One of Star Trek Discovery showrunners is finally breaking his silence regarding the show's changes to the Klingons. Early glimpses of the series have shown that Discovery is not going to be shy about visually reinventing the venerable science fiction franchise, with the drastic redesign of the Klingons being perhaps the most notable (and controversial) example of this.
Set a decade before the adventures of Kirk and Spock in the original Star Trek series, Discovery is told from the point of view of Commander Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead's Sonequa Martin-Green). Plot details have been scarce, but the show will revolve around a significant event in the history of Starfleet that has never been explored before, and the iconic Klingons are to play a crucial role.
When the initial trailer for the series was released, many viewers were surprised to see the Klingons significantly redesigned. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Aaron Roberts comments on the controversial change:
“In the different versions of Trek, the Klingons have never been completely consistent. We will introduce several different houses with different styles. Hopefully, fans will become more invested in the characters than worried about the redesign.”
Roberts also notes that Bryan Fuller, the series' initial showrunner who departed due to his commitments to American Gods, was a proponent of the redesign and was involved with crafting the new look of the iconic aliens.
Roberts is right that the Klingons have never had one consistent look over the series' 52 year history. When they were introduced in the original 1966 series, the Klingons looked largely like humans (though with some unfortunate blackface makeup on mostly caucasian actors), and were presented as intellectual, calculating adversaries, generally believed to be allegorical stand-ins for the Russians at the height of the Cold War.
They were briefly glimpsed at the beginning of the franchise's first theatrical release, 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, appearing decidedly more alien, with a gruff, guttural language, jagged teeth, and ridged foreheads. This iteration would be refined during the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its contemporary spinoffs, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, as Michael Dorn's stern, honor-obsessed Lieutenant Worf became the most iconic Klingon of all time. The prequel series Enterprise even attempted to explain why the earlier Klingons looked so different from the modern ones - a noble effort with decidedly mixed results.
Discovery's massive aesthetic overhaul of the Klingons is a bit of a surprise. While JJ Abrams' 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness featured a new look for the Klingons, those films have used their status as an alternate timeline to justify some bold visual choices. Discovery is supposedly in the same timeline as the original series, and it's difficult to see how the jet black, deeply alien looking Klingons of the new series will coalesce with the more human looking aliens of the original series in a span of ten years.
Star Trek: Discovery premieres September 24 on CBS, before moving to CBS All Access for further episodes.