The opening sequence has a pre-Cheers (and pre-fat) Kirstie Alley as the Vulcan, Saavik commanding the Enterprise, which gets attacked by Klingons and the crew all die! But it was just a test (The Kobayashi Maru) for young cadets in a no win situation. It’s Kirk’s (the always hammy William Shatner) birthday and he’s down in the dumps. Bones (DeForest Kelley) suggests he should go out and get command of the Enterprise back. Meanwhile, Chekhov (Walter Koenig) and Terrel (Paul Winfield) are scouting planets for the Genesis Project, which brings life to lifeless planets. They find a scrap of life on the seemingly abandoned planet, Seti Alpha 6, so they beam down to check it out. They come face to face with Khan, a genetically engineered super strong and intelligent criminal, who was exiled there fifteen years ago by Kirk. He puts mind control maggots into their ears that dig into their brain. (Those suckers gave me nightmares as a kid!) Kirk gets his ship back, filled with wet behind the ears cadets on a training mission. Saavik tells Spock (Leonard Nimoy) that Kirk is “…so human”. Spock responds with “Nobody’s perfect.”
Chekhov, under Khan’s control, tries to get the science crew (Bibi Besch and Merrit Butrick) to hand over the Genesis Project to Kirk. Kirk, knowing nothing of it, takes the Enterprise to investigate and Spock tells him “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Kirk meets their ship and Khan attacks him. He wants Kirk and Genesis turned over to him, so Kirk sends him the project data, along with a code to cripple Khan’s shields. The Enterprise strikes and Khan turns tail and runs. Kirk, Bones and Saavik beam down to the planet and find Chekhov and Terrel. They join up and find Dr. Marcus (Besch) and David (Butrick), who is actually Kirk’s son. Terrel and Chekhov try to kill Kirk, but after the maggots die, the control wears off and Terrel kills himself. They’re able to save Chekhov by burning the bug out of his ear. Khan beams up Genesis but leaves the crew for dead. Kirk goes into full on Shatner mode. “KHHHHAAANNNNN!!!” Saavik asks Kirk how he passed the Kobayashi Maru and he tells her that he reprogrammed the computer because “I don’t like to lose!” Spock swings the Enterprise around and beams them up, with Khan in hot pursuit. Since their ship is in worse shape than Khan’s, they lead him into a nebula where the odds are even. After an excellent space battle, Khan’s crew is killed and he’s badly burned. He starts the Genesis self destruct and the Enterprise with it’s weakened warp drive is unable to get away. Spock heads down to the engine room and goes to fix it. McCoy tries to stop him. “Are you out of your Vulcan mind!” Spock does the old Vulcan Neck Pinch on him and tells him to “Remember”. He fixes the nuclear core and saves the Enterprise but is fatally poisoned by the radiation. Kirk tries to save him. “He’ll die!”
“He’s dead already!”
Spock imparts his final wisdom, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Spock gives him the Vulcan Peace Sign and tells him to “Live long and prosper,” and dies. This scene will make a grown man cry (or at least a Trekkie). At Spock’s funeral, Kirk says, “Of all the souls I’ve encountered in my travels, his was the most human.” They shoot his coffin into space where it lands on the Genesis planet (which conveniently sets up the next sequel). Having Spock say the closing “Space. The Final Frontier…” bit is a nice touch too.
The effects are great, but it’s the human/Vulcan element and revenge plot that make it cook and Khan is definitely one of the all time great screen villains. Director Nicholas Meyer also directed Part VI and Time After Time. Of course, James Doohan, George Takei and Nichelle Nichols are in it too.