This year, 2022, marks the 40th anniversary of the release of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That was the follow-up to the successful but financially draining “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” released in the last few days of 1979.
In a way, “The Wrath of Khan” was a soft reboot for a franchise that had just returned from the dead. Nearly everything was different in “Khan” compared to “The Motion Picture.” From the uniforms to the bridge of the Enterprise, the crew, the situations, and especially the film’s tone — “Khan” was a complete shift in focus for “Star Trek.”
Looking back, most fans agree that “The Wrath of Khan” is the best (or arguably among the best) “Star Trek” films that have been made thus far. But in 1982, even Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wasn’t happy about his franchise’s action-oriented direction. Some think he was behind the leak of the film’s big surprise, which was the death of Spock.
‘The Wrath of Khan’
Legend has it that before “The Wrath of Khan” began production, executive producer Harve Bennett watched all 79 episodes of “The Original Series” to find something worthy of a Paramount Pictures feature film.
“He was a remarkable man, and he was unpretentious and self-effacing,” director Nicholas Meyer told Deadline in 2015. “I don’t think there would be a ‘Star Trek’ franchise without him. He rescued it. He watched all 79 of those original episodes, and he was the one who plucked out Khan.”
No one can argue with Bennett’s decision to make Khan the focal point of the second “Star Trek” feature film. Especially after realizing that many of the movies in the series were concerned with an unknown phenomenon headed toward Earth or another populated planet, which the Enterprise needed to stop. That included “The Motion Picture” with V’Ger, “The Voyage Home” with the Whale Probe, and “Generations” with the Nexus Wave.
But what if Bennett had chosen something different? Plenty of villains wanted personal revenge on Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) or against the Federation in general. Presented here are a few other options which could have made compelling stories instead of using Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban).
In the final episode of “The Original Series,” Kirk faced someone from his past who nearly defeated him. Like Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), this person could have made the captain squirm, and since she almost beat him once, she could have done it in a feature film as well. In the episode “Turnabout Intruder,” Dr. Janice Lester (Sandra Smith) used a device to switch identities with Kirk and take over the Enterprise. Her plan failed because Spock used a mind-meld to figure out that Kirk was not who he seemed.
Certainly, someone who tricked Kirk once could have done it again. At the end of the episode, Dr. Lester was in tears after being caught. According to Memory Alpha, she was eventually relocated to the planet Elba II for treatment. But, as the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Dr. Lester could have also been a worthy opponent for Kirk in the movies.
‘Requiem for Methuselah’
In the episode “Requiem for Methuselah,” Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beamed down to a planet in search of a cure for a disease ravaging the crew of the Enterprise. Instead of finding a barren world, the trio found an immortal being from Earth. He called himself Flint (James Daly), but they soon realized that this being was over 6,000 years old. While on the planet, Kirk fell in love with a woman named Rayna (Louise Sorel), who turned out to be an android. As Kirk and Flint fought over Rayna, the android died. Flint let the Enterprise leave after Kirk, Spock, and McCoy swore they’d never reveal to anyone his existence.
Like Khan or Gary Lockwood, the superhuman Flint was a good match for Kirk. Flint might have lost his mind after the death of Rayna and pursued Kirk on a mission of revenge. Interestingly, Spock used his psionic powers to make Kirk “forget,” in nearly the same way he asked McCoy to “remember” at the end of “Wrath of Khan.”
‘The Savage Curtain’
In “The Savage Curtain,” Kirk and Spock joined forces with two revered figures — Abraham Lincoln (Lee Bergere) and the “Jesus Christ” of Vulcan, Surak (Barry Atwater). The four battled an assembled team of bad guys as part of a game of understanding for the powerful Excalbian alien race.
The Enterprise was eventually freed from danger, and Kirk and Spock survived the challenge. The rock-like Excalbian could have been a good villain for a film; in a way, it very nearly was. In his role as director of “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” Shatner planned to use rock monsters in the final portion of the movie. These “Rockmen” were not unlike the Excalbian that Kirk faced in “The Savage Curtain.”