By Kathleen S. Kirk
Given the fact my handle is what it is, I am kind of obligated to write up about the new Star Trek movie. However, I have a confession to make.
I am not as big a Star Trek fan as my name would suggest. Or, rather, I am not as big an original series (TOS) fan as my name would suggest.
I got into Star Trek in that post-2009 movie era. I started with some TOS, but wasn’t a huge fan of it. Then, one day, I accidentally TiVo’d Enterprise and an obsession was born. Since then I have watched all of Enterprise and most of DS9 but I haven’t touched much TOS. And I haven’t seen any of the movies except First Contact.
My obsession with Star Trek and my ability to judge this movie without having seen all the necessary backstory comes from the fact I have a deep appreciation, bordering on obsession, for the richness and scope of the universe.
Quite simply, I have inhaled the entire Wiki.
This Star Trek is about – yes, you guessed it – Khan. This incarnation is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, more known for making fangirls squee as the title character in Sherlock.
But who is Khan? This is actually a question that I am well-versed in answering, but doing so takes a little backstory.
In the Star Trek universe, Earth went through a series of battles between about 1992-1996. These were known as the Eugenics Wars and they came about because scientists attempted to create a more advanced, more “perfect” species of human, called Augments.
While genetic engineering created a stronger human, it also enhanced aggression, which was often disguised as ambition. Science was not advanced enough to correct this.
The Augments took power in the early 1990s, starting with Khan, who eventually ruled over a quarter of the planet. Soon other Augments followed, seizing forty countries, and global war broke out, resulting in over 30 million deaths.
Around 1996, after realizing he would lose the war, Khan and a group of eighty-four loyal followers stole and launched what was known as a “sleeper ship”, where they went into suspended animation (stasis) and set themselves adrift. Nearly two hundred years later, seventy-two are still alive when Khan’s ship is discovered.
Khan as a ruler was an interesting character. He severely limited his people’s freedoms, but he did so in a manner that prevented internal conflict. From my understanding, his people lived a very restricted but overall “safe” life, in comparison to other Augments who turned their populations into slaves.
The aftermath of the Eugenics Wars led to a severe distrust for genetically-engineered humans, fueled by the tremendous fear of creating another Khan. Similar to the way homeschooling is illegal in Germany for fear of creating another Hitler, most forms of genetic manipulation became illegal on Earth.
Genetic enhancements were considered to be anti-Humanistic, a concept that became increasingly important following first contact. Ideas of retaining humanity, of what makes us human, and a fear of losing humanity are recurring themes throughout all of Star Trek and all can quite possibly be traced back not to alien contact and species’ pride, but to the Augments, who were technically human but possessed a certain inhumanity that was very frightening.
This makes me seriously question the validity of bringing Khan out of stasis. In the original timeline, Kirk accidentally brings Khan out of stasis, in an attempt to save his life after they stumble onto his sleeper ship in space and find his life support failing.
Kirk doesn’t know who Khan is when he does it; he is acting on his own humanity in an attempt to save a life.
But Admiral Marcus specifically brought Khan out of stasis, knowing who he was, in a world still terrified of genetic augmentation. Marcus felt the threat was worth the risk, but the Augments did such terrible things, I would severely question even his ability to make that assessment.
The Eugenics War is believed to have led to World War III, a period of global nuclear war lasting nearly 30 years and resulting in over 300 million dead. This led to the eradication of most world governments by the time first contact was made.
Who would honestly feel that waking up the man largely responsible for this devastation would be a good idea?
But it’s a small grievance in a very well-made and otherwise solid movie. I was very excited for it and it didn’t disappoint. J.J. Abrams did a very good job with keeping things consistent up to the point of divergence into the alternate timeline.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations! You might be a Trekkie!
If you want to hear more about the Eugenics War, I highly recommend watching Enterprise, particularly the fourth season episodes “The Augments”, “Cold Station 12”, and “Borderland”.