Star Trek and Star Wars are the titans of sci-fi space-faring franchises, going on for decades with no end in sight. And both franchises, as vastly different from each other as they are, have inspired each other in different ways. Reruns of Star Trek inspired George Lucas while writing the original film, by his own admission. Likewise, Star Trek would never have returned without the runaway success of Star Wars. It’s been a bit of a feedback loop between both properties ever since. But perhaps the biggest parallel between both franchises comes down to two of their most popular warrior races, the Klingons and the Mandalorians.
Both warrior races started as one-dimensional bad guys for our heroes to fight. Now, both Klingons and Mandalorians are fan favorites, and in many ways becoming almost mascots for their respective series. Sometimes as badass villains, and sometimes as noble warriors. Over the decades, these two warrior races have shared an interesting parallel history across their franchises.
From Cool-Looking Warriors to Complex Villains
The first Klingon we saw in Trek was Kor, in the 1967 episode “Errand of Mercy.” He was just a mustache-twirling bad guy. We must say, it was quite an impressive mustache to twirl. Boba Fett was our first Mandalorian, even if they never name him as such on-screen. The name “Mandalorian super commando” came from the Empire Strikes Back novelization, and early Marvel Star Wars comics. But something about both of these characters struck a chord with fans, to the point where writers have expanded on them in great detail in the decades since.
The Klingons were truly defined as a species by the original Star Trek films, particularly Treks II – VI. There, we learned of their strict warrior code, where honor took precedence over all else. Not to mention, they got cool new alien makeup. Writers then expanded on the Klingons on The Next Generation, and later Deep Space Nine and Voyager. They added references to samurai culture, making them more than one-note warriors. Meanwhile, in the galaxy far, far away, Boba Fett barely had any lines in the original trilogy. His father Jango was introduced in the prequels, but again, the word “Mandalorian” was never spoken. But TV series like The Clone Wars, Rebels, and of course, The Mandalorian, have expanded on this culture.
Klingons and Mandalorians: Old Warriors in a New World
Klingons were staunch enemies of the Federation for decades. All until an environmental cataclysm on their home planet forced them to come to Starfleet for help, starting an era of peace. This event was chronicled in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. But over the years, as we saw on TNG and DS9, some Klingons did not take to peace with their longtime enemies, and formed militant factions. This split between the “old ways” and the “new ways” of Klingon culture became a big part of ‘90s Star Trek stories. Even with the future of their civilization at stake, many Klingons simply could not abide peace with their former foes.
In The Clone Wars animated series, we learned a lot more about Mandalorian culture. Before this series, the word “Mandalorian” was only seen in tie-in media, and nothing canonical. They too were a militant, warrior race. But catastrophic wars nearly destroyed their homeworld of Mandalore. The majority of the remaining Mandalorians embraced peace in the aftermath and forged relations with their former enemy, the Republic. But certain aspects of Mandalorian culture refused to let go of their warrior ways, and formed the group Death Watch. All of this reflected the journey of the Klingons in Star Trek.
Both the Klingons and the Mandalorians drew inspiration from feudal societies in real Earth history. Whether you are a Klingon or a Mandalorian, which noble house you belonged to carried great importance. In Trek, we heard a lot about noble Klingon houses like “House of Martok,” or “House of Duras.” Meanwhile, in Star Wars, the clans on Mandalore placed similar importance on names like “House Visla,” It took some time, but the exploration of Mandalorian culture eventually caught up to how much Klingons had been developed over the years.
Klingon and Mandalorian Mavericks
We also have met members of both the Klingons and the Mandalorians who forged their own path, without adhering to any one creed or way of thinking. In Trek, the half-human K’Ehylar didn’t care about all the rules and regulations of her Klingon heritage. Similarly, Bo-Katan in Star Wars breaks with the hardcore Mando traditions, and takes her helmet off whenever she pleases. And one can say that “ground zero” for the Mandalorians, Boba Fett, doesn’t care one lick for the Mando culture, and doesn’t really think of himself as one,
Both the Klingons and the Mandalorians are very traditional and obsessed with ritual. On TNG, Worf had to undergo many frequently painful rituals. Often, to cleanse himself from any dishonor. This happened when Worf lost his family honor, and had to shed blood in front of the Klingon High Chancellor, Gowron. In another instance, Worf went to a retreat to the Klingon temple of Boreth to reconnect with his beliefs, and become a “true Klingon” again.
In The Book of Boba Fett, we saw Din Djarin suffer consequences for taking his helmet off in front of someone else. This was a violation of their deepest-held rules. The Mandalorian Armorer sends him back to the ruins of Mandalore, to bathe in the waters under the planet and cleanse himself of sin once more. We expect to see this in season three of The Mandalorian. It all feels very similar to all the ritualistic hoops Worf had to jump through to become an honorable Klingon once again.
Not Just a Race, But a Creed
In Star Trek, an off-worlder can become a Klingon if deemed worthy, and through ritual. When a young boy’s mother under Worf’s command died in a season three TNG episode, Worf took him in as a member of his own House of Mogh. Similarly, thanks to years of fighting alongside different Klingon warriors, Jadzia Dax became an honorary Klingon when marrying into Worf’s family.
This is similar, but not identical, to how Mandalorians take in foundlings into their respective cultures. Din Djarin was such a foundling. And so was Jango Fett, who was retconned into our first official on-screen Mandalorian. He was also a foundling, and not born into the Mando culture. Boba Fett, by extension, is a Mandalorian only by inheritance of armor. Although whether he sees himself that way is up for debate.
Both franchises have dozens of distinct alien cultures within the larger framework of their franchises. But you wouldn’t know it by their cosplay quotient. There aren’t anywhere near as many Vulcans or Bajoran cosplay at a convention as there are Klingons. In fact, most conventions have some kind of Klingon-specific panel every year. Trust us, we’ve seen Shakespeare in Klingon. With their distinctive forehead ridges, armor, and weapons like bat’leths, they’re just cooler.
Meanwhile, the alien culture most represented by cosplay in the world of Star Wars easily has to be the Mandalorians. Only Jedi and Stormtroopers come close, and neither of those counts as a distinct alien culture. Much like the Klingons, they’re just visually impressive, and have elements that unify their looks, while allowing for enough individuality for cosplayers to get creative with it. The notion that both Klingons and Mandos are families is probably also very enticing. To be in Starfleet, one has to go to Starfleet Academy. To be a Jedi, one must be born with the Force. But to be a Klingon or a Mandalorian, one just has to be accepted by the tribe. We can see the innate appeal for many fans.
Despite having a head start by decades, Star Trek has yet to but a Klingon front and center in a series or movie. Meanwhile, Lucasfilm has done that with The Mandalorian to great success. Maybe it’s time for that Captain Worf series after all. In the meantime, we’ll see Worf when Star Trek: Picard season three premieres on February 16, and more Mandos when The Mandalorian drops its third season on Disney+ on March 1.