Ricardo Montalban is no longer with us, but his coruscating performance as Khan Noonien Singh in The Wrath of Khan ensures he will live on.
Let’s not forget that when WoK was being made, Star Trek was on its last legs – the series had been off air for more than a decade, the first film (rushed out on the back of Star Wars) was boring – Trek was in danger of becoming yesterday’s news.
Thankfully, miraculously, everything came together to make a truly magnificent film which is still a touchstone for any sequal today, and any Star Trek film.
First, in came producer Harve Bennett to get the franchise back on track, then director Nicholas Meyer wrote a script out of countless drafts that was genius – the Kobayashi Maru, the death of Spock, Genesis – everything worked.
But they needed a ballsy villain, and when Bennett rewatched every episode of Star Trek, one man stood out.
Khan first appeared in the episode Space Seed, where he is woken from suspended animation and tries to take over the Enterprise. Kirk eventually leaves him on a planet where he and his followers have the chance to start again. It ends with Kirk saying ‘It would be interesting to return in twenty years or so to see what has sprouted from the space seed we planted on Ceti Alpha VI.’
In WoK, the planet has becomes a wasteland after another planet exploded, leaving Khan consumed with the desire for vengeance against Kirk.
Montalban brought incredible passion and fire to the role, but also intelligence, creating an all too believable and charismatic monster – Captain Ahab chasing his white whale.
Given such a force to work against, Shatner was driven to some of his best work, as was everyone else.
I watched the fiilm again only a few weeks ago, and the result is still lightning in a bottle, movie magic. Without Khan, none of that would have been possible and neither would everything that happened after that – the rest of the films, the Next Generation, DS9 and so on.
So farewell Khan Noonien Singh, and thank you.
And I would add he’s really not dead … as long as we remember him. He will be remembered.