he believed all good villains do villainous things, but think that they are acting for the “right” reasons; in this way, Khan uses his anger at the death of his wife to justify his pursuit of Kirk. Contrary to speculation that Montalbán used a prosthetic chest, no artificial devices were added to Montalbán’s muscular physique. Montalbán enjoyed making the film, so much so that he played the role for much less than was offered him, and counted the role as a career highlight. His major complaint was that he was never face-to-face with Shatner for a scene. “I had to do my lines with the script girl, who, as you might imagine, sounded nothing like Bill [Shatner],” he explained. Bennett noted that the film was close to getting the green-light when it occurred to the producers that no one had asked Montalbán if he could take a break from filming television show Fantasy Island to take part.
- Leonard Nimoy as Spock, the captain of the Enterprise who relinquishes command to Kirk after Starfleet sends the ship to Regula I. Nimoy had not intended to have a role in The Motion Picture‘s sequel, but was enticed back on the promise that his character would be given a dramatic death scene. Nimoy reasoned that since The Wrath of Khan would be the final Star Trek film, having Spock “go out in a blaze of glory” seemed like a good way to end the character.
- DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy, the Enterprise‘s chief medical officer and a close friend of Kirk and Spock. Kelley was dissatisfied with an early version of the script to the point that he considered not taking part. Kelley noted his character spoke many of the film’s lighter lines, and felt that this role was essential in bringing a lighter side to the onscreen drama.
- James Doohan as Montgomery Scott, the Enterprise‘s chief engineer. Kelley felt that McCoy’s speaking his catchphrase “He’s dead, Jim” during Spock’s death scene would ruin the moment’s seriousness, so Doohan instead says the line “He’s dead already” to Kirk. Scott loses his young nephew following Khan’s attacks on the Enterprise. The cadet, played by Ike Eisenmann, had many of his lines cut from the original theatrical release, including a scene where it is explained he is Scott’s relative. These scenes were reintroduced when ABC aired The Wrath of Khan on television in 1985, and in the director’s edition, making Scott’s grief at the crewman’s death more understandable.
- George Takei as Hikaru Sulu, the helm officer of the Enterprise. Takei had not wanted to reprise his role for The Wrath of Khan, but Shatner persuaded him to return.
- Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov, the Reliant‘s first officer and a former Enterprise crewmember. During filming, Kelley noted that Chekov never met Khan in “Space Seed” (Koenig had not yet joined the cast), and thus Khan’s recognizing Chekov on Ceti Alpha did not make sense. Star Trek books have tried to rationalize this discrepancy; in the film’s novelization by Vonda N. McIntyre, Chekov is “an ensign assigned to the night watch” during “Space Seed” and met Khan in an off-screen scene. The non-canonical novel To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh fixes the error by having Chekov escort Khan to the surface of Ceti Alpha after the events of the television episode. The real cause of the error was a simple oversight by the filmmakers. Meyer defended the mistake by noting that Arthur Conan Doyle made similar oversights in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Chekov’s screaming while being infested by the Ceti eel lead Koenig to jokingly dub the film Star Trek II: Chekov Screams Again, in reference to a similar screaming scene in The Motion Picture.
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, the Enterprise‘s communications officer. Nichols and Gene Roddenberry took issue with elements of the film, including the naval references and militaristic uniforms. Nichols also defended Roddenberry when the producers believed he was the source of script leaks.
- Bibi Besch as Carol Marcus, the lead scientist working on Project Genesis, and the mother of Kirk’s son. Meyer was looking for an actress who looked beautiful enough that it was plausible a womanizer such as Kirk would fall for her, yet who could also project a sense of intelligence.
- Merritt Butrick as David Marcus, a Project Genesis scientist and Kirk’s son. Meyer liked that Butrick’s hair was blond like Besch’s and curly like Shatner’s, making him a plausible son of the two.
- Paul Winfield as Clark Terrell, the captain of the Reliant. Meyer had seen Winfield’s work in films such as Sounder and thought highly of him; there was no reason for casting him as the Reliant‘s captain other than Meyer’s desire to direct him. Meyer thought in retrospect that the Ceti eel scenes might have been corny, but felt that Winfield’s performance helped add gravity.
