Okay, I’ve lived on the internet practically my whole life. I understand how exhausting nerd hate is and how terribly misplaced it can be. I can also understand the adage, “Let people enjoy things.” So, at the risk of adding to useless nerd rage, and putting my foot in my mouth ( Which I’ve done here, here, and here), I’m going to calmly explain why it’s reasonable to be upset with the Klingon redesign in Star Trek Discovery, because there is a large part of the community who think questioning the redesign is nonsense.
Well, the Klingons have been redesigned before.
The Klingons have a long and storied history in Star Trek. They’ve been hanging around since the first season of the original series, and were featured in 5 of the 6 original series movies. From there no less than 3 of the 4 spin off Star Trek series had a Klingon member of the main cast (Worf in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and B’Elanna in Voyager). Other than humans, Klingon have been the second most seen alien on screen (Klingons appears in more episodes and movies than Vulcans did 474 Klingon episodes vs 401 for the Vulcans. Until the rebooted film series, Klingons appeared in all but one movie). During that time Klingons changed, most notibly between TOS and Star Trek The Motion Picture. During that time Klingons gained cranial ridges, armor, and an on screen language. They appeared for one sequence at the beginning of the movie. From there we didn’t see the Klingons again until 1984 with The Search for Spock. Here we got our first real Klingon characters since TOS
Several of the defenders of this redesign basically launch from here saying that the look and design of the Klingons continued to change … but it really didn’t. From The Search for Spock, even through to Star Trek Into Darkness, the Klingon’s look didn’t change. Their ridges and outfits became more detailed and their culture and society was developed further, but you could take Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge and insert him anywhere in the Star Trek timeline after that and he wouldn’t be out of place. Moreover, Kruge’s dialogue and Lloyd’s performance (combined with John Colicos who played Kor in TOS) helped define how Klingons would be portrayed and developed for years to come by Robert Justman and Ron Moore.
Actually take a look at these photos.
You may see that some minor things change, but largely that has to do with how the makeup was created and applied more than and overt redesigned. Everything from 1979 through to even Into Darkness all stays in line with the existing look and feel of the Klingons overall.
Now lets look at this. This is a side-by-side between Kor and Kol from Discovery. Kol is actually a member of the House of Kor … so how to we explain that?
The look of the Klingons changed without reason before, so who cares?
Well, for one I care. Secondly, it may have taken waaaaaaay to long to explain why the Klingon’s changed between TOS and The Motion Picture, but they did end up getting around to it in season 4 of Star Trek Enterprise. It turns out the Klingons always had ridges and that because of genetic experimentation gone awry, where Klingon scientists combined Klingon DNA with augmented human DNA and then one of the Klingon subjects came down with the flu, created a virus that killed Klingons. The crew of the Enterprise were able to develop a cure, but at the cost of Klingons losing their ridges.
Yeah, but you’ve seen the picture with the new klingon’s with the old Klingon’s hair right? That shows this design is basically the same.
Sure, when you slap a 80s hair metal wig on one you can tell their Klingons … but they didn’t do that. They don’t have any hair. Going all the way back to John Colicos, the Klingons always had hair. The style differs somewhat, but the style also differs for humans too.
So what? They changed the look before for no real reason. We have much better makeup and effects techniques now and if TOS was made today, guess what, this is how the Klingons would look.
That’s true, but I would argue that making that change now is a lot more dangerous than it was when they were redesigned in 1979. First, the Klingons only showed up in 9 episodes when you combine their appearances in TOS and The Animated Series. This was also before the age of streaming. Sure, you could watch it in syndication, but with them being only in 7 episodes it’s unlikely you would have their look seared into your memory. Also, TOS was a low budget wonder, but it was a low budget sci-fi show. Going from a TV show to a big budget movie, especially two years after Star Wars, meant you had to step up your alien game. From that point on, however, the look was sealed, with only minor changes (like the nose ridges in TNG). Into Darkness made the Klingon’s sleeker, and a little meaner, but they’re still obviously Klingons.
This is where the redesign really bothers me. They’ve taken a species that we’ve spent almost 500 hours with and completely changed them. From the front, they still kind of resemble Klingons, but from the side they look totally different. Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I showed a picture of T’Kuvma and Kol (two of the new Discovery Klingons) to my friends who only have a passing knowledge of Star Trek and they had no idea these were Klingons. When I told them they were shocked.
You simply can’t take aliens that have become known even in pop culture and change them so drastically that no one realizes they’re not the same aliens. They may act Klingon. They may speak Klingon, but they don’t look a damn thing like Klingons.
Okay, so they’re not following canon. Big deal. Abrams didn’t either.
But they are following canon. Or, at least, that’s what literally everyone is saying. If you’ve watched the San Diego Comic-con panel, or listened to the Engage Podcast of the Discovery Panel at Star Trek Las Vegas, then you know that every other word out of the writers and producers mouth is “canon.”
For instance Alex Kurtzman, the Executive Producer said, “You have to respect canon as it’s being written. You cannot say, “That never happened.” No, no no, you can’t do that, they would kill you. Star Trek fans would kill you. No, you have to respect canon. You have to understand the timelines and what the different timelines were and what the different universes were and how they all worked together. You have to keep very meticulous track of who, what, where, when and why. And we have people in the writer’s room whose sole job is to say, “Nope, can’t do that!” Akiva Goldsman (executive producer, show writer, and director of at least one episode) echoed that on both panels.
I have no doubt that everyone involved in this project cares deeply about Star Trek and what it means. But almost in the same breath all these statements about canon are followed with, “We all have very different relationships to social media and to canon, and so it’s a constant debate about where the line is in terms of canon violation. There’s a kind of Supreme Court of opinions that allows us to stay true to canon, but also stretch the boundaries of it. (Kurtzman).” Or statements to the effect of, we are going to stay true to canon until the story suites us to not. The only, and best defense of why the Klingons have been redesigned was, “One of the things Bryan really, really wanted to do was shake up the design of the Klingons. One of the first things he ever pitched was his aesthetic for the Klingons and how important it was that they be aesthete, that they not be the thugs of the universe, that they be sexy and vital and different from what had come before. (Aaron Harberts, executive producer).“ Basically, Bryan Fuller really wanted to do this and spent a ton of time developing them so we have to at this point.
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My hope is that since the series is wanting to depict the Klingons as multicultural (which sounds amazing) my hope is that they will be multiracial. Hopefully, somewhere, we will see smooth-brow and ridged Klingons. I look forward to seeing the series and how they will develop the Klingon culture and characters, but changing the look this dramatically was totally uncalled for by the story.