Thank you Star Trek for giving us Klingons: the original TV bad guys in space who ultimately became good guys. Thy're also the butt of so many jokes, now and in the fictional future.
Klingons are true alien icons; a mysterious race with rich traditions, a guttural language which is taught on earth in real life - even though they don't actually... exist - and a whole lot of really odd narrative inconsistencies. When Gene Roddenberry first came up with the empirical nemesis to Starfleet’s interplanetary do-goodery, he probably had no idea that Klingon mythology would blow up into a sub-cultural mini-movement, inspiring everything from group cosplay to a staged production of Shakespeare in Klingonese.
Over the course of hundreds of TV episodes and movies, that extraterrestrial lore got very confused. Different writers on Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Discovery, and more made up “facts” about Klingons and eventually, things stopped adding up.
Here are 15 Things That Make No Sense About Klingons.
15 The Retconning of the Forehead Ridges
Retconning is often the scourge of fantasy/sci-fi franchises, be it in comics, TV, film, or even all three in the same universe of characters. They occur, of course, because after a while, creators change something up in the canon of a series to make it more timely or interesting, and that shakes up all that came before.
In Star Trek, there is no greater, more maddening retconning than Klingon forehead ridges. Originally, they had flat foreheads, like humans. By Star Trek: The Motion Picture, their heads have these ceratops-like frills, and nobody knows why. Gene Roddenberry said he always saw them this way, but didn’t have the makeup budget in 1966.
Everybody from a time-traveling Worf in Deep Space Nine to endless fans online has tried to make sense of it. Don’t bother. It’s just reckless continuity fiddling. Trying to figure it our will make your head explode.
14 Totally New Head Shapes in Discovery
But why stop at ridged foreheads? Why not utterly change the shape of the Klingon Skull? That’s exactly what the producers of Star Trek: Discovery decided to do. This is a confounding problem because the “new” Klingons are actually older in the Trek timeline than the original human-headed Klingons from The Original Series!
At this point, audiences have to accept that Klingon skulls have run the gamut from artsy, big, and weird in Discovery to run-of-the-mill-human in the Shatner-Nimoy days; to “is that a protoceratops head?” in the original movie franchise up to and beyond The Next Generation. All that convoluted explanation about when the Klingon heads changed post-TOS went out of the window in this pre-TOS series.
13 Flying Huge Starships with Just a Few Crewmembers
As we all know, Starships in the United Federation of Planets are huge vehicles consisting of hundreds of crewpeople. That makes sense: after all, these things are exploring for months in deep space and have to be prepared for whatever comes before them. The Federation makes sure to have everything from cooks to doctors to security personal on hand to deal with any needed task so far from the home planets. But the Klingons? Not so much.
In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it’s established that a Klingon Bird of Prey’s complement is less than 20 warriors. Wait – what? These guys are supposed to attack, conquer and colonize the galaxy with a squad smaller than a Major League Baseball game roster?
12 Klingon Ships on Discovery
Prequels are always tricky in sci-fi because while they are supposed to represent a time before the original series entry, they also occur later in our real world, where special effects are better and franchises typically score bigger budgets.
In Star Trek: Discovery,we find the Klingons with a starship that is more technically advanced than the Klingon ships in The Original Series. For one thing, this ship is huge – three times larger than Federation vessels-- which wasn’t the case later on.
Then there’s the matter of the controls. Instead of consoles with buttons and lights, these Klingon navigators can work the whole thingamajig with an app in their face masks!
Finally, they have one advanced cloaking device which beats the pants off of the prototype that Kirk and Spock deal with a couple of years later according to the Trek timeline. It all adds up to a glaring anachronism that simply cannot be ignored.
11 They’re an Interplanetary Empire That Can’t Handle a Moon Blowing Up
The single traumatic event which drives Klingons from being Space Nazis to the Federation’s BFFs happens in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of the moons of the Klingon home world blows up due to an experiment gone wrong.
Now, science tells us that losing a large natural satellite is totally catastrophic for a planet. But this is the 23rd century. Klingons don’t have just one world; their empire stretches for dozens of systems! And tech is so advanced, surely there can be some kind of response.
The analog to our times would be an earthquake devastating a major American city. Yes, it sucks, but we deal with it and move on. We don’t suddenly do a cultural 180. Still, somehow that event made Klingons stop being jerks and set up Worf to be the single character who appears on the most Trek episodes ever.
10 Their Skin Color Keeps Changing
Think we’re done with the retconning of Klingons? Besides having a third head shape type and dressing like disco-era rejects, the Klingons on Star Trek: Discovery also have various new skin tones. We’re talking everything from deep purple hues to copperish-peach to more traditional brown notes. Of course, along with this other completely unnecessary change comes the writers’ room excuses about how these Klingons are different because they’re from a long-lost tribe who harken back to a different age.
Look, we’re all for diversity, but we’re willing to bet that some makeup designer simply thought these new Klingons looked cool, the producers agreed, and the scripts had to be forged to fit that new aesthetic choice. Does that make sense? Not really, unless maybe you’re from Hollywood.
9 Does Kahless Have a Ridged Forehead or Not?
As has already been established, the whole history of the Klingon forehead ridges is so hopelessly convoluted at this point, we may as well bury the matter in the Fan Theory graveyard.
But then there’s the founder of the Klingon Empire – Kahless – who is pretty much the Klingon equivalent of George Washington. We meet him in the the original Star Trek series episode “Savage Curtain" where, of course, he’s got no ridges. But then, in the The Next Generation episode "Rightful Heir", we meet another version of the revered patriot who's totally got major ridges! So here's the same exact Klingon with two completely different types of heads. For the love of Kang, we can’t even deal with this anymore!
