Great Movie Scenes for Story: Part 2 Kirk vs. Khan / Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
Before J.J. Abrams helmed the return of Star Wars, he resurrected the Star Trek franchise for the big screen. On his second Star Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness, he tried to convince Star Trek fans than Khan is a tall british guy in the likeness of Benedict Cumberbatch.
But true fans know that (until a Heath Ledger like performance of the Joker comes along) Khan is and always will be Ricardo Montalbán, from the original Star Trek Series and from one of the best scifi films ever made, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.
It is from this film I want to present one of my all time favorite scenes. The first battle between Admiral Kirk in the starship Enterprise and Khan in his stolen starship SS. Reliant.
WARNING: Cheesy sci-fi sequence follows below
After the launch of a training mission, the Enterprise, commanded by Captain Kirk along with it’s trainee crew, is called to investigate a disturbance at the space station Regula One. Before they can arrive they are greeted by the starship Reliant. Unknown to Captain Kirk to be commanded by his old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh (See “Space Seed” Star Trek, 1967). Khan has escaped the planet Kirk marooned him and his people on some 15 years prior and is back for revenge.
The scene unfolds:
As the two ships get closer to each other, Khan hides behind the presumption that Reliant is apart of the same Star Fleet and has no ill intentions. Meanwhile aboard the Enterprise, Kirk is playing right into Khan’s hands, despite being warned by his helmsman, Lt. Savvak.
When the scene shows the rival captain, Kirk rises from his chair in shock as he utters the word, “Khan.”
As the scene unfolds, Kirk pretends to transmit Khan’s request of the project Genesis,and Spock takes control of Reliant’s console and lowers the shields. Before Khan can react, Kirk orders a volley of phaser fire that damages the Reliant and forces her to withdraw.
The scene is an excellent example of how shifting power works in storytelling. Power in story terms simply means control and it should always shift in a good story.
Balance of power is established-
Before the two ships exchanged phaser fire, there was an assumption of equality by Kirk but even Khan is taking a gamble. If Kirk suspects an attack, he could be ready for it, thus equalling the balance of power.
Power shift #1-
But Kirk is unaware the Reliant is commanded by his old nemesis and therefore the power resides with Khan. Khan uses this advantage to strike first and disable Kirk’s ship.
Afterwards, knowing he’s in control, and instead of finishing off the Enterprise, he wants to rub it into Kirk’s face.
Khan is succumbing to one of his weaknesses, his pride.
Just like when Kirk ignored Lt. Savvak’s warning due to his own bit of arrogance.
A character’s weakness or shortcomings are excellent points of reference for creating an opportunity to shift power.
In this case, it’s one that could save the life of Kirk and his crew. As Spock says later in the film, “Khan is intelligent but not experienced”.
Power shift #2-
Khan knows battle tactics and the general operation of his new ship but he’s unaware that the ship has fail safes that Kirk has known from years of being a starship captain. Kirk uses both Khan’s pride and his inexperience to to take control of Khan’s ship and force him to withdraw, thus reversing the balance of power back to neutrality.
This shift in power makes the showdown between Kirk and Khan much more interesting story wise. This concept is pushed even farther later in the film to decide a final outcome but not without a heavy sacrifice.
Often in storytelling, the exchange of power does come at the expense of giving something in return for it.
Did Captain Kirk wet your appetite for more story tips? Let me know what you think about the article in the comments below. In my next post I will cover a unique film genre that every story artist should study . Keep up those original ideas!
Story never ends!