Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Klingon? Kling-off!

This week were leaked several photos from the next Star Trek movie, depicting Spock and Uhura in combat with the movie’s villain.

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These don’t reveal any spoilers, and the baddies for Star Trek 2/12 are still the source of much speculation, mainly will they be Klingons? and of course will they have head bumps?

The producers of the Star Trek reboot winked at
this idea in the previous movie (albeit it in a deleted scene). But the answer to the question will they look like old school or new school Klingons is the wrong question. That doesn’t matter. Forget about the head bumps. They’re just decoration.

Kor, 23rd Century (left), Kor, 24th Century (right)

People think that the Klingons really took off as an alien species in the movies and in TNG because they had fancier make-up. And they also “developed” the angle of Klingons as these awesome warriors, but they were always warriors, right? Well not really. All of this business about Klingons being warriors was based on one line from “Day of the Dove” where Spock says the Klingons have “maintained a dueling tradition,” which is an unimportant detail from the Klingons’ origins.

In the spinoff shows, we see Klingons as this warrior race (which is fine) who value honor (which is also fine) to such a degree that it frankly became preposterous (which was preposterous). According to depictions on screen, a Klingon could suffer execution or lifetime dishonor (which could often lead to suicide) for any of the following transgressions:
By DS9 they took things even further by establishing “blood oaths,” where if any member of your fellow house were murdered (or even offended) by someone in another house, you’d be honor-bound to exact revenge on them … so in addition to the risk of casual murder/lifetime dishonor of daily Klingon life, you have whole families ready to go to war with other families at the drop of a daktag.

All of this creates a race that’s so absurdly fixated on capital punishment that you can’t imagine that they’d ever run an interstellar empire or develop warp drive or ever even get out of the Middle Ages. Obviously the original version for the Klingons was not stupid bloodthirstiness. In one episode of DS9, O’Brien compares a Klingon crew to “a gang of ancient sea pirates” – confessing how silly the race had become.

Almost as silly as the nickname "Scotty" for a Scottish person

TOS Klingons were an obvious analog for the Soviets during the Cold War and repeatedly demonstrate the idea “These people are our enemies but they’re not an evil race – they’re just like us.” Maybe the franchise went all out with the “We are Klingons / we are crazy space Vikings” business because by the 1990s, the Russians weren’t our enemies anymore and we didn’t even really have any enemies. So without that as a framework, the franchise kind flailed to find the right model for the Klingons … and they settled on Star Trek III, as we’ve discussed before, which was a huge misstep.

The Klingons in ST3 are renegades led by a truly evil warlord, a character completely unlike those depicted in classic episodes, seen as follows:

Day of the DoveKang and Kirk become fast friends by the end of the episode after allying against (spoiler alert) Melllvar. Kang’s wife says she’s heard the Federation abuses their prisoners – showing that both sides use propaganda against the other.

The Trouble With Tribbles Kirk permits Klingons to visit station K-7 as a sign of friendship under the Organian Treaty. While Kirk is irritated with the Federation bureaucrat and the unscrupulous businessman, he and Koloth are practically flirting with each other throughout the episode (“My dear Captain Koloth” / “My dear Captain Kirk”). When a fight breaks out between Klingons and Starfleet, Kirk punishes his own men because he knew they’d started it!

A Private Little War A parallel to the Vietnam War so obvious that Kirk comes out and says it, this episode shows the Federation supporting one side of an arms race while Klingons support another. Yes, the Klingons started it, but the message is we can’t judge our enemies too harshly because we use the same tactics they do most of the time.

Errand of Mercy Kor really is a bad guy in this: torturing Spock and ready to murder Organians by the thousands. As the character who put his feet in the wet cement of the Klingon race, Kor is truly magnificent to behold. And this clip here shows the idea “the Klingons (and by extension the Russians) are just like us” better than anything else in the franchise.

Despite TNG already being five seasons into messing up Klingons by 1991, Nick Meyer and Leonard Nimoy understood the race’s core premise when they did Star Trek 6: Klingons and Humans (and even a Vulcan!) were conspiring together to murder and even start a war.
They went so far as to have Kirk say “You know what, Spock, everyone’s human.” Even Shatner got it right with Star Trek 5! After the Klingon bad guy tries to kill Kirk so he can become “the greatest warrior in the galaxy,” his government forces him to apologize, because they know that’s no way to run an empire. (Note: apologize, not kill himself to death.)

So here’s the message for JJ Abrams and his friends doing Star Trek 2/12. If you use them as villains, remember that Klingons work best when they’re Klingons, not space vikings.

Well ok: these guys can be space vikings

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