How William Shatner's famed 'Wrath of Khan' cry became an instant 'Star Trek' legend
"KHAAAN!" is the cry that shook Earth and space.
William Shatner's Admiral Kirk unleashed the bellow at his rival Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) in 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a moment so profound it earned an instant spot in Star Trek history and popular culture.
Kirk's over-the-top shout-out put an exclamation point (or four) on Star Trek's second film, sending the nascent film franchise into warp drive.
Fathom Events is bringing a 35th anniversary Wrath of Khan director's cut to theaters on Sept. 10 and 13. Prepare for an onslaught of "Khaaan!" imitations and puns, which amuses Shatner.
He insists that his vocal outburst was just another day at the office.
"Who thinks of those things when you’re making a film? Imagine thinking, 'I’m going to say the name 'Khan,' and years from now people will be talking about it,' " says Shatner, 86. "You'd barely make it through a whisper. It would make you awfully self-conscious."
History has shown that "Khaaan!" still resonates.
"As Shatner himself said, that cry is the most 'I-Khanic' moment in Star Trek history," says Scott Mantz, film critic for Access Hollywood, who interviews Shatner for a pre-movie segment. "If Wrath of Khan is the Citizen Kane of Star Trek movies, then when Shatner yells 'Khaaan!' is the equivalent of Orson Welles whispering 'Rosebud.' "
The cry caps off the epic standoff between Kirk and Khan, with Khan taunting Kirk before he cripples the Enterprise, leaving Kirk stranded alive on a barren moon, "marooned for all eternity."
Kirk, who is actually pretending his ship is disabled to lure Khan into a trap, roars in apparent frustration.
"He's an alpha male bellowing his alpha male cry, like I have seen elk do," says Shatner.
Director Nicholas Meyer says he wrote the line himself "in caps with four exclamation points."
"It’s a bit of a cheat," Meyer says. "Kirk has to make Khan believe that this round, and it appears to be a final round, has gone to Khan. He has to act like he is a man who is totally screwed."
Shatner doesn't recall more than a couple of "Khaaan!" takes.
"I hate to open up that Khan of worms, It was actually a Khan-undrum on how to play it," says Shatner. He pulled the rage, amplified by Meyer's temple-throbbing close-up, from being "totally immersed in the emotion. You cannot fake that. People would recognize it."
The shout was a hit and Wrath of Khan a box office success, allowing for a future that now spans 13 films. In 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, featuring a new generation Star Trek cast, Zachary Quinto's Spock paid tribute, yelling "Khan!" when Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) appears to die at the hands of young Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch).
"As I fan, I cringed. I couldn't believe they went there," says Mantz. "They cannot re-create that moment of Wrath of Khan magic."
Shatner will only say this about that Into Darkness utterance: "(Quinto) gives a great impression of screaming 'Khan.' "
Other tributes have been more successful, including an operatic stop-motion animation version seen on Robot Chicken (part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late-night programming) with a dramatic Italian cry that Meyer admires.
The original bellower refuses to comment on the parodies.
"I Khan-not do that," says Shatner. "They are not worthy of consideration, really. Especially by me."