“It was a hell of a thing when Spock died”. Spoiler? I don’t think so, that’s a quote from an episode of Seinfeld and it’s stuck with me ever since I saw the episode in the 90s. Over almost a decade and 180 episodes, it’s possibly the only time when any of the core foursome on that show about nothing ever showed any real compassion. The death of Spock and Capt. Kirk’s iconic “Kaaaaaahhhhhn!” bellow have become pop culture common knowledge and amount to everything I knew before watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.
Kahn is also more successful in giving the supporting characters a little more to do. The core trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy are obviously the focus, but as someone with no previous history with the TV series, it was good to see Chekov get to play a pretty major role moving the plot forward. Even a small moment, like Scotty tell Kirk that Spock is, “dead already” is a nice piece of genuine emotion from a character usually delegated to pure comic relief.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture seems to be a conservative toe in the water, to see if the diehard fans of the original series would lead to cinematic success. After it did just that, Kahn shows a definite increase in confidence. Kahn’s final action, activating the Genesis Device he’s been pursuing all movie is the direct instigation of Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock. The Wrath of Kahn also introduces Kirk’s adult son, David. These all combine to make it very obvious that a third film was promisingly inevitable.
Overall, I can see why Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn has taken its place as the quintessential and essential entry in the Trek series. Ricardo Montalban as Kahn is the perfect hammy foil to Shatner’s James T Kirk and the sacrifice of Spock to save the day packs a legitimate punch. I guess it all comes full circle, it really was a hell of thing when Spock died.