Star Trek’s Shocking Reason For Resurrecting Its Best Villain

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

star trek khan

Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t the worst film in the franchise (that would probably be The Final Frontier), but it often feels like the most meaningless one. After all, the movie squandered the return of a fan-favorite villain, and by the time the credits rolled, the fandom collectively wondered why Paramount spent so much money to create an infinitely worse version of The Wrath of Khan. Weirdly enough, the real answer as to why Star Trek brought Khan back is that the writing team felt going ahead and including him was the only way the reboot films could go in more creative directions in the future.

The OG Khan

chekov khan star trek

To unpack the kind of studio logic that would probably make Spock scream, we need to first review Star Trek’s earlier Khan appearances. First, the villain was thawed out in The Original Series episode “Space Speed,” and we discover he is a genetically-engineered tyrant who once came close to taking over Earth before being driven off-planet. Later, he returns in the second Star Trek film, stealing both a ship and a superweapon and forcing his old foe Kirk into an interstellar showdown for the ages.

Dead, But Not For Good

star trek khan

By the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the titular villain is dead, and it’s only through the sacrifice of Spock that Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew are able to escape the detonation of the Genesis device. Since Khan was now good and dead, there was never any serious thought given to bringing him back for future films or franchise spinoffs. But Star Trek (2009) rebooted the franchise with a completely different reality, giving filmmakers a chance to pit a very different kind of Khan against a very different kind of Kirk.

They Didn’t Want Another Nero

Mercifully, Star Trek (2009) didn’t try to bring Khan back, instead focusing on the nostalgia of returning Leonard Nimoy to the franchise. He helped to bridge the original films and the rebooted universe, and the result was a fun film that largely appealed to purists and new fans alike. Arguably, the biggest weakness of that first film was its bad guy (a disgruntled Romulan from the future known as Nero), so there was an understandable urge from Paramount to deliver a more iconic villain for the sequel.

Not Everyone Was KhanTent

benedict cumberbatch khan feature

Incidentally, the decision to make the Star Trek Into Darkness villain Khan was not a unanimous one–at least, not at first. According to Robert Orci, his cowriter Damon Lindelof “argued for Khan from the beginning and I argued against it.”

The two eventually agreed to reboot the famous villain, and director J.J. Abrams was happy to bring their ideas to life. After Into Darkness came out, however, Abrams acknowledged a potentially better choice could have been made: “We’ve established a brand new sort of timeline, we could do anything we want, let’s just do something brand new.”

They Used Khan So They Could Use Someone Other Than Khan, Which Is Admittedly KhanFusing

star trek khan

In short, the creators of Star Trek Into Darkness intensely debated the wisdom of bringing Khan back, and the decision to do so most certainly angered the fandom. Why, then, did they decide to bring Khan back instead of creating a new villain? According to Damon Lindelof, “We felt like we couldn’t avoid Khan… And in the act of avoiding him, it would be more difficult than just basically doing it and finally freeing our franchise of the only question that was really plaguing it.”

The Star Trek writer felt that the very possibility of Khan returning hung over this rebooted universe like the sword of Damocles, and he worried that not bringing the villain back might (ironically enough) hinder the creation of more original stories. “Until we did our version of Khan, we really felt like we could not move past it,” he said. Ironically, poor fan reception to the decision to bring Khan back is one of the contributing factors to why the sequel film Star Trek Beyond failed, prematurely ending a franchise that might have otherwise enjoyed a long life.


Given that the Star Trek reboot films have a reputation for being somewhat mindless action comedies rather than intellectual adventures, it’s amusing to learn that the Into Darkness writers brought Khan back because they were too busy overthinking things. They were so worried about how fans might react that they ended up doing the one thing fans didn’t want the rebooted universe to do. Before it was all over, I can only imagine an angry Paramount exec or two reading the outraged fan reactions and imitating William Shatner’s iconic line delivery while screaming a single word.


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