Would Khan be right for JJ Abrams’ Star Trek sequel?

As rumours persist that Khan will be reintroduced as Kirk’s nemesis in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek sequel, James wonders, is it right to bring him back…?

It’s a testament to the success of JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot that instead of rushing out a sequel as quickly as possible, as Marvel Studios did with Iron Man 2, Paramount preferred to give Abrams the time he needed to get it right.

The man himself was cautious, insisting on getting the right script before development began, and it’s only in the last few weeks that we’ve had concrete confirmations that next year will see shooting begin on the film that everyone (including Den of Geek) is reluctant to call Star Trek II.

There’s a good reason for that reluctance, of course: we’ve already had a Star Trek II. Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is widely held to be the best Trek film, having produced, in Khan Noonien Singh, the most formidable villain ever to face James T Kirk. For the franchise’s fans, it’s practically hallowed ground. Its status means that many Trekkers are wary about its position being usurped, even numerically.

Still, the Abrams films take place in a fresh continuity, and everything old can be made new again. The idea of a ‘second’ Star Trek film can’t fail to suggest Khan, re-cast and re-imagined for the 21st century. Considering how completely Abrams’ Star Trek dazzled viewers in its freshman outing (a relatively straightforward origin story), the idea of the same magic being applied to the classic Kirk/Khan match-up is too seductive to ignore. Even Abrams himself refused to rule out the idea.

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But let’s stop and think for a moment. Would Khan actually be a good choice of villain for this ‘new’ Captain Kirk and his hastily-assembled crew?

After careful consideration, we’re going to say no, it wouldn’t.

Straight out of the gate, there’s a problem with the logic so immediately visible that even Bones could accept it: remaking a film as revered and beloved as Star Trek II practically invites negative comparisons. It can’t get away with simply being good; it would have to be utterly outstanding just to keep up. Even then, a sizeable proportion of fandom will hate it simply for not giving them the same thrills as the original, never mind the 30 years they’ve matured since. As remake upon remake has repeatedly found, you can’t take on nostalgia. Why waste your time trying?

But let’s assume that it’s wasn’t a remake, and that Abrams was merely planning to re-use the character of Khan, a super-soldier with a personal grudge against Kirk, in a new plot or situation. Would he be a good choice then?

Again, not really.

The current incarnation of James T Kirk is both younger and greener than the original, forced into service prematurely by Romulans meddling in the timeline. As an opponent, Khan would be a poor fit for the younger captain. In Star Trek II, the dynamic worked because both men were strategists and leaders at the peak of their abilities, with a lifetime of victories and honour at stake. Chris Pine’s Kirk, while not without his charms, fails to command such gravitas.

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There’s also the issue of the characters’ shared past. Meyer reportedly watched every episode of the original Star Trek series to find a villain worthy of a second meeting with the crew of the Enterprise. He eventually settled on Khan, the villain from the first season episode Space Seed, as a character with a debt to settle. This provided the starting point for Star Trek II’s narrative and themes. The current crew lack that history.

That’s not to say you couldn’t establish a rivalry, but any use of Khan would have to introduce the character and set up a conflict without the audience being able to draw on past adventures as a reference point. It’s not just that they haven’t faced Khan before – it’s that we’ve only seen them have one adventure at all. Sure, there is an IDW comic series adapting the original stories into the new continuity, but how many viewers will be aware such adaptations exist, let alone actually read them? There’s no suspense in the idea that maybe Kirk and his crew have met their match, because they’ve yet to test themselves against anyone but Nero, the villain of Abrams’ original film.

And, of course, there’s one other good reason not to use Khan as the film’s villain: there are still better ones to choose from. Picture this: impressive facial hair. A roaring voice. An oversized forehead. Remind you of anyone?

No, we’re not talking about Harry Mudd. We’re talking about Klingons. As fun as the Romulans (yawn) are, Star Trek without Klingons isn’t Star Trek at all. Anyone who owns the DVD of Abrams’ Star Trek movie will know that he filmed a cameo for the classic Trek antagonists that ended up on the cutting room floor. Is this because he wanted to save their big introduction for the sequel, which necessarily demands higher stakes and bigger thrills? Almost certainly.

After all, what could be more thrilling than seeing the Klingons given the same laser-sharp focus as the rest of Abrams’ Trek universe? Particularly if he takes the opportunity to create an iconic (and potentially recurring) Klingon adversary for Kirk. It’s something the original series distinctly lacked, no matter what you might think about the likes of Kang, Kor or Koloth.

And although Benicio Del Toro has apparently turned down the chance to appear, if we are going to have someone of his stature making a mark on the Trekverse, the smart thing to do would be to give them an original character to put their stamp on. No one wants to see an actor ‘interpreting’ Ricardo Montalban.

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Similarly, recent rumours have it that the Klingons will indeed have a prominent role in the next Star Trek movie, and if that’s the case, the last thing they need to do is play second tIngDagh to a genetically modified human like Khan.

So with that in mind, maybe Star Trek fans should collectively agree to give the Khan talk a rest. No one disagrees that Khan was an iconic villain and a true rival for Kirk – but there’s no reason to think that’d be true a second time around. Whatever you think of Abrams’ reboot, we can all agree that Khan is a villain best left where he was originally created: in the past.