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Rightly or wrongly, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness takes a lot of grief from fans of the franchise. Shortly after it was released, attendees at a convention voted it the worst film in the series (behind even Galaxy Quest, which you probably known isn’t even a real Star Trek movie). Part of the frustration was the steadfast insistence by all parties involved that Benedict Cumberbatch was not playing Khan, which, of course, he was. In hindsight, screenwriter Damon Lindelof admits that this may not have been the best strategy.
Discussing the upcoming episodes of his HBO drama The Leftovers with Variety, the notoriously secretive writer said that, while they will be keeping things hidden from view, they won’t "be mysterious just for mysterious’ sake." He then talked about his most famous moment of mass obfuscation, saying:
When we did Star Trek Into Darkness for example, we decided that we weren’t going to tell people that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan. And that was a mistake, because the audience was like, "We know he’s playing Khan." That was why it was a mistake.
The thing that seemed to rub people the wrong way, especially at the time, was the across the board swearing up and down that Khan Noonien Singh, the villain first inhabited by Ricardo Montalban in the original Star Trek, was not in the movie. They were practically incredulous in their denial, insinuating that fans were crazy to even think that.
A very similar situation actually happened recently with the main villain in the latest James Bond movie, Spectre. In a film that is hugely referential to the earlier franchise, many suspected that the main baddie was a blast from Bond’s past, and while everyone involved, especially the actor in question, crossed-their-heart-and-hoped-to-die that this wasn’t the case, those of you who’ve seen the movie know exactly how it turned out.
Despite a strong box office showing and decent overall reviews (it has an 87% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Star Trek Into Darkness has quickly become shorthand for when a movie pulls something like this. It’s even dogged the filmmakers to the point where, even a few years later, Lindelof is still fielding questions. And it’s also a big part of why whenever a new piece of footage for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits, fans try to decipher what it could mean. At this point people are starting to assume that everything is some sort of puzzle that we have to solve, or that they’re just fucking with us—like maybe Luke being absent from the Star Wars marketing is some sort of elaborate prank. For his part, Abrams also admits that the Into Darkness move was a bad call.
The not mysterious for mysteries’ sake The Leftovers airs Sundays on HBO.