Chris Obi, Shazad Latif and Mary Chieffo are the three primary Klingons to be cast in Star Trek Discovery. There’s been a huge amount of speculation over what Klingons will look like in the new series. Many articles have been written in anticipation of whether or not they would follow the 23rd century or the 24th century Klingon look.
Why is it so important and what makes it such a big deal? Well, quite literally, without exaggeration, it’ll set the tone for entire the series. If you think that sounds like hyperbole – we don’t think it is. Here’s why it’s not, and why it’s so important to us.
The Original Series Klingons
In Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), Klingons essentially looked like humans – but with “evil” goatee beards and exaggerated eyebrows to make them look distinct. They were also often (rather unfortunately) made to appear foreign to humans by their awkwardly brown skin color. Literally “black face“, brown edition. This was a cheap way for Star Trek, which was operating on a shoestring budget, to introduce a new alien species. The Klingons were a warrior race, but looked just like us; well kind of like us, and not in a good way.
Klingons Evolve Post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture
By the time Star Trek: The Motion Picture came around, the forehead had started to take shape in the way we know it. And by Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock, it had reached it’s final form. With feature-film budgets, more money could be spent on makeup and costume design. Klingons took on the look they would have from that point forward. Best known is Worf, the first Klingon to serve for Starfleet, who exhibited this forehead trait. Ridging became a clear indication of one’s Klingon-ness. It also made the Klingon species the most recognizable alien race for fans and non-fans alike.
Bridging the 23rd and 24th Century
Then came an episode of Deep Space Nine that made cinematic history. The crew of the USS Defiant were transported from the 24th century, back to the 23rd century, in the episode titled Trials and Tribble-ations. The crew of DS9 was literally placed into an episode of The Original Series, thanks to then-modern-day special effects.
Something to keep in mind is that every Star Trek tv series and movie is part of official Star Trek canon. That means something that has happened or that is true in one episode also reins true in all other episodes of every other series and movie. A single continuity.
In Trials and Tribble-ations, the Defiant’s crew was rather bewilder when they were introduced to Klingons that looked rather human-like sans ridges. Dr. Bashir famously questions “those are Klingons?” For them, in the 24th century, all Klingons have forehead ridges – it’s a species-defining trait. When asked why these 23rd century Klingons had no ridges, Worf simply states “we do not speak about it with outsiders“. Fair enough. We don’t get to know because only Klingons can know. Canon was saved, albeit by a bit of a cop-out!
Back to the 22nd Century
Next came Star Trek: Enterprise, a series known for pretty much ignoring canon in an effort to make Trek “cool” and “sexy”. (Yup, they literally tried to describe Star Trek Enterprise in those terms). Its seeming departure from canon is part of the reason this series rated poorly in my opinion.
Surprisingly, Enterprise explained quite well why the Klingons had ridged foreheads for most of the 22nd century, human-like faces in the 23rd, and again ridged foreheads in the 24th. The explanation is one of the best things to come out of Enterprise. There’s very few of those in this writer’s opinion.
The explanation? The Klingon Augment Virus. Bear with me for a moment here as I explain just what this means.
In Star Trek: Enterprise, Klingons were initially depicted with their ridged foreheads, just like they were in the Star Trek movies, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. The Original Series was the only franchise in which they didn’t. That means at some point between the 22nd century and 23rd century, something happened to the Klingons that made them look more human. And then sometime between the 23rd century and the 24th century, they went back to having ridged foreheads.
Star Trek fans will undoubtedly remember Khan, from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (you know, “Khaaaaaaaan!”). Khan was a genetic superman, a vestige of the Eugenics Wars on Earth. The Eugenics Wars left Earth pretty much in shambles, so genetic manipulation of the sort was outlawed. Well in Enterprise in the 22nd century, someone managed to dig up the old recipe. The Klingons, in typical Klingon fashion, interpreted this as a human weapon to destroy the Empire. So they located some of this awesome sauce and applied it to themselves in hopes of giving their species the upper hand. Unfortunately, because the genetic manipulation was intended for humans, the unintended consequence was that Klingons began looking like humans. This would plague and embarrass the Klingon Empire for some time to come. Klingon genetics sciences are hardly on the forefront.
