As someone who writes for fun, I’m very familiar with the concept of Chekhov’s Gun.

In other words, it means that if you introduce a plot element early in your story you must use it by the end. Conversely, it also means that if you use a plot element later in your story you should introduce it earlier.

While there are numerous movies that have broken this simple principle, to their everlasting shame, naming no names — “Leia Poppins” — it recently occurred to me that Star Trek: Into Darkness was an offender, especially in regards to its supposed villain, John Harrison, AKA “Khan”.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

In 1982 Paramount Pictures released Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. With the benefit of hindsight, it is hailed as the best of the Star Trek movies, and it injected new life into the ailing franchise. One of the highly acclaimed parts of the film was the villain Khan, and his superb portrayal by legendary actor Ricardo Montalbán.

Ricardo Montalbán
Ricardo Montalbán as Khan

Those who’d followed The Original Series knew Khan from the 1967 Star Trek episode, Space Seed, which introduced him and provided the motivation for his conflict with Captain Kirk. Moreover, Ricardo’s gravitas and the passion he brought to the role makes ’82’s Khan possibly one of the best villains in fiction.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

In 2013, hoping to continue the success they’d found with 2009’s Star Trek movie, Paramount released Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Although commercially successful the movie did court controversy when the villain, John Harrison, was revealed to be Khan, despite deliberate claims by the producers that he was not Khan.

Even if one regards Benedict Cumberbatch as a fine actor, I don’t think he is suited to the “bright lights and shouting” that characterizes a J.J. Abrams film. He is much better suited to the more subtle role he plays in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Yes, “subtle” — by comparison.

Where Chekhov’s Gun comes into play, however, is that in this new movie universe, the “Kelvin Universe” as it is titled, there is no episode of “Space Seed” because there is no TOS.

We are never given the slightest hint that this individual called Khan is in any way more significant than the individual called John Harrison. It is nothing more than a call out to old fans, and a poor one at that.

It would not have taken much to give the character of Khan more significance in this universe. Perhaps, a five-minute sequence earlier in the movie, where we find Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk reading stories of old Earth conquerors, with special attention paid to a genetically engineered superhuman who, with his companions, had conquered half the Earth. His name, Khan. Then, when John does his reveal, Kirk can go, “Oh, you’re that guy” and we the audience are brought along with him.

As it stands though the reveal was little more than, “Oh, Khan? Well, everyone needs a name I guess. Nice to meet you, I suppose.”