We all know the basics about Khan, one of the Star Trek franchise’s most infamous villains. How he’s a genetically enhanced superhuman with superior intellect and strength, who once ruled a large portion of Earth; how he is found by Captain James Kirk and the Enterprise in a cryogenic stasis in the original TV series, only to be awakened to cause more havoc; how after being exiled for several years, he comes back to seek vengeance on Kirk in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; and how he is resurrected in an entirely different form in the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness.
But we’ve gathered some other fun facts about Khan, like how he was originally supposed to be a Nordic/Viking pirate, or how in other non-canon Star Trek material, he was an orphan boy in India who was snatched up by bad guys. Take a look at the 15 things we uncovered about Khan you might not know.
15. HE WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED AS AN ANCIENT GREEK
TV writer Carey Wilbur, who was the co-writer and story creator for the Star Trek episode “Space Seed” — the one that introduced the world to Khan — had actually been thinking about this type of character for years. Wilbur was a pretty prolific TV writer in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, writing episodes for such shows as Lost in Space, Bonanza, and Cannon, and he came up with a similar plot for a low-budget 1950s sci-fi show called Captain Video and His Video Rangers, in which ancient Greeks with mythological powers are awakened from cryogenic suspension in outer space (via MeTV.com).
We’re glad Khan didn’t turn out to be Greek, because that would have just been all wrong, but interestingly enough, one of the original Star Trek episodes, “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, featured a powerful being claiming to be the Greek god Apollo demanding the Enterprise crew stay on his planet and worship him. That was a good one.
14. HE WAS PITCHED AS A NORDIC SUPERHUMAN, THEN BECAME A SIKH
Clearly, Wilbur couldn’t get this one idea about a superhuman being reawakened to wreak havoc out of his head. His one and only contribution to the Star Trek franchise was “Space Seed,” which aired in 1967. When he originally pitched the idea to creator Gene Roddenberry, he went from ancient Greek to a Nordic named Harold or John Ericssen, who would later reveal himself to be a Viking space pirate named Ragnar Thorwald. Imagine that for a moment.
Roddenberry apparently wasn’t necessarily all that thrilled with the Nordic idea, especially after Ricardo Montalban was cast. The Star Trek guru and the other co-writer, Gene Coon, decided to make the character of Indian origin, possibly Sikh, finally settling on the name Khan Noonien Singh, which as we all know now was shortened to the infamous moniker, Khan (via MeTV.com).
13. HE WAS KIDNAPPED OFF THE STREETS OF INDIA AS A CHILD
Some of the Khan’s backstory was explained in the episode by Spock, who recognized him as the former genetically enhanced warlord who conquered a third of the planet in the 1990s and started the Eugenics Wars, ultimately losing the battle and escaping via being frozen and all.
A five-part comic series Star Trek: Khan – released in 2013 by IDW Publishing and written by Mike Johnson — served as both a prequel and a sequel to the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness, and it takes a look at Khan’s early development. In the first issue, Khan is just an orphan boy living in the streets of India, who gets gassed and snatched up by masked men. He is taken to Dr. Heisen, along with several other children, and is then experimented on. Heisen turns them into “super soldiers,” masters of intellect and physical prowess, who also have regenerative powers. The kid definitely shows promise.
12. HE KILLED THE DOCTOR WHO “CREATED” HIM
But wait, there’s more in that first issue! The boy eventually escapes the confines of the facility in which he is being held by first disabling the computer system and then literally digging his way out through the solid rock floor. He is unfortunately tracked down by Dr. Heisen in the Gobi desert and incapacitated by a neural inhibitor that has been implanted within him.
Needless to say, this really ticks off Khan. He eventually takes his revenge when he presents Dr. Heisen with a box filled with all the neural inhibitors Khan has removed from his fellow comrades in the program. Khan then crushes Heisen’s skull with his bare hands (hmmm, shades of Blade Runner we think?) and informs his followers that the world is now theirs to command. You really don’t want to mess with this dude.
11. HE PLANNED TO DESTROY EARTH AFTER LOSING THE EUGENICS WAR
As part of the Star Trek non-canon book series, The Eugenic Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, published in 2001, the character differs slightly from the comics. Khan is part of the “Children of Chrysalis” – a group of kids who have been genetically altered by the nefarious Chrysalis group. Two scientists, however, go undercover and rescue the children, destroying the project.
The damage is already done, as the children in the project grow up to be major political figures all over the world and begin to battle for power and influence. Khan still remains the most powerful of them all, amassing a great empire of his own. But after several assassination attempts and riots of his people in the war, he decides to power up a satellite he built that will destroy the ozone layer and wipe out all life on Earth. The scientist who previously helped him talks Khan out of it and offers safe passage on a ship for him and some of his fellow comrades, in an effort to find a better place to settle down. Kind of an interesting take, right?
