Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan received a DVD “director’s cut” treatment this week. Most Star Trek fans consider this the best film of the series. While I’ve always loved Star Trek II and have fond memories of going to see it with my father in the summer of ’82, I count Nick Meyer’s other entry in the series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as my favorite Star Trek film. Both films are good and capture much of what makes Star Trek great.
I sat down earlier this week and watched Star Trek II again, perhaps for the fiftieth or sixtieth time, but instead of watching the film I took in Meyer’s audio commentary. There were no real surprises to be heard; the stories Meyer tells have been covered before in behind-the-scenes books like William Shatner’s Star Trek Movie Memories. What I did find surprising was Meyer’s lack of engagement on the controversies surrounding the film–his feud with Gene Roddenberry over the film’s creative direction, Spock’s death, the militarism of the film. Meyer, when he mentions these topics, treats them matter-of-factly and without much depth.
Star Trek II is famous, of course, for Spock’s death in saving the Enterprise from the Genesis Wave. Meyer attacks the scene of Spock’s burial tube on the Genesis Planet in his commentary–he didn’t film the scene, he didn’t want it as part of his final cut, but the studio thought the film should end on a positive note. He goes on to say that he could have made Star Trek III but had no interest in resurrecting Spock as Paramount wanted. Once Spock had returned Meyer had no difficulty writing for the character in Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI, but he had objections to bringing a character back from the dead simply for its own sake as the resurrection robs the death of its emotional weight.
For me, Spock’s death in Star Trek II still carries an emotional punch. That Spock willingly gave up his life to save everyone, not knowing that he would come back still has a resonance, even if later events make that sacrifice something less than the character originally intended.
Here’s my view on Spock’s death and resurrection.
The regenerated Spock isn’t the same being as the Spock that died.
They look alike, they have the same genetic structure, they have mostly the same memories, but they’re not the same. Fans think of them as being the same, but they’re really not. The regenerated Spock is more like a clone of the original, grown from a few cells in Spock’s corpse that weren’t killed off by the warp core radiations through the magic of the Genesis Effect. The regenerated Spock doesn’t remember dying. The regenerated Spock doesn’t remember entering the radiation chamber. His memories of his first life end with “Remember.” The Spock post-Genesis was “born” on the Genesis Planet. The consciousness has continuity stretching back another sixty years, but the body itself is relatively new though prematurely aged. The mental continuity may give the regenerated Spock the same personality as his predecessor, but their thinking patterns will be different.
A clone of Spock isn’t exactly Spock, even if the clone doesn’t realize there’s a difference.