Making Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
One of the things Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan always gets praised for is how it was done largely by people who had never done anything with Star Trek before.
After critics had underrated Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Harve Bennett was brought on board by Paramount, and the studio reacted by “promoting” Gene Roddenberry to an Executive Consultant position that would essentially get him out of the way of the second film’s development.
One can understand Roddenberry’s resentment. After all, Star Trek was his kid, and after being divorced by the kid’s “mom” (i.e., Paramount), “step-dad” Bennett was brought in and was now being praised for bringing up the kid even better than its “real father” did.
Bennett and co-writer Jack B. Sowards proceeded to come up with several ideas that would make their way into the film, such as Kirk’s son, the return of Khan, the character of Saavik, and the Omega Device (later renamed “Genesis”). After no less than five attempts to come up with a satisfactory story for the film, however, Bennett was beginning to despair that he would not be able to come up with a good story himself nor find anyone who could. Being a humble man, Bennett searched high and low for someone who could bring his and Sowards’ ideas into a cohesive narrative. He caught a break when a friend of his recommended a man by the name of Nicholas Meyer.
Bennett became excited. He had seen and loved The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (for which Meyer had written the screenplay based on his own novel) and was quick to recruit the young and talented author/director. Bennett did exactly what a good leader should do; he hired the very best people possible and let them do great work. Meyer not only got all of Bennett and Sowards’ ideas woven into a great narrative (borrowing heavily from Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, and A Tale of Two Cities), but he did so in only twelve days and without any modifications to his contract that would get him a much-deserved writing credit.
Meyer was only the beginning of assembling the team that would assemble this film. Although one of the runners-up for the Saavik role was actress Kim Cattrall, Kirstie Alley was eventually cast for that part instead. And in addition to all the other Star Trek regular actors, Bennett achieved a couple of major coups in the casting process.
The first was Ricardo Montalban, to reprise what Bennett thought was the greatest villain in the original series: Khan. The second… the beloved Vulcan actor Leonard Nimoy, who after a falling out with Paramount and Roddenberry (over a Heineken billboard, of all things!), was frankly not interested in doing anything more with Star Trek. Bennett was able to entice him into coming back with something almost irresistible to Nimoy… a spectacular death for Spock.
Believing that the Star Trek franchise was running out of steam after the critical reaction to the first film, Nimoy responded to Bennett’s respect for him and thought that ending his tenure as this iconic character, and Star Trek in general, with a blaze of glory, was the way to go. He agreed to appear in the film and gave it his all.
After experiencing and acting out these strong character dynamics, Nimoy was starting to have second thoughts about leaving the franchise. Here was a film that offered the character banter that he was craving to play again but never expected that he would. And the film’s themes of death and rebirth had shown that this wasn’t the end of Star Trek at all. In fact… this was shaping up to be a new beginning. So, Bennett made the decision to leave the door open for Spock’s possible return, ensuring that the franchise’s future would indeed be a bright one. However, any scenes in the film implying that Spock may return were done against Meyer’s wishes.
There was some question as to who would compose the film’s musical score, since Jerry Goldsmith, who had scored The Motion Picture, was not available (or not affordable, given the minuscule budget of this film). Director Meyer found the answer in a young composer named James Horner, who was working his way up from B-movie fare such as Battle Beyond the Stars.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was eventually released on 4 June 1982.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.