A long time ago in a small sitting room not so far away ( near north London in fact) a young man decided the time was right for the geekiest of geek outs. He banded together a small but important group of devotees all of who where about to witness…..the ultimate fan double bill. The man believed that the greatest sci-fi sequel to a space saga was The Empire Strikes Back, but the small band of geek followers believed otherwise. They, filled with an almost fanatical like devotion to a science fiction cause, knew there was only one true victor, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. And so as the fierce debate raged, special editions flashed like a coveted prize from the film gods in each others faces. The young gentleman decided to take action and place the first feature into his much loved DVD player. Then there was nothing but darkness, talking ceased and titles rolled. The man’s whole body tingled the instant the first few orchestrated bars boomed out of the speakers. The double bill had begun. But who would win?
Possibly a controversial choice between these two differing and avid fan bases, but for a true geeky double bill you could not get better than two of the biggest sci-fi film franchises to date. With each one constantly spilling out yet more spin-offs, merchandise etc, it seems only right that to enjoy what the best of both series had, they should be coupled together in a concise double bill of their darkest entries.
Released in 1982, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan follows the continuing adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise. While on a routine training mission Admiral Kirk encounters the vengeful Khan, a super intelligent being whom he left marooned on a desolate planet some 15 years prior. Kirk must once again resume the Captains chair and defeat Khan in a battle of wits and skill.
For this double bill you will need: One DVD of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, an iPhone app with a StarTrek communicator (for added geek out) and including but not limited to, an anticipation of waiting for the infamous ‘Khan’ line to appear. The Vulcan hand signal will also be needed at the films climax in honour of Mr Spock.
Released in 1981, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back takes place sometime after A New Hope, continuing the saga of young Jedi Luke Skywalker as he has now become part of the rebel alliance. Along with his erstwhile companions Han Solo, Chewbacca, the droids C-3PO and R2-D2, they continue to try and bring down the Imperial Empire. Along the way Luke encounters several startling revelations, while Han and the Princess slowly build an attraction to each other.
While for the second half of this double bill you will need: Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back the theatrical edition, the special edition just will not do for this. Yes the effects (without recent digital tinkering) have dated some what, but this just adds to the overall geeky charm of the original release. If so desired your very own lightsaber can also be included which you can swish in true star wars style during Luke and Vader’s climatic battle.
Both start with two iconic openings, with Khan there is the grim moment of the death of the enterprise crew, only to reveal to the audience that it was in fact a test (the Kobayashi Maru) a no-win situation that only one recruit had previously passed. Enter its soul champion from the hazy red smoke, Captain James T. Kirk (now admiral). From the get go this sequel is already darker in tone then the heavy handed philosophising first feature. Not only did this sequel rejuvenate a flagging franchise but it went with a bold move of bringing back a character from the original series in Khan Noonien Singh (played with deliciously evil relish by the legendary and late Richardo Montalban).
With Empire Strikes Back it starts with the brutal attack of Luke Skywalker on a desolate ice planet. Luke has a near death experience and (if you are watching the theatrical cut not the special edition) the sound of the beast that attacked him is all the more harrowing for the audience. Like all good movie monsters it is what you do not see which provokes the most fear from the sequence; the quick glimpses here and there with the monsters roar actually makes the audience feel as though their protagonist is in danger. When he finally stumbles out of the cave he sees the vision of Obi Wan shortly before Han arrives to save the day, leading to the moment which stuck in my mind most when I first saw this as a young boy. Han using Luke’s lightsaber to cut open his now dead transport, the weird translucent innards spilling out, leading to the immortal line ‘and I thought they smelt bad on the outside’.
But as the film progresses it becomes, much like Khan, darker and more serious in tone. The themes of death, loss of companions and sudden realisations become expertly woven into the narrative structure. The group is, like Khan, separated and progress on separate subplots before the final conclusion. In the case of Empire Luke goes to complete his Jedi training while Han and Leia are trying to out run Darth Vader. It is on these separate narrative threads that this sequel really comes into its own and achieves that rare balance. Tonally adult but never alienating the target younger audience, with this we have Luke confronting his darkest and deepest fears within his training; facing the man who killed his father and mentor. While the love angle between Leia and Han is expanded upon more along with the added inclusion of betrayal from once close alliances.
Director Irvin Kershner built on what Lucas originally delivered, by doing something both bigger and better then the first instalment (or fourth if you want to be chronological with it), by really expanding the universe. This is a sequel which hits every mark and very rarely slows down for a breath, there is literally something happening which draws you in deeper. Within the first 30 minutes there is the now ‘iconic’ and constantly rifted upon, the Battle of Hoth. With its mix of miniatures, stopmotion animation, state of the art (for its time) visual effects and live action, this is the ultimate battle from the saga. All of which is intercut with Han Solo and Chewbacca trying to fix the Millennium Falcon before the rebel base is besieged by Imperial troops. On a re-watch it still holds up, even now against all of the CGI glossed sci-fi we have been treated to in recent years. Everything which happens within the mid-section of the film is just build up and anticipation to the never bettered climatic moments
Then the sense of doom and lost hope is applied to the last thirty minutes which make it one of the best sci-fi sequels to date. Before the betrayal of Lando we are privy to the destruction of C-3PO as he is blasted to chunks of rusted metal. The audience then lose another main character with Han getting frozen in carbonite shortly after Leia confesses her love to him. It is one of those rare scenes within a boys-own sci-fi adventure which attempts to tug at the heart strings and possibly succeeds with even the most jaded of viewer. And during the lightsaber climax between Luke and Vader, we are hit with a double whammy of disappointment via the loss of limbs and some home truths. All of which only further cement its place as one of the greatest sci-fi follow-ups this side of the universe.
With Wrath of Khan we have a sci-fi film which deals with the darker aspects of life. The quick descent into an old antique destined for the museum and the sudden loss of a close companion, all of which are prevalently themes which occur within real life. There is the loss of power and control after the Enterprise is mercilessly attacked by Khan in his stolen Federation ship. Its themes are interestingly esoteric and even after all of the death and destruction it ends with an underlying message of hope in the form of new life. It also goes some way to questioning the ethics of being able to become a god and have the power to create a planet from scratch, in relation to the ‘genesis’ project.
Khan contains several of Star Treks most iconic film moments from the series. There is the aforementioned Kobayashi Maru, the gruesome effects of mind control from alien slugs; the death of a young relation to Mr Scott, the now much parodied but never beaten (and slightly over extended) ‘Khan’ line uttered by Kirk. It is also a genre breaking film in the series that loses a main character with Spock but has Kirk gain a son shortly before. It is certainly the most emotionally charged Star Trek film, which is what possibly allows it to transcend the average sci-fi fan and allow a wider audience to easily view it.
It also contains one of the more heartbreaking moments of the series after Spock has saved the Enterprise from destruction. After suffering from radiation poisoning Spock shares his last wise words with Kirk, which is made all the more poignant as they are unable to make any physical contact. It is truly a sad parting of ways for two old friends.
So what makes these two legendary sci-fi sequels an impressive double bill? Well they contain everything that makes them surpass their originals in terms of content, themes, narrative, performances and more iconic moments that could be forever lodged within the mind of every film geek from here until eternity. Both contain equal merits and even better both seem to keep getting better with age.
As an added note (in memoriam of Irvin Kershner) ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is and shall forever be the best and only Star Wars film. As well as the only Star Wars film which transcends its own B-Movie origins to become something, altogether darker and more frightening in the star wars universe. The force is and will continue to be, undeniably strong with this one.