The Klingon Fight with V'ger was an incident in Klingon history that took place during the 2270s. It involved a fleet of three Klingon K't'inga-class battle cruisers encountering, in Klingon territory, a hugely powerful lifeform which identified itself as "V'ger" and was manifesting as a vast, luminous cloud in space. Although the Klingon starships attacked V'ger, the entity rendered them and the weapons they fired totally ineffective. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
In the late 20th century, the NASA deep space probe Voyager 6 was launched from Earth, designed to collect data and transmit it back to the planet. After falling into a black hole that took it to the far side of the galaxy, Voyager 6 was altered by the inhabitants of a machine planet and went on to gather so much knowledge that it developed into a sentient, living being that considered machines to be the only true lifeforms. On a mission to join with "the Creator", V'ger entered Klingon space. The entity would misinterpret as hostile any contact, even scans of it, without an exchange of friendship messages first.
Detecting the arrival of the gigantic entity, the fleet of Klingon battle cruisers set a heading for V'ger. Aboard the IKS Amar, as the three Klingon vessels were on final approach to the mysterious lifeform, the Amar's captain, who spoke Klingonese, ordered that a visual of the entity be shown on the ship's viewscreen and that the Amar's torpedoes be prepared to fire. The fight was about to commence.
The Amar initiated the engagement by launching three consecutively fired photon torpedoes at the cloud. At first, their course was tracked by the graphic displays on the Klingon ship's bridge. However, each of the three torpedoes vanished from those displays, one by one. This development alarmed the Klingon captain, who reacted by ordering that the Amar take evasive action. The ship's relative position, therefore, began to be elevated.
Meanwhile, the conflict was detected by the Federation comm station Epsilon IX. Audio-visual footage from the battle was intercepted by a Federation sensor drone on Quad L-14. Aboard the Epsilon IX space station, the encounter was reported by a female lieutenant to Commander Branch, though the lieutenant wasn't sure who the Klingons were battling.
A series of flashes illuminated the cloud. As the Klingon fleet continued to pursue a course away from the entity, V'ger shot a bolt of plasma energy which struck one of the Klingon battle cruisers, enveloping it in a lightning-like effect and a blue light that spread across the entirety of the ship's hull, immediately before causing the craft to disappear.
Now, only the Amar was left of the Klingon forces. V'ger fired another plasma energy bolt at the remaining Klingon ship. Despite retaliating with a single photon torpedo fired from its aft torpedo launcher, the Amar was thwarted with the same effect as had engulfed the other two craft, even causing lightning-like energy tendrils to appear on the vessel's bridge. With the ship's disappearance, V'ger was left as the victor.
At Epsilon IX, the outcome of this incident shocked Commander Branch and the female lieutenant. Whereas the battle had been fought in Klingon space, V'ger, as the lieutenant reported to Branch, was on a direct heading to Earth.
The conflict proved to Starfleet that V'ger was, in the words of Admiral James T. Kirk, "an object of unbelievable destructive power." To demonstrate this to the USS Enterprise's crew, a recording of the incident, concluding with V'ger's strike against the Amar and that craft's subsequent disappearance, was played on a viewer on the Enterprise's recreation deck at 0400 hours. This was done at Kirk's request, he having recently been transferred to take command of the Enterprise from Will Decker. Kirk also pointed out to the assembled officers that the footage was everything Starfleet currently knew about the entity, apart from the fact that it was heading straight for Earth.
Unfortunately for the Federation, the Klingon encounter served as a shocking precedent for what was to come next, when, moments after the Enterprise crew finished watching the playback of the confrontation, Epsilon IX reported that it, too, was under attack by V'ger, which proceeded to eliminate the station in the same way it had with the Klingon vessels. Under Kirk's command, the Enterprise, though it had just completed an eighteen-month refit, was hurriedly launched to protect Earth from the imminent threat. After journeying inside the intruder and thereby discovering that V'ger had stored elaborate image recordings of everything it had passed along the way, the Enterprise ultimately succeeded in saving Earth. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
The name of this article is based on a line of dialogue in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, when Commander Branch, watching the encounter, asks about the Klingons, "Who are they fighting?"