- Kirstie Alley as Saavik, Spock’s protege and a Starfleet commander-in-training aboard the Enterprise. Serving on board as the navigator in Chekov’s absence, she has a strong habit of questioning Kirk’s eccentric heroic methods, preferring a more by-the-book approach. Constantly quoting rules and regulations to Kirk, she is actually vindicated during the battle with Khan, and her manner provides Spock with the idea for how to talk in code to Kirk down at the science lab. When Kirk and McCoy intend to beam down to the science lab, she insists on going with them on the pretext of protecting Kirk. The movie was Alley’s first feature film role. Saavik cries during Spock’s funeral. Meyer said that during filming someone asked him, “‘Are you going to let her do that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah’, and they said, ‘But Vulcans don’t cry,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s what makes this such an interesting Vulcan.'” The character’s emotional outbursts can be partly explained by the fact that Saavik was described as of mixed Vulcan-Romulan heritage in the script, though no indication is given on film. Alley was so fond of her Vulcan ears that she would take them home with her at the end of each day.
After the release of The Motion Picture, executive producer Gene Roddenberry wrote his own sequel. In his plot, the crew of the Enterprise travel back in time to set right a corrupted time line after Klingons use the Guardian of Forever to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This was rejected by Paramount executives, who blamed the poor performance and large budget ($46 million) of the first film on its plodding pace and the constant rewrites Roddenberry demanded. As a consequence, Roddenberry was removed from the production and, according to Shatner, “kicked upstairs” to the ceremonial position of executive consultant. Harve Bennett, a new Paramount television producer, was made producer for the next Star Trek film. According to Bennett, he was called in front of a group including Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner and asked if he thought he could make a better film than The Motion Picture, which Bennett confessed he found “really boring”. When Bennett replied in the affirmative, Charles Bluhdorn asked, “Can you make it for less than forty-five-fucking-million-dollars?” Bennett replied that “Where I come from, I can make five movies for that.”
Bennett realized he faced a serious challenge in developing the new Star Trek film, partly due to his never having seen the television series. To compensate, Bennett watched all the original episodes. This immersion convinced Bennett that what the first picture lacked was a real villain; after seeing the episode “Space Seed“, he decided that the character of Khan Noonien Singh was the perfect enemy for the new film. Before the script was settled upon, Bennett gathered his production staff. He selected Robert Sallin, a director of television commercials and a college friend, to produce the film. Sallin’s job would be to produce Star Trek II quickly and cheaply. Bennett also hired Michael Minor as art director to shape the direction of the film.
Bennett wrote his first film treatment in November 1980. In his version, entitled The War of the Generations, Kirk investigates a rebellion on a distant world and discovers that his son is the leader of the rebels. Khan is the mastermind behind the plot, and Kirk and son join forces to defeat the tyrant. Bennett then hired Jack B. Sowards, an avid Star Trek fan, to turn his outline into a film-able script. Sowards wrote an initial script before a writer’s strike in 1981. Sowards’ draft, The Omega Syndrome, involved the theft of the Federation’s ultimate weapon, the “Omega system”. Sowards was concerned that his weapon was too negative, and Bennett wanted something more uplifting “and as fundamental in the 23rd century as recombinant DNA is in our time”, Minor recalled. Minor suggested to Bennett that the device be turned into a terraforming tool instead. At the story conference the next day, Bennett hugged Minor and declared that he had saved Star Trek. In recognition of the Biblical power of the weapon, Sowards renamed the “Omega system” to the “Genesis Device”.
By April 1981, Sowards had produced a draft that moved Spock’s death to later in the story, because of fan dissatisfaction to the event after the script was leaked. Spock had originally died in the first act, in a shocking demise that Bennett compared to Janet Leigh‘s early death in Psycho. This draft had a twelve-page face-to-face confrontation between Kirk and Khan. Sowards’ draft also introduced a male character named Saavik. As pre-production began, Samuel A. Peeples, writer of the Star Trek episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before“, was invited to offer his own script. Peeples’ draft replaced Khan with two new villains named Sojin and Moray; the alien beings are so powerful they almost destroy Earth by mistake. This script was considered inadequate; the aliens resembled too closely the villains on a typical TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series) episode. Deadlines loomed for special effects production to begin (which required detailed storyboards based on a completed script), and by this point there was no finished script to use.
