The first season of Star Trek: Discovery seems to me to have had its share of critics and fans in equal measure. I count myself on the side of the fans of the show, frankly I enjoyed Discovery far more than the recent Hollywood Star Trek movies. I feel like the TV format is just where Star Trek works best, as it allows a more cerebral and character-based experience.
However, there was one criticism leveled at Discovery, which I share wholeheartedly: the decision to re-design the look of Klingons. If you don’t know who or what Klingons are, then why are you reading a Star Trek article, seriously? The Klingons have obviously gone through a few design changes in the past, but this was predominantly down to the effects limitations of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) as it progressed onto cinema screens in the 80’s. The look Klingons were given in the first few Star Trek movies then remained pretty consistent right through to the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) timeline. Below is a small Comparison showing the evolution of Klingon design, bear in mind that, the one in the middle is far and away the most used design in the universe.
It seemed to me like in Discovery they really broke a lot of visual canon by redesigning the Klingons so radically, even though culturally they remained pretty consistent. The Klingons are one of the most important and defining races/factions in the Star Trek universe. From the war against the Federation depicted in Discovery to strong allies against the might of the Dominion in the TNG era, Klingons are every bit as important as the Federation to this universe. Criticism of this change by fans was met with an assurance by producer Aaron Harberts that any inconsistencies will be explained within the narrative, but this left many fans doubtful.
Now it appears a redesign is already underway for season 2 as Discovery‘s Head of Makeup Effects, Glenn Hetrick recently spoke to SyfyWire about the Klingon controversy.
“We’re trying to adhere as much as we can to canon, but still evolving it and making it something for today’s audience – making it smarter, cooler, and technically more impressive so it can hold up in HD. But we don’t want anything that looks so different that someone goes, ‘That’s not what an Andorian looks like.’ It’s a fine line… We’re obsessed with that story [Kahless the Unforgettable]. And as we unpack it, we’re going to find tons of other reasons for the Klingon look. I think people are going to freak out when this unfurls in front of them.”
For the uninitiated, the story of Kahless the Unforgettable is a tale in which the Klingon legend Kahless dips a lock of his hair into lava to create a Bat’leth. Now, are we supposed to accept here that Klingons were redesigned so drastically in order that they could show us how they become the Klingons we recognize from the rest of Star Trek? Personally, I don’t buy it and I can think of two extremely prominent reasons why Discovery now HAS to somehow show the evolution of the Klingons into more recognizable forms.
The first reason being that it was probably the most focused piece of negative feedback around Discovery, people generally just didn’t like it. Some people focus more on canon than others, it appears after discussions with my fellow LRM writers that some of us (myself included) fall into the category of fans obsessed with canon and some do not. For me, I just can’t imagine Discovery as being in the same universe as the rest of Star Trek, it’s so jarring a change that it becomes like an itch that you just cannot quite reach in your back. If I am going to ever accept Discovery as part of the canon, then I need a ‘head canon’ reason for Klingons to be the way they are and right now, I don’t have one.
The second reason is the recent announcement that Patrick Stewart would be returning to lead a new show as Jean Luc Picard from the TNG era. As Discovery began, the fans pleas for more TNG era content were apparently heard by CBS. However, I do not think this facet was factored in when the design of the Klingons was first approved for Discovery. If CBS want Discovery to feel a part of Star Trek, and for this new TNG era show to feel connected to Star Trek, then both shows have to somehow resolve this Klingon situation. The answer is obvious, it has to be Discovery that changes, and this season has to mark the beginning of how Discovery finds a way to get Klingons back to something resembling the rest of Star Trek. They also have to find a canon satisfying way of explaining this change within the show’s narrative. Good luck.
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I’m genuinely really keen to see how the hell they manage to pull this off and whether it will work. What about you, what are your thoughts on the Klingon design inconsistency and how CBS resolve this going forward? Sound off below as always.
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