By Erin Free

“Khan was bigger than life,” Ricardo Montalban told journalist, Ed Gross, of his legendary Star Trek bad guy. “He had to be played that way. He was extremely powerful both mentally and physically, with an enormous amount of pride, but he was not totally villainous. He had good qualities. I saw a nobility in the man that, unfortunately, was overridden by ambition, and a thirst for power. I saw that in the character and played it accordingly. It was very well received at the time, and I was delighted. Then I forgot about it. I did so many things, and finally ended up on [the popular TV series] Fantasy Island. There I was and, lo and behold, they called me again to play this character. I got the script, and it was an interesting character once again.”

The revival of the villainous Khan Noonien Singh – who first appeared in the “Space Seed” episode of the first series of the original Star Trek – for 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan was one of the greatest moves in the history of the cult TV show’s jump to the big screen. After 1979’s deeply cerebral, morbidly paced Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Khan’s threatening man of action was exactly what the burgeoning movie franchise needed. One of a group of genetically engineered supermen, Khan – played with admirable menace but undeniable charm by Mexican-born Ricardo Montalban in one of his finest performances – is originally exiled by William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk to the inhospitable planet of Ceti Alpha VI. Fifteen years later, an angry and relentless Khan gets his chance at revenge, giving Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan a threatening and dangerous edge lacking in most of the series’ subsequent sequels.

Cruel but noble, Khan is also originally portrayed as a mirror image to Kirk, though by the time of Star Trek II, he has devolved into something far more menacing. Sporting Mad Max-style gear revealing a rock-hard torso (the film’s director, Nicholas Meyer, refuted claims that the 61-year-old actor sported a prosthetic chest by calling Montalban “one strong cookie”), Khan is something only rarely glimpsed in the Star Trek universe: a total badass. “I had to be, if not deranged, then very close to it,” Montalban said of the character, who was re-engineered by Benedict Cumberbatch in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. “I had to find a tone of going right to the razor’s edge before the character becomes a caricature.”

A special restored director’s cut of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is screening at The 2016 Sci-Fi Film Festival, which runs from October 19-23 at The Ritz Cinema, Randwick. For more on Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and to buy tickets, head to the official site.


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