In Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, why didn't Khan just wait outside the Mutara-class Nebula until Enterprise came out and then just finish them off? Considering the fact that he had a genetically far superior intellect, one would think he wouldn't be so clumsy in thinking like how he did. Didn't he know that it was a suicide run?

  • 6
    How big was the nebula? If it was 1/2 light year across, that leaves a whole lot of places the Enterprise might have come out.. Nov 16, 2014 at 9:14
  • 2
    Khan's "genetically far superior intellect" is actually pretty laughable, as evidenced by the movie. Nov 16, 2014 at 10:01
  • 4
    Khan had an equally superior ego to go along with his superior intellect.
    – Xantec
    Mar 1, 2016 at 22:59
  • High intelligence ≠ immune to mental illness.
    – Lexible
    Oct 5, 2020 at 18:13

5 Answers 5


Khan was obsessed with defeating Kirk. He didn't just want to win, he wanted to beat him. In "Space Seed" Kirk bested Khan in physical combat and sent him into exile, a deeply humiliating reversal for a man whose identity rested heavily on his supposed innate superiority. Defeating Kirk was personal and all consuming for Khan, and he was willing to risk anything to achieve this victory. If there was any doubt of Khan's obsession, the Ahab quotes from Moby Dick sprinkled through the script should banish them. Khan said this when asked to consider taking Reliant and declaring victory:

KHAN: He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him. I'll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition's flames before I give him up.

Khan's obsession combined with his repeated mistaking of raw intellect for experience ensured that he would stumble into the traps laid by an experienced and cunning adversary.

  • 6
    "Oh Khan? I'm LAUGHING at the superior intellect." Nov 16, 2014 at 22:19
  • 3
    Khan at least made a good show of accepting his situation and chance to try again in the TOS episode. I'd say his obsession isn't about being physically bested, but is about what Khan tells Chekov and his captain it is about in the film. That Kirk stranded him on Ceti Alpha VI and forgot him, so that when Ceti Alpha V exploded, he lost his wife to a terrible brain parasite.
    – Dronz
    Dec 10, 2014 at 23:19
  • @Dronz is right. After all, Marla was really into Khan. That's hard to replace.
    – Omegacron
    Mar 17, 2015 at 17:53
  • for me the quote alone provides the correct answer. Kahn would have pursued Kirk through the gates of hell itself for another chance at his revenge. Mar 29, 2019 at 11:19

Slightly speculative, but he probably thought following Enterprise was his best chance to kill Admiral Kirk. He had no way to know what repairs Mr Scott could make if Reliant waited outside, so he would be concerned that Enterprise could eventually warp away. Additional Federation ships might also show up to find out what was going on in the area.

In any case, it wasn't a suicide run, as Spock himself says.

Sauce for the goose, Mr Saavik. The odds will be even.


Kahn was furious at Kirk, he had to confront Kirk and beat him because he had escaped his attempts at revenge three times:

  • crippling the Reliant with the hack,
  • surviving Captain Tyrel's assasination attempt, and
  • escaping the Regula test site so fast

Kirk also knew how to bully Khan into rage, and managed to cancel each advantage Khan had, shields and sensors, get into the nebula, higher intellect, get him furious.


Khan couldn't "wait outside" the Mutara Nebula. That indicates, as Spock would say, "two-dimensional thinking." The Nebula wasn't a building with one door. If Reliant stopped pursuing, the Enterprise could escape in any direction it liked, even before making any repairs. Khan did consider giving Enterprise up, and allowed Joachim to break off the pursuit. But then Kirk goaded Khan. Khan may have been smart, but not so smart he didn't let his crazy high emotions get the better of him.


Khan has similar attributes to a Pak Protector. Very intelligent, but emotionally bound upon certain courses of action. Predictable. Like the Pak. This quote has stayed with me my whole life, since I read it, decades ago. Because emotion, wisdom and intelligence are orthogonal qualities. Here is why Khan was so easily defeated.

"Intelligence is just a tool to be used toward a goal, and goals are not always chosen wisely."

~ Larry Niven

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