Karen Moore, a Paramount executive, suggested to Bennett that Nicholas Meyer, writer of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and director of Time After Time, could help resolve the screenplay issues. Meyer had also never seen an episode of Star Trek. He had the idea of making a list consisting of everything that the creative team had liked from the preceding drafts—”it could be a character, it could be a scene, it could be a plot, it could be a subplot, […] it could be a line of dialogue”—so that he could use that list as the basis of a new screenplay made from all the best aspects of the previous ones. To offset fan expectation that Spock would die, Meyer had the character “killed” in the Kobayashi Maru simulator in the opening scene. The effects company required a completed script in just 12 days. Meyer wrote the screenplay uncredited and for no pay before the deadline, surprising the actors and producers, and rapidly produced subsequent rewrites as necessary. One draft, for example, had a baby in Khan’s group, who is killed with the others in the Genesis detonation.
Meyer later said:-
The chief contribution I brought to Star Trek II was a healthy disrespect … Star Trek was human allegory in a space format. That was both its strength and, ultimately, its weakness. I tried through irreverence to make them more human and a little less wooden. I didn’t insist that Captain Kirk go to the bathroom, but did Star Trek have to be so sanctified?
Meyer described his script as “‘Hornblower’ in outer space”, utilizing nautical references and a swashbuckling atmosphere. (Hornblower was an inspiration to Roddenberry and Shatner when making the show, although Meyer was unaware of this.) Sallin was impressed with Meyer’s vision for the film: “His ideas brought dimension that broadened the scope of the material as we were working on it.” Gene Roddenberry disagreed with the script’s naval texture and Khan’s Captain Ahab undertones, but was mostly ignored by the creative team.
As a gesture of good faith, Paramount changed the film’s title from its original working title, The Vengeance of Khan, as it was too close to the working title for Lucasfilm‘s upcoming Star Wars film. However, as soon as the name change was made, Lucasfilm also changed their Revenge of the Jedi title to Return of the Jedi, justifying the change by claiming that the Jedi did not seek revenge, only the Sith. An even earlier working title for the Trek film was The Undiscovered Country, a title which would eventually be used for the sixth film of the franchise.
Meyer attempted to change the look of Star Trek to match the nautical atmosphere he envisioned and stay within budget. The Enterprise, for example, was given a ship’s bell, boatswain’s call, and more blinking lights and signage. To save money on set design, production designer Joseph Jennings used existing elements from The Motion Picture that had been left standing after filming was completed. Sixty-five percent of the film was shot on the same set; the bridge of the Reliant and the “bridge simulator” from the opening scene were redresses of the Enterprise‘s bridge. The Klingon bridge from The Motion Picture was redressed as the transporter and torpedo rooms. The filmmakers stretched The Wrath of Khan‘s budget by reusing models and footage from the first Star Trek film, including footage of the Enterprise in spacedock. The original ship miniatures were used where possible, or modified to stand in as new constructions. The orbital office complex from The Motion Picture was inverted and retouched to become the Regula I space station. Elements of the cancelled Star Trek: Phase II television show, such as bulkheads, railings, and sets, were cannibalized and reused. A major concern for the designers was that the Reliant should be easily distinguishable from the Enterprise. The ship’s design was flipped after Bennett accidentally opened and approved the preliminary Reliant designs upside-down.
Designer Robert Fletcher was brought in to redesign existing costumes and create new ones. Fletcher decided on a scheme of “corrupt colors”, using materials with colors slightly off from the pure color. “They’re not colors you see today, so in a subtle way their [sic] indicate another time.” Meyer did not like the Starfleet uniforms from either the television series or The Motion Picture and wanted them changed, but for budgetary reasons they could not be discarded entirely. Dye tests of the fabric showed that the old uniforms took three colors well: blue-gray, gold, and dark red. Fletcher decided to use the dark red due to the strong contrast it provided with the background. The resulting naval-inspired designs would be used in Star Trek films until First Contact (1996). The first versions of the uniforms had stiff black collars, but Sallin suggested changing it to a turtleneck, using a form of vertical quilting called trapunto. The method creates a bas-relief effect to the material by stuffing the outlined areas with soft thread shot via air pressure through a hollow needle. By the time of The Wrath of Khan‘s production, the machines and needles needed to produce trapunto were rare, and Fletcher was only able to find one needle for the wardrobe department. The crew was so worried about losing or breaking the needle that one of the department’s workers took it home with him as a security measure, leading Fletcher to think it had been stolen.
