(written from a Production point of view)
At the Klingon monastery on Boreth, Worf sees a very real vision of Kahless the Unforgettable.
The USS Enterprise-D is on its way to the Gariman sector, and undergoes a shift change in the morning. Data had command of the bridge overnight and hands it over to Commander Riker. He reports that the lateral sensor array performed three spectral analyses of the Alwanir Nebula. Riker is barely listening and is glancing back at the tactical station while sitting down in the command chair. Riker quickly realizes that Lieutenant Worf was assigned to the shift as well to relieve Ensign Torigan at tactical, but is late. Riker notes that Worf is never late for duty and brings a security team. He finds him in his quarters, covered in sweat and kneeling before a fire, absorbed in prayer. The room has been arranged like a traditional Klingon shrine. Riker asks Worf what the hell he is doing. Worf, in a trance, just stares at Riker.
Captain Picard goes to talk to Worf in his quarters, and he explains that, ever since the incident in the Carraya system, where he found young Klingons and taught them about their heritage, he has felt empty. As he saw their eager acceptance and recognition, he realized that he himself did not believe these things strongly, if at all. He was trying to summon a vision of Kahless that morning to reconnect with his spiritual roots. Picard asks if there is a place where he could explore these things more fully; Worf says that place would be Boreth, where devout Klingons await the return of Kahless. It is not far from where the Enterprise is now and will take twelve days to reach it via shuttlecraft. Picard says that since his spiritual quest is interfering with his duties, he should consider himself on leave, go to Boreth, and return to the Enterprise prepared to resume his duties properly. He says kindly, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
The Boreth monastery is built into the side of a mountain, with many interconnected caverns and caves decorated in ancient Klingon style. Worf joins several other Klingons in intensely-focused prayer around a fire pit, repeating "torva luq do Sel." (This is pronounced Torva luk do shell.) One very young man named Divok suddenly looks up and cries out that he sees Kahless standing before him. "He wants something – me! He wants me!" High priest Koroth congratulates Divok and says this is a vision of great power, telling him that at only 19 years of age, his place among the honored dead is now secure.
Worf packs up to leave; he has been there ten days and has received neither visions nor insights. Koroth reminds him of the story of The Promise: how when Kahless left, he pointed to the star around which Boreth orbits, and promised he would return there. That was fifteen centuries ago, and ten days is a relatively small amount of time. He tells Worf that this is a place of questions, not answers, and that Worf should open his heart to Kahless.
Returning to the shrine, Worf prays alone; Divok sits nearby to tend the fire. Suddenly the air shimmers in front of Worf and Kahless appears. Worf is overjoyed, but Divok is puzzled; he sees Kahless too. While Divok runs off to get the others, Kahless holds out his hands to Worf. Rising, Worf touches him and breathes, "You are real!"
When the other Klingons arrive, amazed, he declares "I am Kahless, and I have returned."
Kahless enters the temple and tells the story of how his bat'leth was created. This story is known only to the high priests; it was kept out of the sacred writings deliberately so it could be used as a test in case the real Kahless ever came back. Kahless explains that he has returned to unite the people, to stop the fighting and the petty wars. Koroth and his assistant Torin are convinced, and lead the pilgrims in chanting praise to Kahless.
Unconvinced, Worf goes to get a tricorder scan to make sure Kahless is even a real Klingon. Kahless finds him and allows the scan. He is Klingon, but Worf is still unconvinced. Kahless then says they have met before, in a vision in the caves of No'Mat, when Worf was a boy. Still, Worf is skeptical, but wants to believe. Kahless notes that that is a beginning.
Worf remains quiet and reserved at the party that is given in Kahless's honor. Kahless notices that Worf still has questions; Worf says it is honorable to question and not take things for granted as that is the beginning of wisdom, but Kahless replies that a leader does not have to answer questions; a real leader commands obedience. Worf says that is true if the leader is worthy. Realizing that Worf is issuing a challenge, Kahless engages Worf in single combat. The fight is brief, fierce, and seems almost equal; it ends abruptly when Kahless turns away, laughing and a bit out of breath, and says that Klingons must fight not only to spill blood, but to enrich the spirit. He leads the people in a loud, proud chant, "We are Klingons!" Not everyone is convinced at first, but his enthusiasm is infectious. Only Worf remains detached and thoughtful.
Kahless, Koroth and Torin are brought aboard the Enterprise-D to be transported to Qo'noS. Chancellor Gowron has received news of Kahless' return with something less than enthusiasm. He therefore doesn't trust a Klingon ship to transport Kahless. Dr. Crusher wants to run more tests to be sure he is not a coalescent being, as they have run into one before, a bioreplicant, or simply a dressed-up Klingon who has been surgically altered. Picard says that it is not their duty to ascertain what Kahless' origins may be or tell the Klingons what they should believe. He also adds that Kahless is now on board the ship and will be treated as an honored guest, nevertheless. After everyone leaves, Data asks how Worf and the other Klingons will ascertain that Kahless is for real, and Worf says it is a matter of faith. He does not want to discount the possibility that he is really Kahless.
Gowron intercepts the Enterprise in his Vor'cha-class vessel and beams aboard, and he is indignant. Convinced that Kahless is an impostor, he has brought the Knife of Kirom, a sacred knife that is supposed to have the blood of Kahless on it. He talks to Picard about how hard it is to fight an idea, and that the crew of his ship have already split up into factions over whether or not this is Kahless. It will destroy the unity of the Empire, and he wants the lie stopped here and now.
