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Episode 95: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

  

214 members have voted

  1. 1. Is WRATH OF KHAN canon?

    • Yes
      139
    • Khaaaan!
      75


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It's the most famous TREK movie, but is it Canon? Guest Dave Schilling joins us to figure it out.

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This is probably the only movie where I will give a lot of weight to cultural significance; it's folly to dismiss Trek as a TV show, because that's only where it started.

 

That said, though: there was a lot of talk about this being a great movie for non-fans and yet the non-fan had very little time to talk.

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it's folly to dismiss Trek as a TV show, because that's only where it started.

 

I don't know that it's dismissive - Television has great influence on the culture, and the Star Trek TV shows are far superior to the movies. One can make the case, as Amy does, that you don't HAVE to have Star Trek in the canon of great films, even if the television show deserves to be in the canon of great TV. As films, the Star Trek movies are mostly mediocre, whereas the shows were magnificent television, and Star Trek's cultural impact comes mostly from its television incarnations.

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I've never really been a Star Trek guy, and I agree with a lot of Amy's points that Wrath of Khan is just okay, but I think Devin and Dave's points about historical precedent has pushed me over to a soft yes. I feel like I'm almost on Amy's side, that since it's a better TV series than a film franchise that we should like, put Star Trek in a television Canon and not this one, but it has just enough historical significance to get in.

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I'll go ahead and disclose a pro-Trek bias at the head of this comment. That said, I've always maintained that Wrath of Khan isn't just a great Star Trek movie, it's a great movie, period. I personally feel that it has more than enough cultural significance to justify its place in The Canon. (Then again, I'm also one of those insane people who think both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back deserve to be in, rather than just one of them, so I suppose you can take my opinion with a grain of salt.)

 

Star Trek may be better on television, where it can explore actual issues worthy of speculative fiction instead of just being a series of futuristic action tales, but at the end of the day, its popularity as a franchise also extends to film. In fact, I don't think The Next Generation or any of the series that came after would have existed without the feature films keeping the franchise alive and bringing new fans into the fold.

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(Then again, I'm also one of those insane people who think both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back deserve to be in, rather than just one of them, so I suppose you can take my opinion with a grain of salt.)

 

That's not insane, that's objective truth.

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Mulled it over since watching it for the first time since last week and ironically enough, something Devin said is what finally pushed me to the 'no' side. I ldon't think the movie is great enough to be canon-ized on it's own yet the legacy of Star Trek is undeniable, but what are we voting on? "Star Trek works best as a tv series" is what answered it for me, if this is a Canon for the greatest movies of all time, are the Star Trek movies, by themselves, strong enough to deserve a spot?

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After watching Khan again last week, I think I have to vote no, despite how enjoyable I personally find it. Cronopio said it as succinctly as possible: there are many episodes of Star Trek (and TNG) that are orders of magnitude better than all of the films. Trek's imprint on culture is due to the television series, and this is not a television canon.

 

But

 

I do love how rich the theme of life and legacy is in this film. The contrast between Kirk's own son and their nonexistent relationship, with Khan's engineered inability to have children (as well as his own origins) makes for an interesting point of entry into the nature versus nurture discussion. That it ends with both a literal genesis of life and Spock's Jesus-like sacrifice makes for a uniquely Trek story.

 

Roddenberry's vision of the future was so optimistic that it feels quaint. It's simple enough to be a fable, and for all of Neu Trek's crowd pleasing sound and fury, it lacks this humanist touch.

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Amy did pose an interesting question. Just because Trek can be in The Canon, should it be in The Canon?

My response is a thoughtful "yes".

 

So many tangential thoughts cropped up from this episode.

 

As far as Amy finding this boring, I can see that. Personally I love it, but I love submarine movies. "The Hunt for Red October" is a go-to background movie for me. Again, in a time when so many are throwing up their arms complaining that superhero movies end with cities blowing up, I find the quaint strategy battle of Khan to be quite refreshing. One of the most consistent complaints I've heard from many Trek fans about the JJ-verse is that the JJ films are too exciting.

 

An interesting thing discussed in the Mission Log podcast* is that it isn't until the movies that Spock, specifically, becomes the character that we know. In the first two seasons of TOS, Spock is basically screws up everything because he denies his human side and solely relies on logic**. It's through his merging with V*GER, death, and resurrection that Spock becomes the Spock that we know. So the films are essential for the advancement of the characters and series.

 

(*a podcast where the hosts watch each and every episode of Star Trek in order, including the animated series, to discuss the messages, morals, and meanings and to see if it holds up to the test of time)

(**some have interpreted this as an unintentional criticism of Ayn Rand/Objectivism).

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I'm really on the fence with this one. I'm not a Trek guy. In fact, this is the first Star Trek anything I've seen that wasn't from Abrams. I will say that Devin and Dave were totally right about this being an easy film for non-Trek people to get into. The history of the series is there, but it doesn't overwhelm the film and alienate outsiders. I liked the film, but I just didn't connect with it much beyond that, and while I fully recognize Treks historical and cultural significance, like Amy, I question whether the films should get much credit for that significance.

