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Star Trek Into Darkness Trailer References Wrath Of Khan, But Why?

Around here we're more than a little sick of the rumor about Khan being the main villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, if only because it's so obvious that J.J Abrams and company have no interest in telling us, one way or another. Benedict Cumberbatch's bad guy character has been named as John Harrison, and we may as well take that at face value, because there's no way the ultra-secretive Abrams is going to tell us otherwise until after the movie's May 17 release date-- and maybe not even then.

But at the same time, the new trailer had too many nods toward the original Wrath of Khan to be ignored. Clearly Abrams wants us to be thinking about Khan, but why? And if you choose to believe that Cumberbatch won't be playing the famous villain, how on earth is Khan going to get involved? Sean and Katey were both curious about what we're supposed to make of all the Khan references, so they hopped on gchat to try to solve the mystery. Read below to see what they decided!

KATEY: Alright, let's start by putting our feelings on the table: I don't think Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. How about you?

SEAN: Oh, absolutely not. And the one image that solidifies it for me is Cumberbatch's character wearing a Starfleet vector logo on his black shirt while in the prison. That implies a connection to Starfleet Command, somehow, and we know Khan didn't have that connection. Then again, because Abrams rebooted the mythology, I do think everything we thought we know is off the table, so ... who knows?!

KATEY: Well, the reboot is what I have in mind-- this timeline is different, Kirk hasn't abandoned Khan on a desolate planet... yada yada. Even if he is Khan, it's not Khan, y'know?

So with that out of the way... wtf is up with all the Wrath of Khan nods in this new trailer? The kicker, of course, is the shot of the hand giving the Vulcan salute against the glass, with another hand touching it. That's a direct lift from Spock's death in Wrath.

SEAN: It is. And here's where Abrams gets full credit for being the deft carnival barker that he is. Just as he did with Alias and Lost (and even the original Trek), Abrams knows that is audience will recognize the Wrath nods ... so he purposely includes them to keep us constantly guessing. In most other cases, I think the studio gets the ability to include what they want. With Abrams, whenever I see a reference like Spock's hand on the glass, I view it as a calculated misdirection by Abrams, and I start thinking the other way.

What other nods did you see? You might be more versed in Wrath than I am. Clearly, the hands touching on the glass stand out, but what else caught you eye? And do you think they mean anything more than simple misdirection?

KATEY: Well, it's the combined presence of Carol Marcus, played by Alice Eve, and the line from Cumberbatch "Is there anything you would not do for your family?" Carol Marcus is the mother of Kirk's son, as revealed in Wrath of Khan. And as we know from the first movie this version of Kirk isn't especially attached to his parents. But again, I think that's just encouraging overly literal Trek fans to assume it's Khan.

SEAN: Well, I agree. But we're assuming Cumberbatch is saying this to Kirk. Which doesn't have to be the case. There have been theories floated online about the sequel possibly getting into Pike's history, and how some of his old missions could be tied to Kirk's father. The trailer is edited to suggest the "family" message is aimed at Kirk ... but I'm not sure that's his arc here. And the fact that the clip starts with Pike makes me think, again, that the emphasis might fall on him.

Do you find it strange that we haven't heard anyone from the Enterprise crew utter a single word in any of the promotional materials yet?

KATEY: Interesting... it never occurred to me that Pike would play a major role in this, though his voiceover does indicate that. The fact that none of the crew has spoken yet does't surprise me-- it's a teaser. Only the most ominous bits of dialogue are going to make it in to set the scene.

So, just to clear up my original question: you think the Khan nods are just that, and that nothing in the film itself will have anything to do with Wrath of Khan?

SEAN: Yes, that is what I believe. I think that Abrams knows they'd be crazy to step into Khan canon in only their second film. And I think Abrams and his screenwriters are big enough fans of the Trek mythology that they'd easily pick a different, more intriguing character (like Gary Mitchell) to use ... and make their own damn Wrath of Khan -- i.e., a superior sequel that fans still talk about to this day. But ... at the same time ... I think Abrams is such a puppet master (in a good way) that I'm sure he's happily teasing Khan references all through the promotional material, just to fuck with fans. In a good way. I don't think it's Khan, at all. And I don't think it ever was.

KATEY: I'm with you... except that I think the Khan references are going to add up to something else. The rules of the new universe mean they can wrap Khan in somehow-- in a potentially really small way-- to make all those references feel warranted, while also setting up an entire new story. I think Abrams is teasing fans with the Khan references mostly, but he's not cruel enough to leave it totally unsatisfied. It's a treasure hunt that will lead you somewhere unexpected, but still satisfy that first little itch.

And as someone who enjoyed original Star Trek largely because the Kirk-Spock friendship, I'm really intrigued by the implication of those hands on the glass.

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.