//\\ 15-Minute Federation //\\ presents . . . Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan — Chapter 7: The Battle of the Mutara Nebula (Or: A Whole New World)


01:30:01 – The End

As it turns out, early in his career as the captain of the 15-Minute Federation, James C. Firewater had stranded his nemesis Genghis Noonan Sheehan—the genetically-engineered Irish superman—on the planet O’Shaughnessy’s Corner Pub with his crew of drunken dart-throwers.

The Archon of the planet—Colm O’Shaughnessy himself—ended up losing his liquor license after he overserved a cub scout troop. Sheehan then remembered that the captain still owed him credits for losing a World Cup bet, and, without the free-flowing Guinness from O’Shaughnessy’s taps to distract him, decided to exact his revenge upon Firewater.

Sheehan and his crew stormed the bridge of the 15-Minute Federation and threatened the crew with merciless noogies and wedgies until the captain managed to scrape up the twenty credits he owed from petty cash.

As a tale of stalwart heroism, it may have been lacking, but all ended well. Afterwards, both crews went to the neighborhood Chili’s and filled up on appetizers and watery American beer.

Welcome to the final chapter of

The Wrath of Khan Edition of the 15-Minute Federation.

At the end of our previous chapter, Khan had ordered his ship into the Mutara Nebula to pursue Kirk, AND he was arming the Genesis device. That sound you hear is the ticking of the dramatic clock.

We have to point out that Ricardo Montalban, who is acting his ass off throughout, never actually shot a scene with William Shatner in this movie. The two were never on-set at the same time. Montalban was usually delivering his lines while a “script girl” (Ricardo’s words, not ours) read Kirk’s dialogue. He said it was very difficult.

Of course, this movie was made years before CGI-heavy movies were commonplace. How many present-day actors have to do their jobs while looking at a tennis ball on a stick? Suck it up, Ricardo.

The sequence that follows has become known, canonically, as The Battle of the Mutara Nebula.

Kirk has always been characterized as having a genius-level intellect, since early TOS days. He routinely defeats Spock at three-dimensional chess, after all. While it’s debatable that William Shatner convincingly sells this aspect of the character, we have to believe that it is true, because we are told that it is so. The circumstances leading up to the Battle of the Mutara Nebula are a prime example of James Tiberius Kirk as a brilliant strategist. Khan Noonien Singh had the high ground in the conflict (the concept of the “high ground” existed long before Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, so save the snarky comments, nerds) because the Reliant was in better operational shape than the Enterprise. Plus, Khan already had the Genesis device. All Khan had to do was not follow Kirk into the nebula. He had already won.

How did Kirk level the playing field? First, he took his ship into the Mutara, where ship sensors and shields would not correctly function. Second, he challenged Khan into following him with what was essentially the equivalent of the schoolyard taunt Nana Nana Boo Boo, Stick Your Head in Doo Doo. It worked.

You could argue that Khan’s motivation had always been revenge against Admiral Kirk, not galactic conquest. So, very little taunting was required. Potato, tomato.

What follows is a submarine warfare sequence that reminds us of dozens of WWII movies, The Hunt for Red October, and the TOS episode “Balance of Terror,” featuring a pre-Sarek Mark Lenard as the Romulan Commander.

Flying blind, both starships take potshots at each other, mostly ineffectually. Then, the Reliant destroys the port torpedo tube of the Enterprise, which immediately returns fire and damages the Reliant bridge. Khan’s trusted right-hand superman, Joachim, dies in this sally. Of course, Khan vows to avenge his death. That’s kinda his thing.

The Enterprise loses main power once again and the warp drive chamber in engineering is flooded with radiation. Scotty has to take the mains offline before the entire Engineering crew is wiped out.

Chekov returns to the bridge, miraculously recovered from his Manchurian Candidate stint after playing host to a Ceti eel for a while. Kirk puts him in charge of weapons.

Spock suggests that Khan’s actions to that point seem to indicate “two-dimensional thinking.” Khan may have the superior intellect (debatable), but he’s relatively inexperienced as the captain of a starship. To put it in terms most of us on the bridge of the 15-Minute Federation can understand, Khan is playing a game of Asteroids. To defeat him, Kirk has to play Zaxxon.

We all logged a lot of hours in the video game arcades in the 1980s.

