Star Trek has had some pretty great villains, and in many instances they have stolen the show. After all, what better way to show how great your heroes are than to have them go up against a fantastic villain? I earlier ranked the Top Ten movie villains from the Star Trek franchise, and thought to myself: “How would one villain do against the other?” Obviously to have some of the weaker villains (looking at you, Sybok!) go toe-to-toe with the greats would be unfair, but an idea popped into my head of having two of the all-time best go bad guy-to-bad guy would be a fun idea. So, in today’s blog post, I decided to pit two real heavy weights against each other for the (fictional) first time! I give you “Khan Noonien Singh vs General Chang”.
One is a genetically modified superman hell-bent on revenge. The other is a crafty warrior that just cannot let the past of glorious battle fall into oblivion. One can lift you up with a single hand, the other can read your soul with a stare from his single eye. One quoted Melville, the other Shakespeare. Both gave Kirk a run for his money, and in both cases they lost their respective battles by the slimmest of margins. So, who was the more villainous of these two villains? Let’s explore this further by comparing them on various criteria.
|Kirk's reaction to this matchup|
Category 1: Motive.
Khan blamed Kirk for the death of his wife and people, for stranding him on Ceti Alpha V, and for forgetting to check up on him. His desire to not only kill Kirk but to destroy him was based solely on revenge. He was determined to see his adversary fall, and he had no lack of resolve to accomplish it. However, in addition to settling a personal score, Khan further complicates the matter by seeking the information on the Genesis project. While his motivation towards this is somewhat unclear, he once was the ruler of man and in “Space Seed” had desired to use the Enterprise to once again place himself atop the hierarchy of the human race. It is very likely that he was planning on using the Genesis device to allow him to once again rule the known world. Some may argue that his attention was divided, which would remove some of his focus. He could have taken Genesis and ruled the galaxy, but his thirst for vengeance was insatiable, which some say led to his downfall.
General Chang, on the other hand, was a grizzled veteran of countless untold battles. His motivation was much more political in nature. He did not see his battle with Kirk as a personal vendetta, but as a means to continue the way of life that the Klingon Empire appeared ready to abandon. Granted, he relished the opportunity to match steel against a worthy opponent such as James T. Kirk, but that was a layer of icing on his Empirical cake. He was driven by ideology, a warrior’s code, and a desire to embrace the old ways. While the Klingon Chancellor was talking peace because their military mission could no longer be afforded, Chang feared that he would become obsolete in the new frontier. This would not do for our fearsome warrior, so his motivation was to force the war to end all wars with the Federation.
So which motivation is more of a challenge to overcome? Is a personal vendetta coupled with galactic domination more dangerous than being driven by an ideological force to maintain a combative way of life? Both reasons are, to my understanding, very dangerous to the greater good. The motivation for both runs deep into personal territory. With an ideological and political motivation, the aggressor may choose to back away if facing a losing venture. Live to fight another day, as the saying goes. When it comes to personal revenge, the adversary may not back down ever, feeling that they have nothing to lose. That may make Khan’s motivation far more dangerous than Chang’s, so this category goes to the Wrathful One. Point awarded: Khan
Category 2: The Plan
Khan was a genetically enhanced human, giving him not only superior physicality but a superior intellect as well. While he undoubtedly imagined what he would do to Kirk if and when they crossed paths again, he had to make up his plan as he went along. He took advantage of every opportunity that was presented to him. A starship arrives and beams down its captain and first officer? Capture and brainwash them to get control of the ship. A potentially devastating device that could be used as an intergalactic weapon of mass destruction? Take it and kill all the scientists associated with it. Khan took every single opportunity that came his way, and yet he still made some crucial mistakes along the way. He let his guard down at the wrong times. He treated the nebula battle as a two-dimensional game, which allowed the Enterprise to think in 3-D and strike from below.
General Chang is a respected military commander. His plan was meticulous, intricate, and likely benefited from months of planning. He was also advantageous, conspiring with those to who he was enemy to. He invested in technology that would give him an advantage. He planned the assassination of his own Chancellor. He had an elaborate plot to frame Kirk for the assassination and carried it out with great skill. Chang may not have had Khan’s superior intellect, but he had instinct and experience on his side, and he used those tools as effectively as one could. He made some key mistakes as well, but when there was a flaw in the plan, he had something else up his sleeve. His cockiness got the better of him, though. He made a couple of key mistakes near the end, and paid for it dearly.