10. HE PRIDES HIMSELF ON HIS FASHION SENSE
One can’t be too surprised that Khan likes to dress to impress. According to StarTrek.com, Khan appears in varying outfits in the “Space Seed” episode. William Ware Theiss, the costume designer for the original Star Trek series, wanted to create something “symbolic” with the looks in this episode.
Khan changes costumes five times in “Space Seed.” Two of his outfits are actually reuses of previous costumes, including a blue medical outfit and a set of engineering duds. He’s also fond of wearing traditional Starfleet clothes, like the one he wears in the episode, along the tattered Starfleet stuff he rocks in Wrath of Khan. Even in Star Trek Into Darkness, Khan, under the guise of John Harrison, wears a black Starfleet shirt.
9. THAT CHEST IN WRATH OF KHAN IS ALL REAL
Look, there would be no Khan as we know him if Ricardo Montablan didn’t portray him – and boy, that man was in incredible shape when he made the 1982 film, Wrath of Khan. That Starfleet sweater jacket thing Khan wore, opened at the chest, made the man more savage looking than his original appearance on the TV show. It made sense, since he had been exiled on a hostile planet for many years. His clothes wouldn’t necessarily hold up AND he’d have lots of time to do push ups.
Many speculated at the time of its release that Montalban wore a prosthetic piece on his chest in portraying the formidable villain, because it was hard to believe a man in his late 60s could have pecs like that. But those were pure Montalban. Wrath of Khan‘s producer Robert Sallin confirmed it in an interview with Crave, saying, “Yes [they were real]. He was in amazing shape. His pectoral muscles and his whole upper body [were] very strong and they emphasized that with the costume. That was real Ricardo.”
8. A METHOD TO HIS MADNESS
Khan is pretty over the top, we must say, but that’s exactly how Montalban intended to play him. In an interview with ComicBookMovie.com, the actor explained that in his original portrayal, Khan was “extremely powerful both mentally and physically, with an enormous amount of pride” and who also had some “good qualities.” Montalban went on to describe the “nobility in the man that, unfortunately, was overridden by ambition and a thirst for power.”
But the character in Wrath of Khan had to be played differently. Montalban commented on how this time around, Khan was a man full of rage and obsessed with righting a grievous wrong he felt was done to him by Kirk. Therefore, the characterization had to be even bigger. “I felt he really had to become bigger than life almost to the point of becoming ludicrous to be effective,” the actor explained. “If I didn’t play it fully and totally obsessed with this, then I think the character would be little and insignificant and uninteresting.”
And Montalban didn’t really mind if he went a little overboard, because if he played it subtle, it would fall flat. “You can play safe, you can underact, put the lid on and it works beautifully. In this case, I thought if I did that it would be very dull.” Nailed it!
7. HE NEVER CAME FACE-TO-FACE WITH KIRK AGAIN AFTER HIS INITIAL EXILE
In all of Wrath of Khan, Khan never gets the chance to confront Captain Kirk again, face to face. Although Montalban was disappointed that he couldn’t play opposite William Shatner again, he believed that distance helped ratchet up the tension between the two. “It was difficult as an actor, but that separation of the two ships gave it a really poignant touch to the scenes,” Montalban told CBM. “The fact that being so strong, there was so much pressure knowing that he can’t get his hands on Kirk.”
While the actor’s feelings also reflect on the audience — we would have loved to see Kirk and Khan slug it out again — the separation definitely worked. Khan becomes even more menacing and dangerous as he and Kirk dance around each other using their respective ships. Also, it makes watching Kirk scream, “KHAAAAAAAN” at a man not in the room with him a lot more effective.
6. THE CHEKOV PLOT HOLE IN WRATH OF KHAN
How did Khan know Chekov in Wrath of Khan when the two were never seen together in the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed”? Actor Walter Koenig didn’t join the cast until the second season of the show, but when Khan encounters Chekov in Wrath of Khan (and the poor guy has one of those hideous mind-controlling creatures, known as a Ceti Eel, crawl into his ear), Khan says, “I never forget a face.”
It’s one of the more well-known gaffes in the Star Trek fandom. The film’s writer, Jack B. Sowards, reportedly said he originally had Chekov watching a library tape of Khan before meeting him in his final draft, but it was cut by director Nicholas Meyer and the scene reworked, creating the plot hole.
It turns out, however, in Chekov’s origin story (as written in some non-canon novels), he technically was on the Enterprise when Khan was there, and so the two may have run into each at some point. Koenig once joked that the reason Khan remembers Chekov is because he was in the bathroom when the big bad of the final frontier wanted to use it.
