One of the more exciting prospects to emerge from the earliest announcements concerning ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ was the return of writer/director Nicholas Meyer to the franchise for the first time since 1991. Meyer has been relatively quiet since then, however, with the lion’s share of publicity for ‘Discovery’ being handled first by original showrunner Bryan Fuller and then by his successors Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts. That, however, is beginning to change, as Meyer revealed back in June that he was working on another ‘Star Trek’ project, though he declined to provide any further details.
Now, though, the first hint of Meyer’s mystery ‘Trek’ may have emerged. According to reports that first surfaced via Geek Exchange, Meyer is developing a “prequel, miniseries or limited series” that would bridge the gap between ‘Space Seed’ and ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ by chronicling the iconic villain’s exile on Ceti Alpha V. As the report on Geek Exchange cites only unspecified sources, it’s safe to take this news with a pretty hefty grain of salt, at least for the time being. But suppose the rumors are true?
As strong as Meyer’s history with ‘Star Trek’ is, this prospect is fraught, to say the least. In narrative terms, this territory has been covered in the past, (albeit in non-canon form) both in the Greg Cox novel ‘To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh’ and the comic book limited series ‘Khan: Ruling in Hell’ by Scott and David Tipton. And to be blunt, I’m not sure there’s a story there that’s crying out to be told. In point of fact, ‘Star Trek II’ gives us all the narrative background we need, with the destruction of Ceti Alpha VI turning the planet into a wasteland that claims the lives of his wife and a number of his followers. At best, any story set during this time runs into what you might call “prequel trilogy syndrome”, in that we’d have a pretty good sense going in who lives, who dies, and what the playing field has to look like by the end.
Perhaps more to the point though is that any such production would by necessity find itself recasting Khan. This might not sound like a problem on the face of it, but in this age of rebooting, recasting, and revisiting every iconic property under the sun, it can be easy to overlook why some of these things worked in the first place. And as much credit as rightfully goes to the writers responsible for the classic Khan stories, the simple fact is that one of the reasons the character worked as well as he did in the first place was Ricardo Montalban’s unforgettable performance. As we learned with 2013’s ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, trying to recreate that performance is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle (in point of fact, that should be one of the broader lessons of the reboot films, but that’s an essay for another day). Indeed, with respect to Benedict Cumberbatch (who is no slouch as a performer), at no point did he come close to matching the intensity or effortless charisma that Montalban brought to the role. Suffice it to say that there are some very big shoes that would need to be filled here, and unless you know for a fact that you have a leader who is up to the challenge, maybe think twice about the whole undertaking.
Assuming these rumors are true, it also points to a troubling trend that has emerged in the post-‘Enterprise’ era of ‘Star Trek’. Between the reboot films, ‘Discovery’, and now the Khan rumors, every ‘Trek’ project to emerge in the past dozen years has been set firmly in the ‘Original Series’ era. This suggests that those in charge are more interested in milking this familiar era of ‘Trek’ history for all it’s worth than in pushing the franchise into new settings and directions. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with trading on nostalgia or filling gaps in a sprawling continuity, the reliance on this suggests a certain risk-averse mentality that can only work to the franchise’s detriment if it continues over the long term.
What do you think of these rumors? Is a ‘Wrath of Khan’ prequel something you’re interested in seeing? As always, let us know in the comments and be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on this and other ‘Star Trek’ projects as they develop.