Pop culture fans around the world are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek this week. All of the Star Trek shows are pop-culture royalty and the “Trekkers” provided the template for modern comic-cons and fan communities. Star Trek holds a unique place within popular narrative fiction because of its inspirational and forward-looking themes.
Ever since their first appearance on Star Trek – The Original Series, the Klingons have been a popular adversary and occasional friend to our Starfleet heroes. The Klingon characters are so compelling that throughout these past 50 years Star Trek writers developed a detailed cultural narrative to coincide with the various Star Trek stories.
Star Trek fans know that Klingons are a warrior race, with a high value on personal integrity and honor. Executive producer Harve Bennett even likened them to the Japanese samurai.
So in the 50 years of Star Trek, which characters best exemplify the Klingon culture and ideals? Who is the ultimate Klingon?
This is not to say who is the favorite Klingon of Star Trek fans. (We all know who that is.)
The question is who is the best Klingon as according to the ideal of the fictional Klingon culture? Do they fit those Klingon “ideals” so often mentioned in the various Star Trek series?
Our favorite Klingons may not be the best Klingons…
First, let’s address a couple of favorite Klingons.
Worf – you’re the best. Everyone’s favorite and the comic relief of Star Trek: TNG.
By the way, most think you are a merry man.
K’ehleyr – we loved you. Your untimely passing affected us all. Worf took care of bizness for you, though in one of Star Trek: TNG’s best moments.
Alexander – one of our favorite kids ever. You almost got daddy and Riker killed, but made up for it by taking out some Ferengi.
We love you all, but unfortunately neither Worf, K’ehleyr or Alexander make our list of best Klingons. K’ehleyr didn’t love Klingon culture, Alexander wasn’t overly interested in becoming a warrior and Worf was always a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. He wasn’t really the Klingon’s Klingon. Although these three may be some of our favorite Klingons they are not the ideal Klingon.
So who is the best Klingon? These characters fit the bill.
Klingons that are the most Klingon
Honorable Mention – Klaa (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) – OK, not the greatest Star Trek movie, but Klaa gets high scores for going all-out after Kirk and then ultimately doing the honorable thing. Also, Klaa had the look – that badass Klingon look. Such hair!
The Top 5
General Martok (Star Trek:DS9) – Our one-eyed Klingon General certainly fought well during the Dominion War, including surviving as a captive of the Jem’Hadar. Martok fought his way back, and outside of a minor crisis-of-confidence, he gave the viewer an example of a hardcore Klingon.
Commander Kruge (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) – Kruge was really the first Klingon we saw post-TOS. Played by Christopher Lloyd, the character of Kruge set the tone for the modern Klingon. Early in the movie, we saw him sacrifice his significant other for his mission, which gave viewers an early glimpse of the way Klingon culture would develop. Kruge pushed Kirk to the edge in glorious battle. As we all know, Captain Kirk had enough of Commander Kruge, but Kruge was a total Klingon through-and-through.
Kor, Koloth and Kang, the Klingon Dahar Masters (Star Trek: TOS) – Although these characters introduced Klingons to the world, the TOS episodes with Klingons were rather few. It was not until Star Trek Deep Space Nine that these characters gained any real depth. In DS9 we saw that these three characters exemplified the range of Klingon values being demonstrated within Star Trek. Koloth was the disciplined martial artist and soldier. Kang was the vengeful Klingon. Kor, the flawed soldier longing for a warrior’s death. Combined, these three characters’ act as one unit to demonstrate the Klingon ideals and culture. As such, this Klingon Trinity is deemed a “best” Klingon.
General Chang (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) – No question that Chang was one of the baddest Klingons ever introduced in the Star Trek Universe. Smart, tactical, and fighting for what he believed was the best interests of the Klingon Empire, General Chang had gravitas. This was most evidenced in his ability to quote Shakespeare while firing torpedoes at the Enterprise and Excelsior. He also had a singular look – a shaved head with a bolted on eye-patch. Sadly, we have to knock down Chang to #2. He was complicit in a scheme to overthrow his government by murdering the Chancellor, along with Romulan help. So while aspects of Chang agree with having the Klingon heart, not winning the day against the Enterprise crew bumps him down.
Our #1 Klingon of Klingons…
Kurn (Star Trek: TNG) – How do you not pick Kurn as the exemplar of Klingon culture? Played by the exceptional Tony Todd, Kurn is the Klingon’s Klingon. He’s Worf’s brother. Honorable, smart, tough and wise in the ways of Klingon tradition, Kurn always acted in the purest of Klingon ways. Tony Todd just kills in his portrayal of Kurn. His deep voice, tone and timing always cut through every scene. In what is one of Kurn’s finest moments he destroys two Klingon Birds-of-Prey, the spittle flicking from his lips. Yeah, Tony Todd as Kurn.
50 Years of Klingons
As the world reflects back on 50 years of Star Trek, we would be remiss in not acknowledging our love and hate for Klingons. They’ve become part of world culture and vernacular. They’ve given us a fictional example of an alien culture and how that culture might be worked with and understood. Some of the same messages that resonated 50 years ago, certainly resonate in society today. Perhaps some of the answers as well.