It's been thirty-five years since Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan debuted in movie theaters, and viewers witnessed one of the most powerful on-screen deaths in sci-fi history when half-Vulcan Spock sacrificed himself to save the U.S.S. Enterprise. The scene was made more intense by the belief that Leonard Nimoy really was leaving the role he'd made unforgettable.
Every second of the scene tore at fans' heartstrings, and we wept at the outpouring of emotions from two men who'd become unlikely friends. We didn't want to lose Spock, and so many of us, were angry at the loss of such a beloved character. We weren't the only ones who thought they were witnessing a tragic ending. Even William Shatner, who portrayed Captain James T. Kirk, believed this would be the last he'd see of his friend, as he explained to USA Today:
"I was thinking my good friend Nimoy is in essence saying goodbye to the whole part. No one told me they were thinking otherwise.”
Perhaps that is what made the scene so much stronger. Everyone believed it really was Nimoy's last time portraying the ever-stoic Vulcan. Even the director of The Wrath of Khan, Nicholas Meyer, said that Nimoy was serious about leaving the franchise:
“Here’s what happened. Leonard was very ambivalent about doing another Star Trek movie. And Harve Bennett lured him with the promise of a terrific death scene, which (Shatner) and he played so touchingly.”
But as the movie was prepared for debut, the studio believed it would be a hit for the Star Trek franchise. That's when, Meyer says, Nimoy began to doubt his decision to leave.
“And Leonard was starting to feel really good (about the movie) and was thinking whether he was making some kind of a mistake."
Shatner believes Leonard Nimoy may have been planning for bigger things all along when he was asked for his character to be killed off.
“I believe it was all planned — I now believe (Nimoy) and Harve cooked this up. I suddenly realized that I, as well as many other people, had been taken in by the death of Spock. Leonard was so marvelous at working the territory that he got a directing job out of it.”
While no decision had been officially made prior to the release of the movie, Meyer insists that it was the studio's idea to have an open ending for The Wrath of Khan so Nimoy could return if he changed his mind. Meyer said he fought for the death to be permanent because he thought it wouldn't be fair to the fans who'd sit through a heart-wrenching death scene only to discover Spock wasn't really dead:
“I fought it. I thought it was unforgivable to take people who were so wrapped up in this character and sort of dry hustle them and then say, ‘Oh, we were just kidding.' But in the end, it was a battle that I lost."
Admittedly, some fans were upset that they were put through the wringer, but we also understood that many plot devices were used to keep our attention. Discovering #Spock was alive two years later came as a welcome shock, and the pleasure of seeing him on our screens again soon outweighed our dismay at his unreal death. So the director's words are certainly understandable. Shatner, though, isn't upset about the way things turned out, but he does wish he could have been let in on the secret:
“But I would have enjoyed being in on it. I get the secrecy. But it’s all great.”
Regardless of how much the death of Spock pained us in 1982, we were glad to see him in return in The Search for Spock. We'd much rather have the option to bring Nimoy back to the character we loved than to lose him forever like we did in 2015.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan returns to theaters September 13th for a special anniversary viewing.
[Source: USA Today]