What if Spock Stayed Dead after ‘The Wrath of Khan’?

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner

Paramount Pictures Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner in a scene from 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.'

It’s a logical question, asked by many fans. After the Spock died in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” what would “Star Trek” have been like if the beloved half-Human/half-Vulcan had stayed dead? Everyone fan in the galaxy knows that he didn’t. Leonard Nimoy returned in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” which he directed. He then, according to Memory Alpha, reprised the character in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” which he also directed, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Star Trek (2009), and, finally, “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

It’s important to separate the behind-the-scenes “Wrath of Khan” machinations that resulted in Spock’s demise or the “Remember” bit of katra-shifting that left the door open to Spock’s return if Nimoy chose to come back. This is a look at what might have happened if “Star Trek” remained Spock-less after the events of “The Wrath of Khan.”

What if All of ‘Star Trek III’ Happened in 20 Minutes? 

Robin Curtis and Leonard Nimoy

Paramount PicturesLeonard Nimoy directs Robin Curtis on the set of ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.’

First, though, let’s consider a slightly different What if? scenario. We’re going to go against the grain and argue that “The Search for Spock” as a movie fell somewhere between decent and good. Spock needed to be resurrected and Nimoy was directing his first feature, so Nimoy, the producers, screenwriters, and Paramount all agreed to devote a whole film to bringing Spock back to life. As a result, fans got the Genesis Planet, several actors playing young versions of a rapidly aging Spock, and a chunk of Nimoy as Spock serving as the payoff near the end of the movie.

It’s been said that “Search for Spock” had to happen in order for everything else that followed for the “TOS” cast. Maybe, but maybe not. Pretty much the entire business of finding Spock’s photon torpedo tube, aging Spock, having him experience pon farr, getting his katra restored, and engaging in the beautiful scene in which he says to Kirk, “Jim… Your name is Jim,” could have been condensed into 20 to 30 minutes, with the next hour or so devoted to a full-on adventure. As pivotal as “The Search for Spock” is, it feels like a placeholder for something bigger. Re-Spock-ifying Nimoy-Spock sooner and boldly going somewhere else might have been more… entertaining.

What if Nimoy Didn’t Return as Spock after ‘Star Trek II”?

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What, though, if Nimoy declined to return.. ever? Chances are they’d not have made “The Search for Spock.” Why search for what can’t be found? “Star Trek IV,” “V,” and “VI” would have been so different on so many levels, and that’s assuming “III” would have justified “IV” and “IV” justified “V” and “V” justified “VI.” If one of them had bombed at the box office, the night one might not have happened. “IV” is a total lark, but it’s got Nimoy’s fingerprints all over it. He helped develop the story, he directed it, and he’s got some great Spock moments, from the “How do you feel?” scene to his interaction with the Punk on the Bus to his swimming with the whales. Remove Nimoy-Spock and “Star Trek IV” is not “Star Trek IV.”

William Shatner assumed the directing reins on “Star Trek V,” and Kirk stood front and center for much of it, but the scenes that work best involved Spock: Kirk’s interaction with his old friend while scaling a mountain, the campfire scene with Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Spock, and even the not-entirely-convincing scenes with Spock’s half-brother, Sybok. Cut to “Star Trek VI.” Nimoy played a huge role in the project, according to the Internet Movie Database, as he developed the story and executive produced the film, and once again played Spock. Further, to help promote “The Undiscovered Country,” he appeared as Spock in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes “Unification, I and II.” If Spock had stayed dead, those episodes surely never would have happened.

And the extrapolations continue. The J.J. Abrams trilogy of “Star Trek” feature films introduced the Kelvin timeline, according to Memory Alpha, which enabled Zachary Quinto to step into the role. This still could have happened even if Nimoy hadn’t returned in “Search for Spock,” but Abrams made Nimoy very much a part of the process, giving the original Spock actor what he called, in an interview with Trek Movie, “consultation rights” about the casting of the new Spock. And, Nimoy played Prime Spock, coming face to face with Quinto and the younger actor’s Spock in “Star Trek (2009)” and returning for a viewscreen cameo in “Star Trek Beyond.”

Nimoy’s Final Tweet

Even after Nimoy died in 2015, he continued to pop up as Spock. The character’s death was acknowledged in “Star Trek Beyond,” and Quinto’s Spock takes possession of a photo of the Prime Enterprise crew that belonged to Nimoy’s Spock. Plus, “Star Trek Beyond” was dedicated to Nimoy’s memory — and that of Anton Yelchin. Further, according to Memory Alpha, the “Star Trek: Discovery” episodes “If Memory Serves” and “Unification III” included archival footage of Nimoy as Spock, with the former borrowing scenes from the first “TOS” pilot, “The Cage,” and the latter using moments from his “TNG” appearances. And, most recently, the animated series “Star Trek: Prodigy” introduced a holographic version of Spock and used snippets of Nimoy’s voice, according to Memory Alpha, from several episodes of “TOS,” as well as “The Wrath of Khan,” and the “TNG” episode, “Unification, Part II.”

Again, had Nimoy actually left Spock behind after “The Wrath of Khan,” most of the above never would have happened. Would another actor have played a new character who filled Nimoy’s ears? Possibly. Might Paramount have recast Nimoy with another actor? Not impossible. Is it conceivable that post-“Wrath of Khan” movies without Nimoy could have tanked, leading to the demise of the franchise? It is conceivable. And is it in the realm of possibility that even if the franchise bottomed out if he’d left, it could have been resurrected sooner with a new Kirk, Spock, and crew? That’s a logical assumption.

The reality is that Nimoy returned for “The Search for Spock,” and everything that’s occurred since occurred as it did. If he hadn’t, odds are you wouldn’t be reading this article right now.

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