Gene Roddenberry tried for years to get Star Trek on the air again once NBC cancelled the show in 1969. The Original Series was in syndication where it became even more popular. With the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Paramount was convinced to try a Star Trek Film.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered in December of 1979, ten years after The Original Series went off the air. Kirk has been promoted to Admiral while Spock has been studying on Vulcan. When a mysterious cloud known only as V’Ger threatens Earth, Kirk and Spock rejoin their Enterprise crewmates to uncover exactly what V’Ger is. The film is filled with special effects shots that were state of the art in 1979 and hold up for the most part today. Perhaps the most important aspect of The Motion Picture was it allowed the production of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982.
At the end of “Space Seed” Khan and his group were exiled to Ceti Alpha V. 15 years later, Commander Chekov and his commanding officer Captain Terrell, are investigating the Ceti Alpha system when they stumble upon Khan. Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after Kirk exiled Khan’s group. What was once a habitable if savage planet was ruined. If Khan and his followers were not augmented humans they would not have survived. Lt. McGivers, who chose exile with Khan over a court martial, couldn’t handle the harsher conditions. Angry at Kirk, Khan takes Chekov and Terrell hostage and captures their starship.
Meanwhile Kirk is feeling old. As an admiral he is training the next generation of officers. The Enterprise crew help out during a simulation known as the Kobayashi Maru, a no win scenario. Taking the test is Saavik, a Vulcan who is Spock’s mentee. She thinks the test was unfair and doesn’t understand the concept of the no win scenario. Kirk takes the Enterprise out on a training mission with Saavik and several cadets on board. It’s cut short when they pick up a distress signal from Regula I, the space station where Dr. Carol Marcus is working on a terraforming device called Genesis.
En route, Khan ambushes Kirk, demanding all the material related to Genesis. Kirk stalls for time and finds a code to hack into Khan’s ship and remotely lower the shields. They are able to escape but need repairs. Kirk, Saavik, and McCoy beam aboard the Regula I station to discover most of its crew dead. They find Chekov and Terrell amidst the carnage. Dr. Marcus and her adult son David are not on the station, having escaped to the planet below. They had been using the planet Regula to test Genesis. Unfortunately Khan had turned Chekov and Terrell into spies and he orders them to kill Kirk. Captain Terrell resists and kills himself instead while Chekov collapses under the pressure. Khan steals the device, believing Kirk to be stranded.
But Kirk and Spock arrange a secret rendezvous. They fight Khan in the Mutara Nebula where neither ship has use of their shields or targeting systems. Khan’s thirst of revenge blinds him from retreat so he is mortally wounded. But before he dies he activates the Genesis device which will reorganize surrounding matter into a new planet, including his ship and the Enterprise. Kirk can’t escape in time because his warp engines are offline.
Spock heads down to engineering where Scotty had to seal it off because of radiation. Before Doctor McCoy can argue, Spock performs a Vulcan nerve pinch and a mind meld to knock him out. He slips into the main engine chamber and is able to repair it just in the nick of time. The Enterprise warps away just as Genesis denotes, turning the Mutara Nebula and Khan’s ship into a new planet.
It doesn’t take long for Kirk to realize who saved the ship. He rushes down to engineering to see his friend succumb to the radiation. Spock’s Vulcan heritage allowed him to survive just long enough to save the ship and say goodbye to Kirk. They honor Spock with a space burial and fire his coffin towards the Genesis planet. Kirk admits after all of this he feels young.
It’s hard to go wrong with Wrath of Khan. Of all the Star Trek movies it’s definitely among the best. Dr. Marcus is an interesting character as one of Kirk’s former lovers (David is their son). She no longer has a relationship with the captain and raised their son all on her own. She devoted herself to her work instead and seems to have no regrets. However she does not make an appearance in future Trek films. Saavik will return for Star Trek III though the actress will change.