Star Trek Guide

Did Fan Outcry Alter Spock's Death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Fan outcry led to Mr. Spock dying later in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan than intended.

It is really interesting how a little bit of correct information can lead to a whole lot of misinformation.

Here is a piece of seemingly well-sourced information from the Wikipedia write-up of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, "By April 1981, Sowards had produced a draft that moved Spock's death to later in the story,[fn 1] because of fan dissatisfaction to the event after the script was leaked.[fn 2] Spock had originally died in the first act, in a shocking demise that Bennett compared to Janet Leigh's early death in Psycho." [I've removed the original footnote numbers, as they really don't matter - BC]

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A number of years ago, I wrote a Movie Legends Revealed about whether or not it was Leonard Nimoy's idea for his character to be killed off in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

As it turned out, it was actually the idea of Jack B. Sowards, the writer who Harve Bennett brought in to turn Bennett's treatment for Star Trek II into a script. Sowards' initial idea was for Spock to die a third of the way into the movie, a la Janet Leigh's early death in Psycho. Bennett then used that intriguing premise to lure Leonard Nimoy into committing for the film.

However, Sowards then began to push Spock's death further and further back in the film. Nimoy didn't mind, because he was loving the material that he was getting (as Sowards was clearing it with him as he wrote it). Sowards' final draft, as noted in the Wikipedia piece for footnote #1, WAS written in April 1981 and did have Spock dying at the end of the film. The issue is that that was Sowards' decision, not a reaction to fan outcry.

An early version of the script DID leak and fans WERE irritated at Spock's early death, but that did not change Sowards' draft.

Sowards' friend, Robert J. Ellsberg, described Sowards' method (Sowards passed away in 2007)...

Sowards' draft, by the way, was one of a few different drafts (that were written after Sowards' final pass) that Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer weaved together to form the final script for the film (Meyer would go uncredited for his brilliant mixture of the various screenplays into one cohesive and impressive script).

Here, though, is where the second footnote comes into play. Meyer's final script DID have a response to the fan outcry. However, here's the difference from the linked footnote (a great Charlie Jane Anders article at io9)...

Yes, the amazing Kobayashi Maru sequence was written by Meyer as a way to mess with the fans by "killing" Spock early in the film...

before then killing him for real later in the movie...

Now, were there OTHER changes made to the film in response to fan outcry, as well? Yes, yes there were. I suppose I'll cover that in a Movie Legends Revealed of its own (so please don't bother to reply with them now - I know about them. It's all good). However, the main thing here is that decision to move Spock's death to the end of the film had nothing to do with fan outcry - the only "death" of Spock that had anything to do with the fan reaction was his Kobayashi Maru "death."

So both of those Wikipedia sources were correct, but it was the combination of the two correct sources that led to an incorrect conclusion.

The legend is...


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