 

I think I'm a soft no on this one, but I won't fault anyone for voting yes. And if nothing else, watching Khan might be the push I need to dive deeper into the Star Trek universe.

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No, you can't vote THE WRATH OF KHAN into The Canon just because its Trek. But you CAN vote it in because it is (as far as I can tell) a good movie that's beloved that is only THE SECOND OF IT'S KIND. What do I mean you might ask? Name another TV series before STAR TREK that got turned into a theatrical feature franchise. (Go on...I'll wait.) You can't and because THE WRATH OF KHAN remains the best of all the Trek movies (with the possible exception of the even more Moby Dick inspired FIRST CONTACT) and because now the movies mine television for the repurposing of intellectual property all the time, that's why I voted THE WRATH OF KHAN into The Canon. Nice arguing Amy, but I think you missed the point of this one a little bit.

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It is absurd to me that this movie is going to get into the Canon when Empire was utterly shut out with this logic: "Star Wars stands on its own, Empire depends on it". How does this NOT apply to the second Star Trek movie that follows a TV show as well..? This movie would not be a tenth as popular if it stood on its own. Period. And by the rule of precedent, it cannot be allowed in.

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Star Trek just isn't my thing, never got into it. Maybe that's unfair for a no vote but that's what I did. I agree with Amy saying that as a movie on its own, without the Star Trek franchise, it would be a definitive no.

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It is absurd to me that this movie is going to get into the Canon when Empire was utterly shut out with this logic: "Star Wars stands on its own, Empire depends on it". How does this NOT apply to the second Star Trek movie that follows a TV show as well..? This movie would not be a tenth as popular if it stood on its own. Period. And by the rule of precedent, it cannot be allowed in.

 

Empire was voted out based on "vs." episodes, though. If it had been a stand-alone episode I think there's no question it gets in.

 

Though I am still baffled by Jurassic Park winning over Empire in that episode.

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Here's why I voted yes: The Wrath of Khan is the pinnacle of Original Trek storytelling (and the best Trek story ever told, period).

 

It's a thematically rich film that explores issues of growing old, family, and responsibility. It holds the beloved TOS characters accountable for the sins of their past, and it does so in a way that explores the depths of their interpersonal relationships. In a way TWoK is kind of like sci-fi's answer to The Big Chill--it's a movie about baby boomers entering a phase of adulthood that's not necessarily comfortable or natural to them, and they have to sort through it and deal with past mistakes while grappling with not being as young, beautiful, and seemingly impervious as they were in the past. It's maybe the first time in Trek that a crew was depicted as being utterly vulnerable, and the resonance of that vulnerability reshaped future Trek and led to some of its finest moments from subsequent series.

 

So yeah, this is a movie about getting older and looking back, and it works as both an exploration of Star Trek's legacy up until 1982 (that deconstructionist approach as discussed in the podcast) but also as a thoughtful read on how we negotiate past failures and mistakes and try to continue to try to be our best selves as we inch ever closer to death.

 

I'd go a step beyond that even, though, and say that TWoK isn't just the best Trek story ever told, it's easily a top 10 (maybe even top 5) sci-fi film of all time.

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No, you can't vote THE WRATH OF KHAN into The Canon just because its Trek. But you CAN vote it in because it is (as far as I can tell) a good movie that's beloved that is only THE SECOND OF IT'S KIND. What do I mean you might ask? Name another TV series before STAR TREK that got turned into a theatrical feature franchise. (Go on...I'll wait.) You can't and because THE WRATH OF KHAN remains the best of all the Trek movies (with the possible exception of the even more Moby Dick inspired FIRST CONTACT) and because now the movies mine television for the repurposing of intellectual property all the time, that's why I voted THE WRATH OF KHAN into The Canon. Nice arguing Amy, but I think you missed the point of this one a little bit.

 

Even ignoring the super condescending last sentence, is TV being mined for movies a trend that's Canon-worthy? If you're specifically talking about continuing a series into a feature length movie, how many examples do we have? Firefly? Simpsons?

 

As for movies that remade old tv shows, how many of those are good? For every 21 Jump Street (which lampooned the original concept) there are a dozen Brady Bunches, Dark Shadows, Starsky and Hutches etc

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So I've seen every episode of the Star Trek franchise which is something like 546 hours of television. Obviously I've seen the movies too, and what I've believed now for years is that Star Trek shines on television, but not nearly as much in cinema. While there are many famous villains from the television show, Star Trek rarely focused on the "villain of the week" until the movies came along and needed exciting third acts.

 

In Star Trek VI (a movie I actually like a little more than Wrath of Khan) Kirk actually utters the words "Let them die!" about the entire Klingon race. Probably the most un-Star Trek line being uttered by arguably it's greatest character.

Star Trek is about exploration and keeping the peace. It's about philosophy and ethics, diplomacy, and reaching across cultural boundaries. SOMETIMES it's about defeating a villain, or killing a monster (when they're given absolutely no other choice), but the movies tend to shift all of those priorities to turn Star Trek into an action movie. I'm fairly certain Star Trek is solely responsible for my own personal ideas of what a good man or woman is, how to be fair to other people, and how to respect other cultures. As fun as Wrath of Khan is ... it taught me none of that stuff.

