The film opens with an unfamiliar female character in command of the USS Enterprise. The situation is soon revealed to be, in actuality, what is known as the 'Kobayashi Maru Test', an intentionally no-win situation designed to test the character of officer trainees. The unfamiliar character is introduced as Captain Spock?s prot?g?, Lieutenant Saavik. Admiral James T. Kirk oversees the training session.
Aboard the USS Reliant, First officer Pavel Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell are searching for a lifeless planet to serve as a testing ground for an undefined 'Project Genesis.' They beam to the surface of a likely candidate, Ceti Alpha VI, and quickly become captives of Khan Noonien Singh. Khan explains that because of the explosion of Ceti Alpha VI, Ceti Alpha V has suffered an environmental disaster, and is bitter that Kirk did not check on Khan's progress. Khan employs the small offspring of a nasty indigenous animal (known to fans as the 'Ceti Eel')to control Chekov and Terrell and forces them to reveal the details of their mission, and the whereabouts of Admiral Kirk.