This incident begins Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, it had its conceptual roots in the Star Trek: Phase II script "In Thy Image", similarly arranged to take place at the start of that feature-length episode. In the first and second drafts of the "In Thy Image" script (by Harold Livingston and Gene Roddenberry respectively), the three Klingon warships were identified as "Koro-class" (their designation was later changed to "K't'inga-class" in Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Roddenberry believed this battle is realistic from a Klingon standpoint. "It seems to be an unprovoked attack, but Gene Roddenberry noted that this is what Klingons would do," explained The Motion Picture Director Robert Wise. (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition (DVD))
The notion of the Klingon battle cruisers being defeated in the fray was already thought up for "In Thy Image", although the chosen technique of having them be annihilated was by causing them to actually explode. A couple of storyboards were illustrated in which this was V'ger's method of overcoming the Klingon warships. (The Art of Star Trek, p. 157) Douglas Trumbull recalled, "Abel's people had planned to take these models and blow them up, like in Star Wars; and, in fact, they were building lightweight foam versions of the ships with pyrotechnics inside." (Cinefex, issue 1, p. 27)
Despite the fact that the Klingon onslaught was featured at the beginning of "In Thy Image", John Dykstra had to persuade Gene Roddenberry that a similar large-scale confrontation, at the outset of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, could be achieved by his company: Apogee, Inc. To convince Roddenberry of this, Dykstra used the long opening shot portraying the arrival of the Klingon fleet. (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition (DVD))
Although John Dykstra wanted the demise of the Klingon vessels to still be spectacular, a new method of removing the ships was thought up, instead of actively destroying them physically. Douglas Trumbull recalled, "We decided that that wasn't what we wanted here, because the idea – which we don't know at this point in the movie – is that V'ger is zapping these things and turning them into some kind of stored information." (Cinefex, issue 1, p. 27) Robert Wise concurred, "What we wanted to indicate was the ships weren't really being destroyed but digitized; they were converted into data patterns by V'ger." (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition (DVD)) As a result, the team opted to design an effect that sweeps from one end of a targeted ship to the other, deliberately giving the impression that each of the Klingon vessels was being transformed from a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional light form that was then stored by V'ger. (Cinefex, issue 1, p. 27)
The filming of this battle sequence, even including the live-action portions, was left until after principal photography on the film in general had been completed. The sequence was shot by John Dykstra, and Apogee also produced the effects for the battle. (Cinefex, issue 1, p. 27) The combat sequence called for the company to film closer to the K't'inga-class model than they had expected they would need to, so very minute surface details were purposefully added to the studio model. (American Cinematographer, February 1980, p. 174) Ultimately, representing the defeat of the Klingon warships involved a variety of different techniques, including laser scanning and Tesla coil lightning effects. (Cinefex, issue 1, p. 27)
This space battle doesn't include any hand-to-hand combat, yet Klingon disruptors were designed for the film by Andrew Probert. Probert also recommended an ultimately unused ending for the movie, where the Klingons who had been defeated by V'ger would return to pursue and assault the Enterprise, prompting it to carry out a saucer separation. For that sequence, Probert designed a series of storyboards, before the idea was discarded. (The Art of Star Trek, pp. 182 & 198-199)
Upon editing the film for his director's cut of the movie, Robert Wise made the pacing of the battle slightly tighter. He specifically removed a couple of moments featuring the Klingon captain, feeling that these edits would make the captain seem a bit more aggressive in attacking the V'ger cloud. (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition (DVD))
Prior to the original release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, audio-visual clips from this battle, featuring the Amar firing a torpedo and one of the battle cruisers being consumed by the lightning effect, was revealed as part of the film's theatrical trailer. Similarly, footage of the Amar firing at V'ger was additionally incorporated into a trailer for the director's edition of the movie. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition (DVD) special features)
When the movie was released, this sequence not only reinforced to the audience the fact that they were watching a movie, given that there are as many as three spacecraft shown on screen at the same time as each other, but also established V'ger as a major threat. Regarding the historical context that the sequence had in reality, Daren Dochterman stated, "So, of course, we've already seen the Klingons being portrayed on the original series as real, you know, meanies and powerful, and now we see this dangerous cloud basically making mincemeat out of them with no trouble at all." (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Blu-ray)/(2010 DVD))
However, a reviewer for Time magazine lamented that the Klingons don't come back after this battle, completely misunderstanding that the Klingons are portrayed as attacking V'ger at the start of the film and were definitely intended to be separate from it. (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Blu-ray)/(2010 DVD))
Garfield Reeves-Stevens was highly enthusiastic about this battle, describing it as "perhaps one of the best pieces of science fiction cinema ever made." Denise Okuda agreed by calling the sequence "cool." (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Blu-ray)/(2010 DVD))
This battle was the first of many appearances of the K't'inga-class. The sequence also included notable changes to the Klingon make-up and costuming. It was also the first time that subtitles were used in a Star Trek production and the first time Klingonese was spoken on-screen. The musical cue that accompanies this sequence in the film was simply called "Klingon Battle". Archive footage from the encounter, to portray a fleet of three K't'inga-class battle cruisers, was reused in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for the Kobayashi Maru scenario faced by Saavik in that film.