 

Plus Wrath of Khan does look cheap, and it does contain some wonky filmmaking. Carol Marcus, David, and the Genesis cave add very little to the movie, and Amy is absolutely right ... Spock is barely in this movie until he dies. Let me repeat that last part ... the movie that gets all the credit in the world for killing Spock BARELY does anything with his character until he dies just to give Kirk an interesting moment.

 

I really like Wrath of Khan, honestly, but to say that it is the best thing Star Trek has to offer I think ignores what Star Trek is about. To say that it's great cinema sells cinema short. To say that it's canon sells The Canon short. There are many episodes of Star Trek that I would put in a tv canon, and I might put Wrath of Khan in a sci-fi film canon, but for the canon? It's a "no".

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First - yes, this should be in the Canon

 

Second - I think Devin almost hits on why this deserves to be in the Canon, but misses a piece of it. I don't think WRATH OF KHAN is a response to just the 70s, it is a response to the failures of the 60s and the coming of the 80s.

 

STAR TREK is the 60s - the promise of space exploration, the concept of equality for all races, and a fair share of hippy styles and free love ideas. WRATH OF KHAN is a guy of the 60s, Kirk, looking back at the ramifications of his actions. It is the hippie becoming the yippie - he looks at what he did in his 20s and sees that the positive effects he thought he was having on the world really didn't help much of anything.

 

Khan represents the ghost of the 60s, down to his and his crew's clothing style - they look like sci-fi hippies. He is the reminder of what Kirk was. David is the representation of what Kirk created - the preppy who thinks everything is owed to him, the coming of the Reagan era.

 

Kirk find himself caught in the middle of it all - he no longer fits the 60s era, but he can't connect to the 80s. He's no longer so sure of his actions and choices in life. His ability to rationalize what he does is fading. Spock's death is the death of Kirk's rational side.

 

In the end, with his rational side dead, Kirk says how he feels - he feels young. He's entering his midlife crisis. He has shed the last vestiges of his hippie past, and embraced the preppy future. He even got himself a shiny new planet to explore.

 

WRATH OF KHAN is the movie that brings sci-fi films into the Reagan era and beyond.

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I want so badly to side with Amy and to vote no. I can't. The significance is enormous. As someone who is a late millennial that loves TOS, I have no love for Wrath of Khan. I can appreciate Dave and Devin's arguments, and I see where they're coming from, but there's no passion for me here.

 

More than anything, I'm really fatigued by genre episodes like this, even though I've voted for most of them--if not all of them--to be canonized. I get it. If every pork chop was perfect, we wouldn't have Re-Animator hot dogs. With that in mind, I'm ready to do some stuffy, older, artier films. If we could do that, maybe I'm alone on this, but I think that would be super neat.

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Empire was voted out based on "vs." episodes, though. If it had been a stand-alone episode I think there's no question it gets in.

 

Though I am still baffled by Jurassic Park winning over Empire in that episode.

 

Yeah that is definitely true, so it's not a perfect comparison, I'll admit. But this and Casino Royale both fall into that category of being semi VS episodes. Which movie of this incredibly significant franchise deserves to be in the Canon, OR does nothing from the franchise deserve to make it. Empire lost to Star Wars because Empire depends on SW, and the argument was that even though Empire is generally seen as better, Star Wars laid the groundwork and is still great. With Star Trek, the show is better than this movie in many cases, AND it laid the groundwork. So the decision seems like it should be that the show deserves Canon-ness more than Khan, thus Khan is denied entry. Khan shouldn't be let in simply to fulfill the role of having Star Trek in the Canon, like how Temple Of Doom was left out because we're all sitting around waiting for Raiders to finally get in. Just my take though, I don't mean to say the movie is garbage or anything, I just don't think it's Canon worthy personally, and there's sort of a precedent set there that involved Empire, which I yugely prefer to Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and this (but let's not get too far into Empire vs Jurassic because that was just unpleasant).

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Name another TV series before STAR TREK that got turned into a theatrical feature franchise. (Go on...I'll wait.)

The Monkees - Head

Batman - Batman 1966

Get Smart - The Nude Bomb

H.R. PuffnStuff - Puffnstuff

Monty Python's Flying Circus - Monty Python's Life Of Brian

The Munsters - Munter, Go Home!

The Muppet Show - The Muppet Movie

Peter Gunn - Gunn

Saturday Night Live - The Blues Brothers

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Well, apparently here's another trekkie also voting 'no'. Star Trek should get voted into the tv or pop-culture Canon, no question.

 

Wrath of Khan is indeed fun and relatively accessible, but the fact that it's not even my favorite Star Trek movie makes it tougher to vote 'Yes' on, being edged out by The Undiscovered Country (which is less accessible or iconic, but more satisfying cinematically to me in almost every department). For me the main appeal has always been the series, which none of the films hold a candle to.

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