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Star Trek: The Klingon Dictionary (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins and other interesting objects. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Something absolutely fascinating happened around the release of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

It seemed like the entire Star Trek universe suddenly got wider and broader. While alien races and cultures had always been a part of the franchise, they seemed to exist as little more than mirrors of human society – a prism through which we might view the modern world. While episodes like Amok Time and The Day of the Dove teased the idea of elaborate and truly alien civilisations, in most cases the show wasn’t committed to building a universe so much as telling an engaging story on its own terms.

This is, of course, a valid approach. Producing a weekly television show, it makes sense to focus on entertaining an audience with each and every episode. A fully-formed universe is a little pointless if nobody is actually watching it. However, around the release of The Search for Spock, something changed. All of a sudden, the cultures occupying the shared Star Trek universe seemed to take on a life of their own – they began to develop into more than just mirrors or reflections.

This is apparent in The Search for Spock itself, albeit obliquely. Kruge is not the most well-defined of adversaries, but he has a point. He is worried about what the Genesis Device means from outside the context of the Federation. He’s reacting to cultural imperialism, rejecting the right of the Federation to remake worlds in their own image. The Klingon Empire suddenly existed as more than just a convenient foe when the episode needed some stock communists, but an adversary with legitimate concerns and perspectives.

This change was mirrored outside The Search for Spock as well. Directly before the publication of Vonda N. McIntyre’s novelisation of The Search for Spock, Pocket Books released John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection. The novel was an in-depth look at Klingon culture, one that went on to influence Ronald D. Moore’s development of Klingon culture on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The novel published following McIntyre’s novelisation of The Search for Spock was Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally, an exploration of the Romulans.

Perhaps the most interesting example of this trend and development can be seen with the publication of the Klingon dictionary, as written by linguist Marc Okrand, based on his work for The Search for Spock. All of a sudden, Klingons were developed enough that they needed their own language.

klingondictionary

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