As we look at the plans these two masterminds laid out, it is time to decide which was the most cunning and devious. Khan was thinking on his feet most of the time while Chang’s plot was well scripted. Chang had the advantage of technology and co-conspirators, while Khan had a ship full of devoted followers and a ruthless aggression that is unmatched. In the end, however, I must concede that Chang gets the edge here. Perhaps Khan could have fared better in this round had he been given more time and resources, but the Klingon wins this part. Point awarded: General Chang.
Category 3 – Execution
Here we will look at the execution of their plan. How close they came to success and what their fatal mistakes were. Chang had an excellent and convoluted plan, and every detail was meticulously made. He set up Kirk perfectly as the man to take the blame for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. He had co-conspirators among Starfleet, the Klingon Empire, and even the Romulans. The master plan was executed with brilliance and came very close to succeeding. His errors were few, but costly. He had to rely on many others to complete their portion of the plan. He had hoped that the trial would have resulted in the execution of Kirk and McCoy, but instead they were sentenced to life on the penal colony Rura Penthe. The warden there was to have disposed of them quickly, but he failed. Valeris failed in her part on the Enterprise and gave Kirk the information he needed to defeat Chang. Even during the battle at Khitomer, the Enterprise looked as if it was going to fall to Chang’s advanced Bird of Prey that could fire when cloaked, but Sulu and the Excelsior arrived to draw their fire. This is where Chang made a tactical error. He was unaware that Spock and McCoy were working at arming a torpedo that could track them while cloaked, so when Excelsior arrived on the scene Chang turned his attention to the newest threat. In hindsight, I can’t fault his logic, but if he had ended the Enterprise then and there instead of gloating with Shakespearean quotes, he likely would have won the day with the Federation President dead and with him all hopes of peace. So while so many unforeseen outcomes were met with good backup plans, ultimately things changed too much for him, and it was not to be.
Khan was a man with nothing to lose. Vengeance was his driving force. His people were loyal to him, and nothing they did was anything less than perfect obedience. When an opportunity arose, he seized it and squeezed everything he could from it. His plan was being made up along the way, but he met every setback with renewed determination to destroy the man he hated most. His mistakes in the execution of the plan arose from his inexperience in starship warfare and his ego. He too took the opportunity to gloat to Kirk after the initial attack that crippled the Enterprise, and that allowed Kirk a chance to use the command prefix codes to cause Khan’s ship to drop its shields. In the nebula, Khan demonstrated two dimensional strategy in navigating the gas clouds. Most of all, however, his pride got in the way. Each time he had Kirk beaten, he couldn’t resist taunting his adversary. He had to do more than win, he had to make sure Kirk knew about it. He could have killed Kirk on several occasions, but instead let Kirk live a little longer just to satisfy is insatiable desire for revenge. He had the Genesis device and its research and could have left Kirk where he was multiple times. He could have regrouped, used the device as leverage against the entire quadrant, and been supreme ruler again, but no. He had to make Kirk suffer as much as he had. That cost him his life.
So, both mighty foes made some crucial errors. Whose error was the most devastating? I think if roles were reversed, Chang might have been successful where Khan had failed. He would have taken Genesis and regrouped, or at least finished Kirk off sooner. Khan likely would have failed in Chang’s spot, needing to further punish Kirk again and again. This one goes to the Klingon as well. Point awarded: General Chang.
Category 4 – The Cost
Chang brought the Klingon’s and the Federation to the brink of all-out war that likely would have destroyed one or both parties. He played on the inherent suspicions of both parties. His prototype vessel was set to wreak havoc across the quadrant. He had almost destroyed the Enterprise under Kirk’s final command, and may have been able to take down Excelsior as well. Imagine if he had successfully destroyed the two most respected Starfleet vessels in one battle. Perhaps the war would not have started, but instead it would be the Federation that would be surrendering. Instead, both ships were banged up but in functional. The peace accords were saved, and if Kirk was able to put aside his hatred of Klingons, then a lasting peace was definitely possible. The cost of Chang’s actions was high, but could have been worse.
