Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Question for the Week of July 9 - July 15: When Kirk Enabled Khan

How the hell did Kirk strand a deadly, ambitious genius on a planet without leaving any warning for other ships that might find Khan in the future?
I love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The movie is excellent, the action is super-exciting, the dialogue is sharp, and the acting is exceptional. Best of all, it is anchored by a story that would work for someone who knew nothing about the Star Trek series. One size fits all, baby.

The themes are strong, mature, and clear: aging, change, missed opportunities, regret, revenge, split-second choices, and friendship. These are timeless concepts that are - contrary to most modern sci-fi entertainment - genuinely explored, not merely referenced.

However, the 1960's TV series already set up the movie: decades earlier, Kirk and his crew found a drifting 300 year-old spaceship from Earth. They found people preserved in stasis, and released them while trying to learn more about them and figure out what to do with them. By the time they learn that they've found an ancient conqueror & his followers, the Enterprise is over-powered.

At the end of the encounter, the Captain is victorious. Facing such an admirable enemy (and a crewwoman who turned traitor), William Shatner's James Tiberius Kirk can't simply bring Khan and his followers in for modern justice. He strands them on a fresh planet so they can live and thrive in seclusion; as his ship boldly goes elsewhere, Kirk wonders what Khan will do with this world.

That backstory informs ST2:WoK, where another starship - Reliant - encounters the same planet while on a science mission. That crew detects unreadable signs of life and decides to investigate. The landing party is overcome, and the ship becomes a vehicle for revenge and conquest by Ricardo Montalban's megalomaniacal despot, the titular Khan.

This leads us to the question for this week, one which kind of breaks the logic of the whole freaking, magnificent sequel: in a world where starships seem to have an unlimited supply of "probes" and "buoys," how the hell did Kirk strand a deadly, ambitious genius on a planet without leaving any warning for people passing by later?

It's doubly-insane - partly because any half-smart person would leave a big warning sign if they stranded Stalin on an island instead of killing him, and partly because it's the exact same situation that Kirk barely survived. Not knowing who Khan was created a disaster that could've turned out much worse; how in the hell do you leave other space-travelers to that exact same f---ing fate?

At the very least, it's not one of the worst logic problems I've ever witnessed. In fact, it's thematically-appropriate, as James Kirk was violating protocol by not bringing those criminals to justice - and then it comes back to bite him on the ass; much of STII is about the idea of the past catching up with you, so it's kind of perfect. If Kirk had done what he was supposed to, it would've made the storyline short as hell, yes, but it would've made much more sense...


  1. Great synopsis brother.
    I think the Wrath of Khan belongs up there just below the great movies of all time. And it's exactly this deep exploration of relationships in all their complexity that makes it so impactful.
    I think the question of a buoy or beacon is a good, but critical point. Interstellar GPS should not have been effected by the explosion of Ceti Alpha 5. The crew of the Reliant shield have known where the were and, since Kirk logged his original encounter with Khan it would have been common knowledge, not a story only known by Chekov.
    These faults in logic don't detract from my absolute enjoyment of a movie I must have seen over 100 times.

    1. Thanks, man! I completely agree. And it's amazing how everything about the movie is so good that these massive logic problems don't ruin the experience at all.

      The GPS shouldn't have been confused by the planet blowing up. Hell, I also figure that when they arrive at a solar system, they "scan" it, and a scan would probably show that there was 1 planet missing.

  2. Did they ever do that buoy stuff in the original series? The first time I can remember it coming up was in TNG. In any case our brother's right: if you were coming to a solar system that had Khan anywhere in it, you'd think that while you were checking out a lifeless-looking planet there, the computer might mention, "Hey, crazy violent genius lives on the planet next door!"

    Y'know, in Majel Barrett's voice.

    In any case, the fanwank on this would probably be that sure, Kirk left a buoy...but it was damaged when Ceti Alpha VI (or IV, I always forget) blew up.

    Good post. Now I want to watch the Wrath of Khan for the umpteenth time.

    1. Thanks, DJ! I'm pretty sure buoys existed, but either way, they used probes. A buoy does the same stuff a probe does, just stationary. They also had beacons, and those do the same thing, too.

      Yes, Majel should voice the warning! But, the fanwank's incomplete, since LichMD was good enough to note that the incident was logged by Kirk. After that log gets back to home base, it would make quite a splash. They might even study the planet in stupid invisible costumes.

      In any case, when the Reliant goes to check out a new place for their bigtime Starfleet project, at least one person would have to check the records on the system with AC6. I imagine for a place with a stranded threat as dangerous as Khan, there would be a flashing arrow that highlights his existence and the potential danger.


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