Kirk has no trouble with multidimensional thinking. His big, innovative maneuver? Drop straight down (relatively speaking, as there are no “up” and “down” in space) the Enterprise‘s Z-axis, allow the Reliant to pass harmlessly above him, then reverse directions along the same axis, coming up behind Khan’s vessel, then have Chekov hit the Reliant with torpedoes and phaser blasts. This effectively cripples the Reliant, blowing off its port nacelle, leaving it leaking plasma as it drifts away.

We wonder if this became known as the Kirk Maneuver. Picard had a maneuver named after him. It was briefly accelerating into high warp towards an enemy vessel so as to appear to be two places at once to sensors, then attacking the enemy before they could adjust. How would the Kirk Maneuver be written up in the books? Um . . . go down and somehow get your enemy to pass over you, then come back up behind them. This might even be the perfect defense for the Picard Maneuver if you were quick enough. Can you use warp speed to move along the Z-axis? Hmm.

Anyway, it worked, leaving most of Khan’s crew dead, and leaving Khan himself looking a little like a marshmallow held above the campfire a little too long.

Khan is willing to settle for the Pyrrhic victory, however. He activates the Genesis device. In case you’ve forgotten about what this device does, detonating it would reorganize all matter in the Mutara Nebula, which includes the Reliant and the Enterprise at the moment. New life may appear suddenly, but all the old life would be wiped out. Everyone who fought the Battle of the Mutara Nebula would be dead.

With Engineering flooded with radiation and the mains offline, the Enterprise would be unable to zip away at warp speed before the Genesis device detonates. So, we won the battle, but it appears we’re all about to die anyway. Yay!

But, wait—There’s more. Kirk and the gang know that the Genesis device has been triggered because Spock detects an energy pattern on the Reliant he’s never seen before. Dr. David Marcus—you remember him: Kirk’s bastard son—recognizes the pattern of the Genesis Wave, and tells his dad that they can’t beam aboard to stop it. Kirk attempts to raise Scotty on the intercoms, to tell him that they need warp speed in three minutes, or they’re all going to bite the big one. No response.

Here’s why you always want to have a Vulcan on your crew. Spock immediately assesses the situation and takes action. He arrives in Engineering, where Scotty and another engineer are slumped on the floor. Dr. McCoy is there, too, and he asks, “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” We all love that line.

McCoy attempts to stop Spock from going into the lethally irradiated dilithium reactor room. The radiation levels are lethal to all humans. Spock reminds McCoy that, as the good doctor is always fond of pointing out, Spock is not human. Then he fakes agreement with the doctor, asking about Scotty’s condition. McCoy falls for the misdirection, then Spock takes him out with a Vulcan Nerve Pinch. He also touches his face and says the word “Remember.”

This was a last-minute cheat. Spock was supposed to die in this movie. Really, really die, never to come back. That was Leonard Nimoy’s arrangement with the producers, the condition he required to be in the movie in the first place. Nimoy apparently had a change of heart.

Spock throws on some work gloves and climbs into the irradiated chamber and begins the process of saving the Enterprise‘s bacon. All while becoming bacon, we suppose. A revived Scotty even calls him “a dumb ninny.”

The dramatic clock ticks all the way down, past the three minute mark. They are only 400 kilometers away from the Genesis device, which is about to explode.

Sulu says, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

On the Reliant’s bridge, Khan begins quoting Moby Dick, the perfect novel for anyone foolishly committed to getting revenge at any cost. Or, in our opinion, anyone having trouble getting to sleep.

Khan says, “From Hell’s heart . . . I stab at three. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath . . . at thee.”

Spock gets the mains back online. Kirk tells Sulu to punch it. The Enterprise streaks away at warp speed as the Genesis device explodes and begins to transform the Reliant and the entire Mutara Nebula into a planet.

Kirk believes that Scotty has pulled off another miracle feat of engineering and calls down to congratulate him. McCoy answers, and somberly tells Kirk that he needs to come down to Engineering. Kirk notices the empty chair at the science station before he leaves the bridge. Oh no.

What follows is an iconic scene that no one would ever dare to put in another Star Trek movie, right?

When Kirk rushes into Engineering, he sees Spock on the other side of the transparent reactor room wall. He is going to open up the compartment before Scotty and McCoy physically restrain him.

He’s dead already,” McCoy says, which is a nice variant on “He’s dead, Jim.”

A momentary aside: William Shatner wanted the barrier between Kirk and Spock in this scene to be opaque, because he felt it would be more effective if the viewer could see only the shadowy outline of Spock. His idea was overruled, of course. You hear such Shatner anecdotes from the very beginning of Star Trek. Such as, the first interracial kiss on television was supposed to be between Spock and Uhura, until Shatner objected. Stuff like that.