8 They’re Stronger than Humans, but Lose a Lot of Fights
Klingons are, on average, three times stronger than humans. This “fact” has been established many times throughout Star Trek continuity, and boy, we should be worried. But here’s the thing: humans are constantly kicking Klingon butt throughout the greater continuity of the Star Trek universe.
Whether it’s a bar fight on some far-flung space station, or one-on-one combat, us homo sapiens have sure started to look like we’re about three times stronger than Klingons.
In fact, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, even a 60 year-old Captain Kirk literally kicks his ridge-headed rival to the curb. Well, it’s really more of a sea of lava than a curb, but it was a kick! So much for being outclassed.
7 They Make a Big Deal About Honor, but Value Deceit
As anybody who follows major league sports knows, cheating can be a very big part of winning. Throughout the Klingons' many conquests, the art of subterfuge has been key to their success.
In many of the early original Star Trek episodes, it’s established that lying and trickery are values to admire within Klingon martial society. But by the time we get to Worf era, the emphasis of the culture is all about honor. This was also an established element from TOS.
How can you be “honorable” and think that totally cheating to win is a core virtue of your peoples? It probably means that you don’t care about consistency at all. Or that you really couldn't care less about making any sense.
6 Scotty Invented Their Language?
Does a real-world fact have any right to be on this list? We say in this case – yes – and you’ll have to indulge us for a minute. The first utterances in the Klingon language occur in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first big-screen Trek outing. And as it happens, none other than James Doohan, the man who originally played Scotty, had a hand in creating the fictional language.
Doohan was a prolific voice actor who added many voice roles to the original Star Trek series and Star Trek: The Animated Series, so it makes sense that he would have a hand in this. But when it occurs to you that Starfleet’s best engineer wove the lexicon of its greatest foes, there's a definite nonsensical irony to the whole language.
5 Cumbersome Klingon Uniforms in Discovery
The Klingons are an infamous race of warriors who start training to pillage and conquer when they are just kids and are always ready for a good fight... in ridiculously frilly and colorful clothing which totally restricts combat flow. And which also happens to resemble the most impractical Mardis Gras undergirding ever.
Just look at those insane costumes Klingons are wearing in Star Trek: Discovery. Does that inspire fear and awe in your enemies? Does that even come off without three wardrobe assistants?
Not only are the bodies and skin tones of Discovery's Klingons vastly different from previous series, but their clothing is as well. If you’re going to do war, you want an outfit made for doing serious battle. These Klingons look more like they’re about to do Cirque de Soleil!
4 They Hate the Federation for Rescuing a Klingon
"Dear Klingons, sorry not sorry, we totally saved one of your own and returned him safe and sound to you." In the series premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise, this is exactly what happens.
Captain Archer saved the Klingon spy Klaang from his own botched intelligence mission, goes through hell and high water to keep him safe, and delivers him unharmed to the Empire. What a good deed, right? Except that in Klingon culture, not letting the spy rot in the cold is considered dishonorable, so now they’re furious with Archer and the Federation -- like forever, and ever to the point of interplanetary war. This seems to us to be pretty much a stretch to explain that level of animosity.
3 TOS Klingons Didn’t Seem to Speak Their Own Language
Okay, yes, we know – it doesn’t make sense that every single species ever on Star Trek: The Original Series speaks English. We get that, and The Next Generation made that better with the addition of universal translators. But Klingons have been so heavily retconned and so thoroughly mythologized that looking back at those episodes makes them feel like they don’t fit in the larger universe of the subsequent Star Trek franchises.
It’s not just that they aren’t speaking Klingonese – a term which we actually do hear for the first time in the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” – it’s even how they talk, their affectations and accents.
Look, the original series was the original series; that should be the canon’s core, but for anyone deeply into the later series and movies, the lack of the famous language feels very odd.
2 They Started Out as Communists and Became Samurai
When Gene Roddenberry first created the Klingons, it was a conscious analog to the greatest threat facing the United States in the 1960s: The Soviet Union. Since the Federation was supposed to be a stand-in for American ideals, Klingons would be the counterpart to our real-life global foes.
And so, in pretty much every appearance in TOS, these space communists were mirroring the transgressions of the Russians, just total bad guys. Eventually, their image was crafted to be more nuanced, and ultimately honorable. Introducing strict codes of conduct and bushido-like warrior protocols over time absolutely morphed the original ideas of what this culture was all about – and viewed on the whole, it’s a highly unlikely transformation.
Going from ruthless, paranoid sadists to meditative, honorable senseis feels more than a little forced.
1 They Claim to Have Invented Shakespeare
Empires tell lies – we all know that. Lies are the currency of authoritarian societies. In order to maintain a grip on power, despotic governments can never admit they are wrong, never allow a fact harmful to their order to be acceptable, and never allow any challenge to that power paradigm. But boy oh boy, do the Klingons tell a doozy about their literary heritage.
In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the secret Klingon traitor Chang quotes Shakespeare, stating that he prefers hearing it in the “Original Klingonese.” That’s right, Klingons are totally trying to co-opt human culture! Oh, that’s so wrong. Does it make sense to tell such an easily provable lie about the true origins of the Bard? Alas, that is the question…
Are there any other Klingon plot holes you can think of in Star Trek? Let us know in the comments!