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Leonard Nimoy improvised crucial moment in Spock’s death scene

Star Trek's greatest asset, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, was nearly lost in The Wrath of Khan. Thankfully, Nimoy's genius saved the day.

Shatner and Nimoy as Kirk and Spock Wrath of Khan

Star Trek wouldn’t be what it is today without the mercurial presence of Leonard Nimoy, who played the half-Vulcan Spock throughout the three seasons of the original series, and the subsequent six movies. But the actor’s relationship with the franchise wasn’t always an entirely straightforward one, and at one crucial moment in Star Trek’s history, Nimoy was certain that he wanted to depart for good.

In fact, Nimoy only rejoined the adventure for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, on the promise that Spock would be given a meaningful and lasting death, thereby allowing him to retire as the beloved Star Trek character. So, killed he was, as Kirk’s best friend (and temporary Star Trek captain) sacrificed himself to save the USS Enterprise from the explosion of the Genesis device, detonated by the dastardly Khan. However, when it came to the scene, Nimoy regretted his decision.

“I vividly remember the day we filmed the death scene. It was a very somber, emotional experience. I was very sad, concerned,” he recalled the StarTrek.com. “When we came up with the idea of doing a mind meld on Dr. McCoy, on DeForest Kelley, I was asked if I could say something in that mind meld that would give us a hook for the future, in case there was a possibility of continuing.”

Quick on his feet, Nimoy obliged and came up with a single word that, arguably, ended up saving the franchise. “And I came up with the word ‘Remember,’ which I thought was broad enough and interesting enough that we might be able to use it as our hook in the future. And it worked.”

You can see the scene play out below for yourself if you need a refresher.

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The entire plot for the next Star Trek movie (the wildly underrated The Search for Spock) was hinged on that one line, with the writers retroactively explaining that Spock passed his consciousness into Bones, allowing for his resurrection. Without Nimoy’s improvisation, bringing Spock back for further adventures would have been significantly more challenging (and, convoluted).

After this point, Nimoy also became more involved in the Star Trek movie franchise from a creative standpoint as well as playing Spock, which yielded plenty of rewards. He directed The Search for Spock, and its unabashedly brilliant sequel The Voyage Home: one of the best movies in the series. He also helped work on the story for The Undiscovered Country (though he really wanted a greater focus on the Klingons).

In the new movies, Spock has been played by Zachary Quinto, while Ethan Peck has assumed command of the character on the Star Trek series Strange New Worlds. Both are great in their own way, with Peck in particular delivering some standout work in season 2. However, they’re not Nimoy, who seemed to imbue Spock with the essence of his own soul.

For more on Star Trek, read our guide on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, or see our ranking of the Star Trek doctors by irritability.