For Khan and his followers, Fletcher created a strong contrast with the highly organized Starfleet uniforms; his idea was that the exiles’ costumes were made out of whatever they could find. Fletcher said, “My intention with Khan was to express the fact that they had been marooned on that planet with no technical infrastructure, so they had to cannibalize from the spaceship whatever they used or wore. Therefore, I tried to make it look as if they had dressed themselves out of pieces of upholstery and electrical equipment that composed the ship.” Khan’s costume was designed with an open chest to show Ricardo Montalbán’s physique. Fletcher also designed smocks for the Regula I scientists, and civilian clothes for Kirk and McCoy that were designed to look practical and comfortable.
Meyer had a “No Smoking” sign added to the Enterprise‘s bridge, which he recalled “Everyone had a fit over […] I said ‘Why have they stopped smoking in the future? They’ve been smoking for four hundred years, you think it’s going to stop in the next two?” The sign appeared in the first shot of the film, but was removed for all others appearing in the final cut of the film.
Principal photography began on November 9, 1981, and ended on January 29, 1982. The Wrath of Khan was more action-oriented than its predecessor, but less costly to make. The project was supervised by Paramount’s television unit rather than its theatrical division. Bennett, a respected television veteran, made The Wrath of Khan on a budget of $11 million—far less than The Motion Picture‘s $46 million. The budget was initially lower at $8.5 million, but it rose when the producers were impressed by the first two weeks of footage.
Meyer used camera and set tricks to spare the construction of large and expensive sets. For a scene taking place at Starfleet Academy, a forced perspective was created by placing scenery close to the camera to give the sense the set was larger than it really was. To present the illusion that the Enterprise‘s elevators moved between decks, corridor pieces were wheeled out of sight to change the hall configuration while the lift doors were closed. Background equipment such as computer terminals were rented when possible instead of purchased outright. Some designed props, such as a redesigned phaser and communicator, were vetoed by Paramount executives in favor of existing materials from The Motion Picture.
The Enterprise was refurbished for its space shots, with its shiny exterior dulled down and extra detail added to the frame. Compared to the newly built Reliant, the Enterprise was hated by the effects artists and cameramen; it took eight people to mount the model, and a forklift truck to move it. The Reliant, meanwhile, was lighter and had less complex internal wiring. The ships were filmed on a blue screen with special film that does not register the color blue; the resulting shots could be added to effects shots or other footage. Any reflection of blue on the ship’s hull would appear as a hole on the film; the gaps had to be patched frame by frame for the final film. The same camera used to film Star Wars, the Dykstraflex, was used for shots of the Enterprise and other ships.
Spock’s death was shot over three days, during which no visitors were allowed on set. Spock’s death was to be irrevocable, but Nimoy had such a positive experience during filming that he asked if he could add a way for Spock to return in a later film. The mind meld sequence was initially filmed without Kelley’s prior knowledge of what was going on.
Shatner disagreed with having a clear glass separation between Spock and Kirk during the death scene; he instead wanted a translucent divider allowing viewers to see only Spock’s silhouette, but his objection was overruled. During Spock’s funeral sequence Meyer wanted the camera to track the torpedo that served as Spock’s coffin as it was placed in a long trough and slid into the launcher. The camera crew thought the entire set would have to be rebuilt to accommodate the shot, but Sallin suggested putting a dolly into the trough and controlling it from above with an offset arm. Scott’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes was James Doohan‘s idea.
Spock’s death in the film was widely reported during production. “Trekkies” wrote letters to protest, one paid for trade press advertisements urging Paramount to change the plot, and Nimoy even received death threats. Test audiences reacted badly to Spock’s death and the film’s ending’s dark tone, so it was made more uplifting by Bennett. The scene of Spock’s casket on the planet and Nimoy’s closing monologue were added; Meyer objected, but did not stand in the way of the modifications. Nimoy did not know about the scene until he saw the film, but before it opened, the media reassured fans that “Spock will live” again. Due to time constraints, the casket scene was filmed in an overgrown corner of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, using smoke machines to add a primal atmosphere. The shoot lasted from midday to evening, as the team was well aware there would be no time for reshoots.
Special consideration was given during filming to allow for integration of the planned special effects. Television monitors standing in for computer displays were specially calibrated so that their refresh rate did not result in banding on film. Due to a loss of resolution and quality resulting from rephotographing an element in an optical printer, live action sequences for effects were shot in 65mm or VistaVision formats to compensate. When the larger prints were reduced through an anamorphic lens on the printer, the result was a Panavision composite.