Essentially, Enterprise did the right thing to maintain canon not only for itself, but to enhance the centuries-long plotline in a fantastic way.
Great, so everything is making sense and the universe is as it should be. Not so fast! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Enter Star Trek Into Darkness, where we were once again introduced to another look for the Klingon.
Star Trek Into Darkness Ruined it All
I personally love the look of the Klingons in Into Darkness. It’s a better representation of a warrior race in my opinion. But canon for the look had already been established for decades at this point. Star Trek canon for the Klingon was messed up yet again, this time it was the eyes. Well, kind of. That’s because it (Into Darkness) can be explained away as being part of the Kelvin universe. The Kelvin universe is an alternate universe caused by the time-traveling Romulan named Nero is Star Trek (2009). So now we have one universe (Prime) where TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT, and all the movies exist – except those after 2009, and an alternative universe (Kelvin) where the 3 newest Star Trek movies take place.
We’ve already been told that Star Trek Discovery will be in the Prime universe, much to the appreciation of most fans. So at least we don’t have to worry about Klingons looking like those in the Kelvin universe. Or do we?
What Each Option Could Have Meant
Ridged: If the Klingons look like those of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and thereafter, canon is likely broken and we’re essentially in reboot territory. That’s because Discovery takes place 10 years before Kirk’s 5-year mission. A time-period when Klingons looked like humans. However there is a caveat: were all Klingons infected with the Klingon Augment Virus? If not, we can have ridged foreheads without breaking canon. (Edited to clarify) It is accepted that not all Klingons caught the virus, and that all Klingons encountered by the USS Enterprise during Kirk’s 5-year mission either had the virus, or were descendants of Klingons that did.
Un-ridged: If they look more like humans, we’re fully within canon. In that case Discovery isn’t likely looking to rewrite Trek history in ways that Trekkies and Trekkers may not appreciate. A somewhat safer bet. However there’s a lot of confines placed on a new canon show thanks to some 900+ episodes of the various Star Trek series.
Ridged – but different: If they look different all-together then we know Discovery is completely charting a new course, possibly rewriting canon in its path. This would likely receive a lot of lashback from Star Trek fans. However it’d be similar to the lashback that The Next Generation first received when it aired. It looked quite different than The Original Series. Now, TNG is often considered to be the best of Star Trek. So if Discovery does chart a new course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all is lost.
Klingons in “Discovery” – What They Mean
Okay, history lesson of the future is complete. Now to the Klingons of Star Trek Discovery. It appears that what we’re getting is that last option – a combination of things. Yes, these Klingons have ridged foreheads. But they’re different. The ridging goes all the way from forehead to the back of their necks. This is somewhat similar in look to the Klingons found in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country, though those don’t fully go all the way down. What this means is that we may have a break in canon, but not so significantly that it abandons us all. It’s something new, but not so terribly foreign to us. Fresh and as scary as a Klingon should be.
There has also been an elongation to their heads, though that only appears to be the case for a few of the Klingons standing around in this picture. Also of note is that they appear to all be bald whereas in all other series, Klingons had hair.
There’s another option that allows Star Trek Discovery to remain canon. The fact that the Klingon Empire spans many star systems and planets. Depending on just how long the Klingons have been a spacefaring species, there could easily be Klingons that have evolved differently to match their planetary conditions, per this responding tweet.
@ncc_1031_com Remember the Empire contains many star systems and planets – and therefore many races. Why expect them to all look alike?
— Brad Wilson (@bradan_feasa) February 11, 2017
That’s certainly another possibility and a very good point.
So what do you think about these new Star Trek Discovery Klingons? Tell us below. We want to hear your thoughts.