Monday, August 18, 2014

Character Insight No. 109: General Chang

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile General Chang from Star Trek VI, who comes in at number 3 on our best Trek movie villains countdown. 
 Chang (General).jpg
("One distinctive bald Klingon, right there") 

General Chang was chief of staff to Chancellor Gorkon, who led the Klingon High Council. Chang earned the sobriquet "the Merciless" after commanding many punitive attacks on Klingon rebels and others who dared oppose the Klingon empire. It was rumored that Chang lost his left eye in one of these battles, leading to his distinctive eye patch. 

But what makes Chang even more memorable is his strong fondness for Shakespeare, quoting the bard at every possible opportunity. 

Quote: "You do prefer it this way, don't you, as it was meant to be? No peace in our time. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

Chang leads the plot to try and sabotage the peace talks between the Federation and the Klingons, joined of course by Admiral Cartwright and Lietenant Valeris, among others. He uses an experimental Klingon ship that can fire while cloaked to cast suspicion on Captain Kirk for the assassination of Gorkon, which he had Valeris perform. He then becomes a prosecutor against Kirk and Dr. McCoy in front of the Klingon courts, turning in a great legal entrapment of Kirk. 

Quote "Admiral Kirk was broken for taking matters into his own hands in defiance of regulations of the law. Do you deny being demoted for these charges? DON'T WAIT FOR THE TRANSLATION. Answer me now."

When Kirk and Bones are sentenced to life in prison on Rura Penthe, Chang again employs more bad guys led by Martia to try and get the Federation crewmates killed in an escape attempt. However, the escape works and Chang has to hunt down the Enterprise and do combat with it and Captain Sulu's Excelsior. 

General Chang: [over the public address speakers] "I am constant as the northern star."
Commander Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, M.D.: I'd give real money if he'd shut up.

Unfortunately for Chang, the Enterprise crew is smarter than the average bear, as Uhura and Spock develop a way to cause a photon torpedo to track the plasma trail of his cloaked ship. And thus, Chang and his devious plot exit stage left, allowing the historic peace to happen. 

Quote: ""Tickle us, do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

Actor Christopher Plummer requested that he receive less prominent head ridges and makeup because he thought the look was not perfected well in previous iterations. Between his small ridges, bald head, and eye patch, General Chang looks more like a human than a Klingon. That actually syncs up well with his love of Shakespeare, although it does not jive well with other Klingons at the time. 

Chang's role is a lot like the historical German figure Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who conspired to kill Adolf Hitler to stop a World War (but was unsuccessful). The depth and uniqueness of this character, plus an outstanding acting performance by Plummer, pushes this baddie into the top echelon of this countdown. This is easily the best of the Klingon villains, and it would be wrong to have an iconic race much farther away from the top of this list. 

As previously mentioned, Christopher Plummer played Chang. His best role likely came in the animated movie Up, although he also has memorable performances in A Beautiful Mind and The Sound of Music. Plummer continues to act today, some 60 years after his debut in 1953.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

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