The Wrath of Khan was one of the first films to extensively use electronic images and computer graphics to speed production of shots. Computer graphics company Evans & Sutherland produced the vector graphics displays aboard the Enterprise and the fields of stars used in the opening credits. Among ILM’s technical achievements was cinema’s first entirely computer-generated sequence: the demonstration of the effects of the Genesis Device on a barren planet. The first concept for the shot took the form of a laboratory demonstration, where a rock would be placed in a chamber and turned into a flower.
Veilleux suggested the sequence’s scope be expanded to show the Genesis effect taking over a planet. While Paramount appreciated the more dramatic presentation, they also wanted the simulation to be more impressive than traditional animation. Having seen research done by Lucasfilm’s Computer Graphics group, Veilleux offered them the task. Introducing the novel technique of particle systems for the sixty-second sequence, the graphics team also paid great attention to detail such as ensuring that the stars visible in the background matched those visible from a real star light-years from Earth. The animators hoped it would serve as a “commercial” for the studio’s talents. The studio would later branch off from Lucasfilm to form Pixar. The sequence would be reused in two sequels, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as well as in the unrelated LaserDisc-based stand-up video arcade game Astron Belt.
Jerry Goldsmith had composed the music for The Motion Picture, but was not an option for The Wrath of Khan given the reduced budget; Meyer’s composer for Time After Time, Miklós Rózsa, was likewise prohibitively expensive. Bennett and Meyer wanted the music for the film to go in a different direction, but had not decided on a composer by the time filming began. Meyer initially hoped to hire an associate named John Morgan, but Morgan lacked film experience, which would have troubled the studio.
The Wrath of Khan features several recurring themes, including death, resurrection, and growing old. Upon writing his script, Meyer hit upon a link between Spock’s death and the age of the characters. “This was going to be a story in which Spock died, so it was going to be a story about death, and it was only a short hop, skip, and a jump to realize that it was going to be about old age and friendship,” Meyer said. “I don’t think that any of [the other preliminary] scripts were about old age, friendship, and death.” In keeping with the theme of death and rebirth symbolized by Spock’s sacrifice and the Genesis Device, Meyer wanted to call the film The Undiscovered Country, in reference to Prince Hamlet‘s description of death in William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet, but the title was changed during editing without his knowledge. Meyer disliked Wrath of Khan, but it was chosen because the preferred Vengeance of Khan conflicted with Lucasfilm‘s forthcoming Revenge of the Jedi (renamed Return of the Jedi late in production).
The Wrath of Khan opened on June 4, 1982 in 1,621 theaters in the United States. It made $14,347,221 in its opening weekend, at the time the largest opening weekend gross in history. It went on to earn $78,912,963 in the US, becoming the sixth highest-grossing film of 1982. It made $97,000,000 worldwide. Although the total gross of The Wrath of Khan was less than that of The Motion Picture, it was more profitable due to its lower production cost. The film’s novelization, written by Vonda N. McIntyre, stayed on the New York Times paperback bestsellers list for more than three weeks. Unlike the previous film, Wrath of Khan was not promoted with a toy line, although Playmates Toys created Khan and Saavik figures in the 1990s, and in 2007 Art Asylum crafted a full series of action figures to mark the film’s 25th anniversary. In 2009 IDW Publishing released a comic adaptation of the film, and Film Score Monthly released an expanded score.
Critical response was positive. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of 52 critics have given the film a positive review, recording an average score of 8/10. After the lukewarm reaction to the first film, fan response to The Wrath of Khan was highly positive. The film’s success was credited with renewing interest in the franchise. Mark Bernardin of Entertainment Weekly went further, calling The Wrath of Khan “the film that, by most accounts, saved Star Trek as we know it”; it is now considered one of the best films in the series. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called the film “wonderful dumb fun.” Gene Siskel gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, calling it “a flat-out winner, full of appealing characters in enganging relationships in a futuristic film that has a delightfully old-fashioned sense of majesty about its characters and the predicaments they get into.”
Paramount released The Wrath of Khan on RCA CED Videodisc in 1982, for 24.95 & VHS and Beta in 1983. The studio sold the VHS for $39.95, $40 below contemporary movie cassette prices. It needed to sell 60,000 tapes to make the film as profitable as other tapes, but sold 120,000. The successful experiment was credited with instigating more competitive VHS pricing, an increase in the adoption of increasingly cheaper VHS players, and an industry-wide move away from rentals to sales as the bulk of videotape revenue.