Okay, so I just watched Star Trek into Darkness and as a long-time fan of Wrath of Khan I'm a little confused by the portrayal of Khan. Okay, the actor is different and they clearly decided to take more than a few liberties with his appearance. I'm more wondering about the portrayal, not the appearance.

In the original Star Trek show and in Wrath of Khan, Khan is ruthless but not unfeeling. He is passionate and he cares about his followers and loves his wife who used to be one of Capt. Kirk's crew I think. But I dunno, I guess I feel that his sense of pride and his ruthlessness combined with the kind of control and poise his super genetics give him means that he's not gonna start crying all of a sudden.

Compare this

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Are these two Khans really part of the same persona?

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They should be of course, because in theory the same two Khans from the twentieth century were woken up, it doesn't matter which timeline we're talking about. So why are they so different?

Also, Khan talks about his "family" instead of his followers or fellow exiled leaders. Khan may have called these people his family by the time of Wrath of Khan, after years and years in exile on that waste planet Kirk put them on dodging brain eating worms and such...but I just feel like "family" doesn't make sense here in Into Darkness. I'm also not sure why Khan is working on weapons design and starships and stuff like that.

It seems like they've used Khan in name only.

So my question is: did the writers do any background research on Khan at all, or did they just make him up completely on the spot and just re-used the name?

I do know they intend him to be the same Khan, but I'm wondering how hard they tried. Did they say what kind of research they did? Did they say they wanted to take him in a new direction and if so how do they justify the change in personality and skills?

Sorry if I've rambled, just trying to make my case clear, that's all. Thanks.

  • 15
    +1, your third image immediately reminded me of ThunderCats. Must be the hair...
    – user35594
    Aug 11, 2015 at 22:56
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    Yes, I guarantee that the creators of a multimillion dollar movie researched Khan. And they took artistic license. It's a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don't situation. You make him the same, and people accuse you of lack of creativity. You make him different and you piss off treckie purists. They took the route that was more interesting.
    – Misha R
    Aug 11, 2015 at 23:37
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    @MishaRosnach perhaps they should have made an original screenplay instead if a trite remake of wrath of khan to indulge their artistic license, then. "let's reboot the universe to tell new stories that are actually just the old ones warmed over!"
    – Shamshiel
    Aug 12, 2015 at 1:07
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    @Shamshiel: Well, the thing about making movies is you do whatever the hell you want. If you prefer the old Wrath of Khan movie, don't worry - it's still there.
    – Misha R
    Aug 12, 2015 at 7:17
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    A cute explanation I read is that the bioengeneered knew that one of them might be woken before the others. And they all agreed that whomever was woken first would call themselves Khan as a kind of information warfare: deny useful information to your captors. Being Khan, that woken person would be more valuable than if they where some random super-human, and they all where capable of the role. And if there was a real Khan that was something special, this would hide his identity...
    – Yakk
    Aug 12, 2015 at 14:37

1 Answer 1


It would seem that the writers, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, were aware of Ricardo Montalban's original portrayal of Khan in The Original Series and The Wrath of Khan, but explicitly chose to depart from it.

First of all, they recognized that Khan was a character of immense importance in the Star Trek canon:

Lindelof said that Khan was considered a character they needed to use at some point, given that "he has such an intense gravity in the Trek universe, we likely would have expended more energy NOT putting him in this movie than the other way around."

The statement about having to expend energy to keep Khan out of the film is fairly contrived, but it does imply that they were at least aware of the character's importance.

References to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were eventually added to the script, but Lindelof, Orci, and Kurtzman "were ever wary of the line between 'reimagined homage' and 'direct ripoff'." Orci and Kurtzman said they wanted a film which would work on its own and as a sequel, not using ideas from previous Star Trek works simply "because you think people are going to love it".

So it seems that they made a conscious decision to depart from the previous notion of the character.

(Source for Excerpts)

To shed more light on the process by which Khan — or at least a version of the character — came to be in Into Darkness and why he was portrayed as he is, I include the following snippets from an interview with Orci from the official Star Trek web site:

INTERVIEWER: Let's talk about Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). Take us through why you went with Khan as the villain and, also, can you clarify why he does what he does?

ORCI: OK, I’ll do a deep dive with you. In a way, [fellow co-writer and co-producer] Damon [Lindelof] and I were the biggest debaters about this. He argued for Khan from the beginning and I argued against it. The compromise that we came to was, let us devise a story that is not reliant on any history of Star Trek. So, what's the story? Well, we have a story where our crew is who they are and they're coming together as a family. Then, suddenly, this villain arrives and his motivations are based on what happens in the movie. They're not based on history. They're not based on Star Trek. They’re not based on anything that came before. They're based on his [being] used by a corrupted system of power that held the things he held dear against him and tried to manipulate him. That story stands alone with or without Star Trek history. That's how we approached it, and God bless Damon for going down that road.

So, once we had that, that's when Damon came back and reared his ugly head and said, "OK, now that we have that, is there any reason why we cannot bring Star Trek history into this?" And he was right. So we ended up sort of reverse engineering it. We started with, "What's a good movie? What’s a good villain? What’s a good motivation? We cannot rely on what's happened before. Now that we have that, can we tailor this villain into something that relates to Star Trek history?" And that’s what we did. So, step one was "Don’t rely on Star Trek." Then, step two was "Rely on Star Trek."


Within this, we find that Khan's behaviour differs from his counterpart in the Prime Timeline (i.e. the timeline that would have developed if it weren't for Nero's interference in the 2009 film) because of

  • the manipulation and abuse that Khan received at the hands of Admiral Marcus (this is the in-universe answer);
  • they conceived of their villain and his qualities before they decided he would be Khan Noonien Singh (this is the out-of-universe answer).

As for the issue of Khan crying, it seems to be compatible with this explanation. That being said, it was probably included as a means of adding an extra dimension or layer to the character — although I agree with the OP that it is ill-fitting at best.

  • 4
    Okay, wow, that's a lot of info, more than I expected. Thanks! And I like your handle and avatar. Star Trek 6 was a great movie.
    – user50519
    Aug 11, 2015 at 23:59
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    ...So basically the answer is no. IMHO, it was a bad approach to take. They're alienating the people that want to see the film most, those that loved Khan when he quoted Shakespeare and turned straight guys temporarily gay. Aug 12, 2015 at 13:28
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    @slicedtoad- I absolutely get that, but the two goals are not mutually exclusive. You can honour the old stories and characters and simultaneously set up a decent storyline that'll appeal to modern audiences. Aug 12, 2015 at 15:05
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    @JamesRyan : An interesting point, but it's hard to say. There are no notes in the screenplay to suggest that he is faking. Also, in Into Darkness, Khan does seem to have an extreme emotional attachment to his so-called "family".
    – Praxis
    Aug 12, 2015 at 15:55
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    @Hypnosifl : You're selecting only one quote. But then we have "..this villain arrives and his motivations are based on what happens in the movie. They're not based on history." This quote from Orci has to do with Khan as a character. It says that Khan's persona and behaviour have been fit to their storyline. So I disagree. (Although I agree that the particular quote you have selected can only be interpreted as far as you have done in your comment.)
    – Praxis
    Aug 12, 2015 at 17:10

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