Ricardo Montalban was a sexy man. He was hand-crafted from fine Corinthian leather. He could put on a white suit, grab a little person and make all your fantasies come true. I once saw him, as Mr. Rourke, go toe to toe with the Devil. And win. So who else could sport feathered bangs and a vest with no shirt and still be the most memorable villain in the 23rd century?
But this ain’t about Ricardo Montalban, it’s about Khan Noonien Singh (truth be told, I didn’t even know he had a middle or last name until I got ready for this post). Khan is the antagonist from Star Trek II, as in The Wrath Of, and easily the most recognizable villain from Star Trek (like I would choose the tribbles).
We meet Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series. Khan is a genetically engineered human being with the “superior intellect.” He used his powers to conquer about a quarter of the earth during the 1990s (don’t you remember that?) When the unwashed masses rose against him, he and about 80 folks fled earth, got stuck in suspended animation until they were found 400 years later by the Enterprise. Kirk does Khan a solid and thaws him out; Khan thanks him by taking over his ship. Khan and his folks are exiled to a planet in the middle of nothing to serve out their sentence.
The end, right? Nope.
When we see Khan again, the planet he was exiled too is knocked off course and becomes a barren wasteland with only the 80 humans and these desert rock lobsters whose babies can make you “weak-minded” if you stick them in your ears. I have no idea how you figure that out…Anyway, a routine mission becomes a hijacking and suddenly Khan is back on the scene with a Federation starship and an eagerness to beat the shit out of James T Kirk. Khan’s return brings us numerous bad haircuts, William Shatner’s obvious toupee, introduces Kirstie Alley, and Spock’s death.
Khan has 23rd century street cred. This is what makes him so cool. For all the superior intellect, genetic enhancement bullshit, Khan is simply a thug from the future. And he’s good at it! This is why he’s Star Trek’s most memorable villain—he’s actually something and someone we can understand. He’s a criminal in fine clothing, surrounded by advanced technology, but a criminal nonetheless.
And this is why Khan Noonien Singh makes the cut as a fantastic villain: Khan is gangster. Put your phasers on stun; hear me out. Khan carjacked the both Enterprise and the Reliant, does a drive-by on the Enterprise first chance he gets, steals the Genesis device, and kills Kirk’s boy. Every time he walks on the screen, I swear I can hear 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P.: “I don’t know what you heard about me…”
Tomorrow, we continue with the A to Z Challenge with O for the Overlook Hotel—the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. “All work and no play…”