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The Final Reflection
after fifteen years,
the genuine article
For Valerie Elyse,
who was worth the wait
When Kor and his band of Klingons beamed into the
pantheon in the original series episode “Errand of Mercy,” they were contentious, arrogant, fearless, and rather smarmy—all miscreant qualities admired in adversaries for Kirk and company. Not surprisingly, these newcomers quickly claimed a prominent position among
’s most memorable villains. Yet even before that seminal episode had ended, the show’s creators hinted that the Klingons might not remain strictly adversarial. “It is true,” Ayelborne tells Kirk, “that in the future you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.” The Organian’s prediction came true, regardless of the Klingon Empire’s attempts to maintain a rocky relationship with the Federation. Two years later, in “Day of the Dove,” Kirk and Kang were able to laugh their way out of jeopardy together. And a century later, with Captain Picard in command of the
NCC-1701-D, a Klingon warrior named Worf served on the bridge as a Starfleet officer.
Star Trek: The Next Generation,
Klingons had evolved from one-dimensional villains into fully-fleshed characters with a well-defined culture. Along the way,
’s staff had to develop an entire warrior society, including such diverse elements as a unique fighting style, an arsenal, and a language. The process required equal parts evolution and creation. And a touch of serendipity.
In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” Korax had bragged that, “Half the quadrant [was] learning to speak Klingonese.” While writing
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,
Producer Harv Bennett discovered that he needed to learn it too. He turned to Marc Okrand, the linguist who had created the Vulcan dialogue for
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
“Harv knew that the best way to have a language that sounded like a real language was to actually create a real language,” Okrand recalls. “At the time, the only Klingon words that existed were names, and a few lines of dialogue that had been created by actor Jimmy Doohan (Scotty) for
Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Harv felt that the Klingons were like Japanese samurai warriors, so I started writing with that in mind, while at the same time trying to match the sounds from the first movie. The cadence, which is kind of choppy, came from those two things.”
It was Okrand’s job to invent more sounds—and a grammatical structure to hang them on. “Klingons are not humans,” he explains, “so their language can’t be like a human language. All human languages have certain sound patterns that fall into a system. I violated those rules by picking sounds that cannot exist together in a human language. That’s why Klingonese is hard to pronounce—your tongue doesn’t want to go in that direction,” Okrand says with a laugh.
“I purposely did not model the grammar after any specific language,” he continues. “I combined grammatical structures from Burmese and Chinese and Thai, along with a couple of European languages and some American Indian languages, mostly from the West Coast. Plus a bunch of stuff I just made up.”
Okrand was satisfied with the results—and a bit surprised as well. “I figured the actors would be able to contort their mouths to say their lines that one time,” he says. “I didn’t know that people were going to carry on Klingon conversations all over the world years later!”
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Visual Effects Producer Dan Curry made up stuff too, including the
the definitive Klingon weapon, and the flowing martial art style that accommodates its use. Like Okrand, he found much of his inspiration in the Far East. Curry, an expert martial artist, and a lifelong collector of weapons, was intrigued when he read the script to the fourth season
The Next Generation
“It called for a special Klingon bladed weapon,” Curry recalls. “I’ve always been irritated when I’ve seen weapons in movies that were designed to look cool but in reality couldn’t be handled practically. I’d been imagining a curved weapon that was partially influenced by Himalayan weapons like the Gurkha
the wickedly curved knife of the Gurkhas of Nepal, is arguably the most renowned fighting knife in the world.
] I was also thinking about the Chinese double ax, Chinese fighting crescents, and the Tai Chi sword. I combined elements of all those things in order to come up with an ergonomically sound weapon.”
Curry made a foam core version of his design, an admittedly flimsy prototype of the
and showed it to Executive Producer Rick Berman. “I told Rick that I could create a whole martial arts style too,” Curry notes. “And Rick liked it.” No one knew at the time that the weapon would become a kind of symbol for the species. “Now you seldom see a picture of a Klingon without a
in his hands,” Curry says with a smile.
Curry then began to work with Michael Dorn, the actor who plays Worf, to develop a fighting style to go with the weapon. “We didn’t want the Klingons simply to be vicious,” he says, “so I thought it would be an interesting dichotomy if they had a very subtle internal quality as well as being incredible fighters—like the samurai during Japan’s Tokagawa period, who were dedicated to poetry as well as sword-fighting. We started primarily with Tai Chi, so we could practice in ‘slow motion’ and have that meditative quality, but I made the style more claw-like and scary-looking by combining it with Hun Gar, a very aggressive Chinese style, and Tai Kwon Do, which is a Korean style.” The result:
the ritual Klingon Martial Art.
About that same time, Curry noticed that the show’s writers seemed to be exploring similar inspirational territory as they developed new Klingon storylines. “The writers began to include a kind of Bushido aspect, like a Samurai code for Klingons,” he says. “I think they fed off of what they saw Michael Dorn doing onscreen, and one thing naturally evolved into the next.”
—Terry J. Erdmann