Khan, meanwhile, brought Kirk to the brink of defeat. He caused the death of Captain Terrell, murdered some of the Federation’s brightest scientific minds on Regula I. Untold numbers of Kirk’s training crew were killed during the battle, bright potential snuffed out in the darknessof space. The Enterprise was crippled, and would have been destroyed by Khan’s activation of the Genesis device had it not been for Spock’s heroic sacrifice. The cost of Khan’s actions hit Kirk harder than almost anything else in his life. Perhaps, in his own way, Khan did deal Kirk a most devastating blow, because to save the ship, Kirk had to lose his closest friend. That crippled Kirk emotionally. A mighty sting to his soul.
So which villain extracted the heavier cost? Perhaps Chang’s destruction brought the Federation and Klingon Empire to the brink of war, but his defeat solidified their alliance. When the Undiscovered Country ended, there was a sense of celebration. Khan brought Kirk to his knees like he had never been before. The cost to Kirk was more personal, and more severe. At the end of Wrath of Khan, there was a more subdued sense of victory. It was a victory to have survived, and as Kirk himself said, they paid for it with their most precious blood. Spock himself remarked that to defeat Khan required great cost. The emotional toll that Khan took outweighs the damage that Chang inflicted. Point awarded: Khan Singh.
Category 5 – Presence
Looking at the overall presence of each villain, we will see how they stack up in the sheer effect they have just by appearing to their adversaries. This will include the look, the charisma, and intimidation factor.
Chang is one of the coolest looking foes the Enterprise had ever come across. Where most Klingons appeared to be simple variations of the standard long hair, moustaches, and goatees, Chang makes his own mark. He is bald, grizzled, and cold. He presents himself with an air of power and importance. One of the most effective aspects of his presence is his eye patch. While not the first one-eyed character to have appeared, he is the first to have his eye patch bolted to his skull. Now that is Klingon style intimidation! That is only a part of his presence, however. You might be impressed upon first seeing him, but wait until he speaks. He is articulate, versed in literary classics and diplomacy, and has a razor sharp wit. As he speaks his eloquent dialogue, you can’t help but feel that he is sizing you up as a potential adversary in the battlefield. While you are distracted by his missing eye, his good one is delicately dissecting your abilities. His mere presence demands immediate respect, and only a fool would dare do otherwise.
Similarly, Khan also instills a sense of awe and respect upon those he encounters. His presence involves a healthy dose of dread as well. Recall the expressions of both Chekhov and Kirk when the first lay eyes upon Khan in Star Trek II. You can almost see their guts doing swan dives into despair. It is true, and must be considered, that both of these men had a difficult run-in with Khan before, which definitely will impact their reaction. Khan is also articulate and no stranger to the classic works of literature, but he is much less flamboyant in his delivery. He speaks with the coldness of steel, the edge of a knife, and the forcefulness we expect from a coming storm. He also allows his actions to back up his words. While Chang challenges with his words, Khan will lift you off your feet to prove a point. His can vary his emotions with the expert agility of an artist, using his calmness to inflict terror as he approaches you with a helmet containing a Ceti eel. He exudes a coolness that is imposing and terrifying. He also has an impressive look to him. When I see him, he reminds me of a mighty lion; strong, fierce, and deadly.
So who has the more ominous presence? Both look dangerous, both speak with intelligence and power, and both give you ample reason to approach them with caution. Each has their own unique style and charisma, and each will have you be on yellow alert. In the end, there are a couple of deciding factors. First, Chang is quite the performer, playing one role while secretly concealing another. He instills caution because you know he is hiding something. Khan, meanwhile, is deliberate and cold. When he speaks, every word is measured and calculated. When he reveals himself, you are scared beyond what you have ever felt before. And when he is angry, you are silenced for fear of your life. I would never want to encounter either of these warriors in a dark alley at midnight, but I give the ever slightest advantage to the genetically superior Khan. Point awarded: Khan Singh
Results: Khan (3 points) vs CHANG (2 points). Winner: Khan Noonien Singh.
In full disclosure, I have always thought that Khan was one of Trek’s most impressive villains. With this new idea of pitting legendary villains in a head-to-head comparison, I thought that Khan would easily win against anyone else. I selected Chang as the most qualified candidate to give Khan some competition, but expected Khan to win easily. As I examined Chang more closely, I found that he was a far better opponent than I had originally perceived. So while Khan wins in the end, Chang has honored himself the way any Klingon warrior would desire. He won more points than I expected, and the decisions that went Khan’s way were not as easy to make as I had thought. So no matter which side of the debate you are on with this one, your pick is definitely a great choice. Do you agree or disagree with my choice? Let me know in the comment section.