5. HE STARS IN A DIGITAL SLOTS GAME
Want to play slots, Wrath of Khan-style? Now’s your chance. Jackpot Party Casino created a digital slots game for this beloved entry in the Star Trek series, in which fans can take a spin with their favorite Trek characters, including Khan and the Enterprise crew, to win coins.
The online game apparently features authentic voices from the real actors, along with all the Star Trek sound effects, from phasers, photon torpedos, and transporters. Maybe a swish sound for the opening of an Enterprise door? You’d think. Here’s another little tidbit for the official game description: extra paylines can be achieved without extra payment, thanks to a base 5×4 reel, and the slot allows you to experience ship-to-ship combat in the free spin bonus rounds among the wreckage.
4. THE KHAN BOBBLE HEAD YOU OBVIOUSLY NEED TO BUY
Well, of course there is. If you so desire, you can own the Wrath of Khan bobble head, which stands at 7 inches tall and is an almost exact replica with wild silver hair, bulging chest, tattered sweater jacket thing – and the mysterious glove he wears. There’s also a Kirk bobble head, and if you get them both, you can re-enact scenes from the movie. Even if their heads are a little big, you could have them bobbing up and down and butt into each other as you create your own confrontation. You know, the satisfaction of them battling it out one more time. We’re not kids playing with toys, YOU are!
And since we Trekkies have way too much time on our hands, there’s any number of fun gadgets and memorabilia you can get. For the record, we think the Funko Pop people should definitely create a Khan.
3. HE WAS PHYSICALLY ALTERED TO BECOME “JOHN HARRISON”
Star Trek aficionados had a real problem with director J.J. Abrams’ second Star Trek installment, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, due in large part to resurrecting the Khan character. Granted, these latest Star Trek movies are now operating on an alternate timeline after the first entry, the 2009 Star Trek, skewed things, but many critics at the time of the film’s release felt it just wasn’t necessary to bring this character back since he had been immortalized by Ricardo Montalban. Plus, Khan was played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who holds no resemblance to the original character (and Abrams regrets keeping his true identity a secret, too).
In order to somewhat appease fans and explain their reasoning for casting Cumberbatch, the comic Star Trek: Khan (described above) details how the Khan we all know and love turned into a white British guy. It seems when Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus finds Khan, he alters the villain’s physical appearance and his memories to make him believe he is John Harrison and asks him to build weapons against the Klingons. Too bad that plan totally backfires, and Khan becomes Khan again.
2. HE STARS IN A STAR TREK/GREEN LANTERN CROSSOVER COMIC
In a more recent comic from IDW Publishing, and once again written by Mike Johnson, the Benedict Cumberbatch Khan shows up in Star Trek/Green Lantern Vol. 2 — Stranger Worlds Part Two.
In the popular crossover comics, Hal Jordan and the Lantern Corps team up with Captain Kirk and Starfleet to fight the bad guys. In Stranger World Part Two, Jordan, whose Green Lantern Corps has been hit hard, finds that their power rings are running low, and it’s almost impossible for them to recharge them because there are no more power batteries. Jordan has to team up with Starfleet in their efforts to defeat Sinestro and the resurgent Klingons in the ultimate battle.
Unfortunately, that’s not all Jordan and Kirk have to contend with in this volume. They discover that there is a new foe bearing the red ring of rage – and he comes to wreak havoc for Kirk and his new allies once again. That’s Khan, and he’s back with his legion of superhumans. Let’s just say you can’t keep a good villain down, even in crossover comics.
1. HE ALMOST HAD A BABY SON
This little odd tidbit comes as a bit of a surprise. An older issue of StarBlazer magazine published a photo from the set of Wrath of Khan that showed director Nicholas Meyer interacting with a child.
The magazine explained that while making WOK, Meyer had included a few scenes in which it was discovered Khan had a small child, a boy. Admiral Terrell and Chekov first see the child we they board to the Botany Bay. As they survey all the damage done to the ancient ship, they spot the child among the wreckage and see it scurrying away.
The kid doesn’t show up again until the end. As the USS Reliant is literally disintegrating after its brutal attack from the Enterprise, Khan activates the Genesis as it sits on the transporter pad. The boy apparently crawls toward the device, and it explodes into one giant bright light, thus creating the Genesis Planet. Definitely not a feel-good moment to be sure, on top of us already crying over Spock’s death. It was probably a wise move to leave it on the cutting room floor.
Should the Star Trek movie franchise continues now that Star Trek Beyond was a critical hit – albeit not a breakout success commercially – Cumberbatch’s Khan might make another appearance, since he was sent back into cyro-sleep at the end of Into Darkness. He could quite possibly wake up again, so watch out.
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