There's a reason that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is generally considered the best of the original Trek films. Well, a few reasons. The 1982 feature boasts a charismatic villain, awesome-for-their-era special effects, a simple but compelling plot, a genuinely emotional center and a surprise ending that necessitated William Shatner's iconic and oft-parodied "KHHAAAAAANNNN!" scream.
What more could you want?
Shatner — James Tiberius Kirk himself — has been touring with Khan around the country, screening the beloved film and following it up with insider's commentary and audience Q&As. One of those stops brings him to Spokane this weekend, where the U.S.S. Enterprise's original commander will beam onto the stage at the First Interstate Center for the Arts.
"The film is played on the big screen with the big sound, and then I'll come out on stage afterwards and entertain and inform," Shatner told the Inlander during a recent phone interview. "It's a spontaneous exercise for an hour, of trying to keep a large number of people amused and interested. There was a time, lo these many years ago, when I'd appear in front of 15,000 people alone and not know what the next word was, and apprehensive about making a Freudian slip."
He says he has loosened up over the years — this is, after all, a guy whose bread and butter involves interacting with his most zealous fans dozens of times a year — and he likens this gig to stand-up comedy.
"But a stand-up has prepared jokes," Shatner says. "There's no routine here. You ask me a question and I riff on it."
And sometimes, the people actually asking the questions know more about the minutiae of the vast Star Trek universe than Shatner himself.
"Sometimes the questions wander further afield," he laughs. "Having done [the movie] 35 years ago, the nuances are long lost, which [the fans] remember. ... It becomes amusing what the audience knows and what I don't know."
Released in the summer of '82, a week before E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial blew away box office records, The Wrath of Khan is a direct sequel to 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and it's something of a rebuke to its slow-paced, cerebral predecessor. With a budget of $11 million (contrast that with the $46 million price tag of The Motion Picture) and a crew made up of technicians from Paramount's TV division, the film reintroduces us to a disillusioned Kirk, now a teacher at the Starfleet Academy. He learns that an old nemesis, the mutant tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), has come out of exile and is seeking a powerful device known as Genesis, and it's up to Kirk and the Enterprise crew to stop him.
"It's not only a good film, it has a historical presence in Star Trek," Shatner says. "When Star Trek was at its best, it appealed to emotional bonds between the characters and the story. I believe The Wrath of Khan does that."
The Wrath of Khan was a critical and financial success, raking in nearly $100 million, and it breathed new life into the Star Trek film series. It's well known even outside Trekkie circles, and some of its most well-known plot beats were referenced (to divisive effect) in 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, making it something of a pseudo-remake of Khan.
But is there any other show or film from Shatner's own resume that he thinks deserves a good remake? He's quick with his answer: No.
"Remakes are good, I suppose, but there's something to be said about an original concept," he says.
And has he seen the recent remake of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," the classic episode of The Twilight Zone he starred in back in 1963?
Also, no. "But it would be of interest," he admits. ♦
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with William Shatner • Fri, May 17 at 7:30 pm • $51.50-$102 • All ages • First Interstate Center for the Arts • 334 W. Spokane Falls • inbpac.com • 279-7000