Star Trek: Nicholas Meyer on Clash over Spock's Wrath of Khan Death

If Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had his way, we might not have gotten one of cinema's greatest trilogies that started with The Wrath of Khan. Director Nicholas Meyer, who was a creative force in The Original Series films, drew from multiple sources of inspiration for the vengeance-driven film. Khan has been a source of relevance as of late given the current Paramount+ series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with his ancestor La'an as the current Enterprise security chief and played by Christina Chong, trying her best to hide her lineage from her peers since Starfleet's ban on genetically-enhanced beings. Meyer opened up about his experience with the 1982 classic with its origins rooted in TOS season one episode "Space Seed".

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Ricardo Montalbán in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

"A few months after producer Harve Bennett brought me on as director, I learned the whole project was about to go belly up," Meyer told the Boston Globe. "We had five discrete and unrelated failed scripts, and George Lucas's effects company needed to begin work in less than two weeks. So, too naïve and desperate to know better, I asked Harve to have the scripts loaded on a truck and delivered to my house. I plowed through them, and over 12 days of breakneck delirium, I culled the best elements and frantically rearranged them like a Rubik's Cube. And by some miracle, I emerged — bonkers — but with a workable script."

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Christina Chong in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek: The Original Series. Images courtesy of Marni Grossman / Paramount+ & Paramount

The biggest theme is the willingness of the main character Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) accepting the possibility of the no-win scenario and how success can come at great sacrifice from Spock (Leonard Nimoy). While the ending showed the Enterprise firing his casket into space, the following 1984 sequel in The Search for Spock would bring the character back at the behest of Paramount. "I thought then that canceling Spock's death was an unmitigated disaster," Meyer recalled. "For one thing, it was driven only by crass commercial considerations. But beyond that, it was a dry hustle of people's emotions, to wring the tears out of them — and test audiences literally sobbed at Spock's death — and then say, 'Forget it, folks, just yankin' your chain.'" Furious at being steamrolled, Meyer refused to direct the post-production additional shots at a botanical museum.

Star Trek: Nicholas Meyer on Clash over Spock's Wrath of Khan Death
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Roddenberry fervently believed in Star Trek presenting an "optimistic future for humanity" devoid of militarism in a memo sent to Bennett. "Gene believed in the perfectability of humans," Meyer said. "And I've just never seen a shred of evidence for it. Human civilizations undercut their progress. We burn up our resources, launch wars of aggression, sell out the future for a quick buck. Yeah, mine is kind of a depressing worldview. Later on, in 'Star Trek VI,' I portrayed racial prejudice as baked into the Federation ethos. That really got under Gene's skin, and I regret he was so upset by it, but in the end, I felt his idealism just didn't hew to reality." Despite being out of the Star Trek creative loop for some time, Meyer is still interested in expanding current canon in a Khan prequel series even as he still awaits to hear from executive producer Alex Kurtzman. For more, you can check out the whole interview here.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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