The Dawn of Star Trek Villains

"Star Trek Into Darkess" | Art by Nero749. Used with permission.
Since its debut as a TV series in 1966, Star Trek has a been inventive, iconic, engaging, and at times hilarious. Characters, catch phrases and creatures have stolen a permanent spot in our cultural landscape. Even non-nerds know that redshirts will die—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t have a frame of reference for a prolonged yelling of “Kaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhnnnnnnn!”

Over the years, Star Trek has served as an entertaining way to challenge my assumptions, beliefs, and conscience on many moral topics—from the development of technology, to politics, to intercultural relations, to policies on war and peace, to racism—the list is as long as the number of episodes that span the different branches of the television and movie franchise. So, it’s not surprising that the last couple of movies they turned out, Into Darkness and Beyond also tackled issues that had me leaving the theatre with so many more thoughts then when I entered.

Both of these movies tackle one large issue (with nuances thrown in, of course)—the development of villains. Into Darkness offers the backstory of one the most important villains ever—Kahn.  Beyond introduces us to Krull. Both of these personalities are, in part, the result of actions taken by members of Star Fleet and the Federation.

We see a level of responsibility in the creation of villains that belongs to the cultures, organizations, lawmakers, and citizens.

Kahn, who becomes a mortal foe of Star Fleet, and more personally, Captain James T. Kirk, was literally created to be a fighting machine. After the danger of his ability was discovered, he was placed in suspended animation and awakened centuries later by a war-hungry Admiral of Starfleet (Admiral Marcus) who forced Kahn to develop horrific weapons so that he could start a war with the Klingon Empire under false pretenses and then wipe them out.

I’m going to give the Admiral the benefit of the doubt and say that he somehow, in his diluted thinking, believed that what he was doing was right. I’m sure that he was so frightened of the Klingons that he thought any means to destroy them could justify his actions. He used hostages, falsehoods, trickery, fear, and hate, and broke a ton of laws to accomplish his goal.  It became clear as the plot unfolded that his rage made him forget to value the lives of others—he was even willing to sacrifice his daughter’s life to make it happen. He, essentially, became a terrorist.

As a result of being so formed and so badly used, Kahn becomes a horrendous terrorist himself, bent on taking down the structure that created him. He recruited other terrorists, blew up buildings, tried to destroy the Enterprise and kill the crew—most specifically Kirk—crashed another ship into Star Fleet Headquarters, and would have done much more if given the opportunity.

The dawn of Krull was less deliberate on the part of Federation, but was the product of a career military man not knowing how to live outside of the context of war and feeling abandoned by Star Fleet. It was really an unfortunate accident—Captain Balthazar Edison of the Starship Franklin, is stranded on a planet that has no reception for contacting anyone. While he’s on this planet, Edison forgets himself and becomes a mutated alien who feeds on the energy of others. It’s sad, really. In my humble opinion, Edison was probably suffering from PTSD. He was a good captain who, through loneliness, feelings of abandonment, fear, and the inability to handle his circumstances, became a twisted, vengeful terrorist.

Villains aren’t born. They’re molded, shaped, and sometimes intentionally engineered. Star Trek has always responded to the issues of the day, and one of the main issues that we are dealing with today is terrorism.

We see that Kahn and Krull take desperate actions when they are feeling desperate. We see that when a person’s humanity is stripped of them, they could easily be convinced that wrong is right and that the only way to be seen and heard is through horrendous violence.  Children and adults in far less awful situations will often seek negative attention if it’s the only attention they feel they can get.

Villains aren’t born. They’re molded, shaped, and sometimes intentionally engineered.

Admiral Marcus created havoc and could have destroyed the Federation if he hadn’t been stopped. The result of his injustice was that the violence of Kahn—who began by trying to save his crew—escalated as the injustice against him escalated. Now, he was a whackado killing machine, anyway, so nothing good was going to come of his waking up under any circumstances—but he was made that way. Krull took ship after ship of innocents to feed off of and then tried to destroy a space station because, as far as he could tell, Star Fleet made him what he was and then abandoned him.

These characters’ daily needs, basic human rights, and human dignity were not accessible to them. And as we unpack their stories, we can see that each of their actions were traceable. Each of their reactions to their particular situations were understandable (not acceptable—but able to be understood). And along the way, we see moments and opportunities for choices to have been altered if proper intervention had been made. There is a personal responsibility within each of the characters that is undeniable. But, we see another level of responsibility that belongs to the cultures, organizations, lawmakers, and citizens that made up the world of each character.

A value that is consistently reinforced within the Federation is the promotion of the dignity and basic rights of everyone they encounter. When that doesn’t happen, there are terrible results. Representatives of the Federation do what they can to bring peace through understanding, dialogue and making sure that people have access to what they need. When they are at their worst, they become and create villains (like Marcus and Kahn). At their best, they remember who they are called to be—ambassadors for peace.

Kirk’s closing speech in Into Darkness says it all: “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are.”

If we take a moment to understand others and be aware of the impact our actions can have, we can remember it’s not who we are.

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Jen is a pastoral minister, wife, mother, ninja and writer. She loves sci-fi, superheroes, and classic literature, and prefers to share her Catholic faith through such lenses. Her book, "Comic Con Christianity" is available from Paulist Press.
Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

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