Spock, blinded by the radiation, slowly makes his way to the transparent barrier to speak to his friend one last time.

Spock says, “Ship . . . out of danger?”


Don’t grieve, Admiral. . . . It is logical. The needs of the many . . . outweigh—”

—the needs of the few,” Kirk completes the sentence.

Or the one,” Spock adds. “I never took the Kobayashi Maru test . . . until now. What do you think of my solution?”

We love this callback to the Kobayshi Maru.

Spock!” Kirk emotes.

Spock utters his final words. At least in this movie. No, wait. His final words as a living character. How about that?

I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend. Live long . . . and prosper.”

Then, Spock dies. By all accounts, this didn’t go over well with audiences during test screenings. It didn’t go over well with any of us here when we first saw the movie.

A nice funeral scene follows. Admiral Kirk says a few words, and Scotty plays “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes (James Doohan’s idea). Spock’s torpedo coffin is shot into the atmosphere of the new Genesis planet born from the remnants of the Reliant, Khan Noonien Singh and his followers, and the entire Mutara Nebula.

A short scene follows in which Dr. David Marcus tells Kirk that he is proud to be his son. Aww. He also says some things about Kirk never having to face death before, which Kirk reluctantly agrees is true. Which means he doesn’t count the death of his brother and sister-in-law, or all of the crewmembers who died during the historic five-year mission of the Enterprise. Depending on the source, that number is somewhere between 57 and 96, by the way. Which seems like a lot of death to us. Still, none of those were Spock.

Later, as they are on the way to pick up the Reliant crew from Ceti Alpha V, Kirk, McCoy and Dr. Carol Marcus are on the bridge, doing a sort of classic outro as they stare at the Genesis planet.

McCoy says, “He’s not really dead. As long as we remember him.”

Then Kirk quotes something from A Tale of Two Cities, the book Spock gave him on his birthday. “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. A far better resting place that I go to than I have ever known.”

McCoy asks Kirk, “How do you feel?”

To which Kirk responds: “Young. I feel young.” Which was a callback to Dr. Carol Marcus’s earlier line, before Kirk had seen the Genesis cave inside the Regula planetoid. She said she was going to show him something that would make him feel “as young as when the world was new.”

Now, they’re standing on the bridge looking at a brand new world, and Kirk is saying he feels young. Get it?

The final images of the film show Spock’s torpedo coffin resting in the jungle flora of the Genesis planet as Leonard Nimoy provides the voiceover of a variation on the classic intro monologue.

Space. The final frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new lifeforms, and new civilizations . . .To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

All of which gave the viewer hope that Spock was somehow still alive. Even those of us viewers who were too dense to catch the “Remember” mind meld clue.

Oh. SPOILERS. Spock is coming back.

This is our favorite of all the Star Trek movies. Even through the J.J. Abrams reboots. And this was a movie directed by Nicholas Meyer, a writer/director who had never watched the original series. This is the movie that saved the franchise, and started the popular idea that only the even-numbered movies in the franchise were “good.”

Even though the title of this movie was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, it was not a true sequel of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Rather, it was a chance to begin again, with a faster pace and better story. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, however, is a true sequel to this movie. More on that later.

Until next movie . . . From Hell’s Heart We Stab at Thee at the 15-Minute Federation . . .Live Long and Prosper.


3 thoughts on “//\\ 15-Minute Federation //\\ presents . . . Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan — Chapter 7: The Battle of the Mutara Nebula (Or: A Whole New World)

  1. Great post, I enjoyed reading it and I kinda pictured the movie while doing so (I saw Star Trek II at least a dozen times, though)!

    And I appreciated the fact that you didn’t criticize A Tale of Two Cities: I haven’t read Moby Dick, but A Tale of Two Cities is a true masterpiece! :–)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I would never criticize Dickens. I can’t recommend Two Cities enough. I can’t recommend Moby Dick at all, and wish I had all the time back spent reading every other chapter when I was in high school. My high school English teacher, who I’m convinced was a sadist, made us read Billy Budd as well. Pure torture.


  3. This movie was a sequel … to STOS Season 1 Episode 22 (“Space Seed”):

    “Kirk! My old friend. I haven’t seen you since February 16, 1967. You seem to have grown more hair. I’ve grown bigger pecs.” – Khan

    Liked by 1 person

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