Star Trek’s Best Villain Secretly Saved the Federation

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

star trek khan

In Star Trek lore, no villain is both as intractable and influential as Khan Noonien Singh. His attempt to conquer Earth led to the Eugenics Wars and then World War III, and he would have killed Captain Kirk and crew if not for the noble sacrifice of Spock. However, in a twist we never saw coming, an episode of Strange New Worlds revealed that Khan’s ruthless ambition and brutally violent nature may have accidentally saved the Federation as we know it.

Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow

star trek khan

In the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” Khan’s descendant security officer La’an ends up having a bizarre adventure that begins in an alternative timeline along with a very different James Kirk. The two eventually travel to our time period in order to prevent a future where Earth has been nearly destroyed by war.

Star Trek’s Khan doesn’t really come into this episode except near the very end. Together, La’an and Kirk discover that the timeline diverged because a Romulan time-traveler had come to this period of Earth’s history to kill a very young Khan in the eugenics lab he calls home. Her explicit goal is to keep Khan from kicking off the Eugenics Wars (which the episode explains now happened decades later than the 1990s because of other attempts by various forces to alter the timeline).

One More Romulan Jerk

star trek khan

For long-term Star Trek fans, this Khan revelation was something of a plot twist. There has never been any love lost between Earth and Romulus–heck, the planets went to war with one another without Starfleet even seeing what their alien enemies looked like. Why, then, would a Romulan go out of her way to kill Khan in the past and spare Earth a war that would precipitate the larger conflict of World War III and ultimately kill 600 million people?

According to the Romulan named Sera, a Romulan computer had calculated that if she killed Khan in the past, it would keep the Federation from forming. She’s not entirely sure why this is, acknowledging that it could just be something entirely random. However, she has a theory as to why this could be the case, and this theory completely changes how we view Star Trek’s greatest villain.

Khan Makes The Federation Possible

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The nefarious Romulan speculates that humanity would never have formed the Federation if it hadn’t narrowly survived its own “dark age.” That dark age starts with Khan: while the franchise has sometimes conflated the Eugenics Wars and World War III as the same event, it’s clear that Khan either caused the event that killed 600 million people or caused a different conflict that led to it. After humanity came so close to the brink of total extinction, everyone was collectively ready to put these atrocities behind them and embrace a better way forward.

Khan Was Always Doomed To Fail

Whether or not Sera the Romulan is correct in exactly why Khan was so vital to the formation of the Federation, she (and, implicitly, the Romulan government) is quite convinced that Khan’s death would mean the end of the Federation. While this doesn’t excuse Khan’s murderous actions, that means that all of his attempts to dominate humanity actually resulted in Earth embracing a peaceful philosophy that he would have absolutely despised. 

The Superior Intellect

Sorry, Khan: no amount of quoting Moby Dick will change the fact that you ultimately created your own worst enemy. Starfleet wouldn’t exist without the Eugenics Wars, and Khan wouldn’t been defeated without the existence of Starfleet. We’re with Kirk on this one, and if anyone needs us, we’ll be laughing at the superior mind of this genetically enhanced failure of a villain.

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