Picard goes to Kahless and explains Gowron's plan. Despite Koroth's and Torin's thoughts that they don't have to prove anything, Kahless allows it. In sickbay, Dr. Crusher runs the analysis and the computer confirms it is a match. Now, Worf truly believes.
Worf invites Kahless for a drink, apologizing for the not-quite-right taste of the replicator's attempt to do Klingon Warnog. Kahless obviously cannot tell the difference, and says that he has forgotten many things. Asked by Worf about the next life, he says he does not have those answers, but is merely a traveler between this world and the afterlife. While he is corporeal, he knows only the here-and-now. Kahless changes the subject, saying he wants Worf to be near him while he builds his new Empire.
Gowron is convinced the whole situation is a ploy for Koroth and the other priests to seize power. In the observation lounge, he points out to Worf that they want him on their side, because Kurn now sits on the Klingon High Council and, as Kurn's older brother, Worf has influence. Worf pleads with Gowron to keep an open mind and listen to Kahless, giving himself a chance to have his faith restored, before taking up arms.
Gowron goes to meet Kahless in the holodeck, where the temple has been recreated. Kahless enters and ignores the introduction, instead telling the story of a man who would not go inside the city walls of Quin'lat when a storm blew up. He faced the storm and ultimately was killed. "The wind does not respect a fool," he says. "Do not stand before the wind, Gowron," he challenges. Gowron counters, challenging Kahless to remember details about the man in the story. Kahless says it does not matter, only that he has come to restore honor to the people. Gowron contemptuously challenges him to combat. As before, Kahless seems not to be able to fight very well, and tries to distract everyone with laughter and talk about fighting in the right spirit, but Gowron is unmoved and at last defeats Kahless, knocking him to the floor. Gowron laughs mockingly.
Now convinced that this is not Kahless, Worf wants answers. So does Kahless. Koroth explains slowly that the problems with Kahless's memory and his inability to fight like a real Klingon have to do with "the way he returned." The priests used Kahless's original genetic material to create a clone. All of his memories were actually programmed in from the sacred texts or from personal information the priests had. Worf is shocked and outraged, but the priests claim they did it to unite the Klingon people.
Worf returns to the holodeck temple and finds two of Gowron's men still there; they still hold the belief. Data is also there, interested in the men's faith, and asks how Kahless's defeat has affected Worf's faith which Worf is unable to answer. Data tells him how he was first activated by officers from the USS Tripoli on Omicron Theta and told he was only a machine, but believed he could become more than a collection of circuits and sub-processors. When Worf asks Data how he was able to come to this decision, Data calls it a leap of faith, and Worf is impressed.
In the observation lounge, Worf chooses to tell Gowron, in front of Koroth and Kahless, that Kahless is a clone. Gowron is vindicated, but Worf points out it does not matter. The people do need something to unite them and put a halt to the strife and corruption in the Empire, so they should be told of Kahless – the whole truth. Instead of becoming leader of the empire in Gowron's place, however, Kahless can be the Emperor, a figurehead but also a moral guide who inspires the people to return to true Klingon ways. Even though he will not really be Kahless, he will be Kahless's rightful heir. Gowron finally accepts this (kneeling: vorcha-doh-baghk meaning "all hail, Kahless!") and with reservations and they all bow to Kahless.
As Kahless prepares to leave in a transporter room, he tells Worf that perhaps what Kahless gave the people – the unique ways of thinking and behaving that make them Klingons – is more important than Kahless himself. He also insists that Worf should be proud of his achievement. Perhaps it does not matter if the real Kahless never returns, because his spirit lives on in the heart of every true Klingon.
- "Captain's log, stardate 46852.2. The Enterprise is to proceed directly to the planet Boreth to take aboard a very unusual guest."
"Worf! What the hell are you doing?"
- - Riker
"On your feet, lieutenant!"
- - Picard
"Mr. Worf, your personal affairs are strictly your own concern until they interfere with the operation of this ship. You have now crossed that line."
- - Picard
"It's a pity that you didn't try the holodeck instead of setting fire to your quarters."
- - Picard, to Worf
"My behavior has been…"
"Inexcusable… and understandable."
- - Worf, after he tells Picard he has lost his faith
"I am Kahless… and I have returned."
- - Kahless
"You still do not believe it is me, do you, Worf?"
"I want to believe."
"That is a beginning."
- - Kahless and Worf
"Long ago, a storm was heading for the city of Quin'lat. Everyone took protection within the walls except one man who remained outside. I went to him and asked what he was doing. "I am not afraid," the man said. "I will not hide my face behind stone and mortar. I will stand before the wind and make it respect me." I honored his choice and went inside. The next day, the storm came, and the man was killed. The wind does not respect a fool. Do not stand before the wind, Gowron."
- - Kahless
"Worf, no offense but I have trouble believing that the man that I escorted from deck eight is supernatural."
- - Riker, when Kahless comes aboard the Enterprise
"What was his name?"
"If you were really there, you should be able to tell us the name of the man who stood outside the walls. Describe him to us. How tall was he? What was he wearing?!? What color… were his EYES?!?"
- - Gowron and Kahless
"They grew you in a test tube, like some kind of fungus – then programmed you like a MACHINE!"
- - Worf
"I understand your dilemma. I once had what could be considered a crisis of the spirit.
"Yes. The Starfleet officers who first activated me on Omicron Theta told me I was an android, nothing more than a sophisticated machine with human form. However I realised that if I were simply a machine, I could never be anything else. I could never grow beyond my programming. I found that difficult to accept, so I chose to believe that I was a person, that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and sub-processors. It is a belief which I still hold.
"How did you come to your decision?"
"I made a leap of faith."
- - Data and Worf
"We will tell them the truth. All of the truth. But we will also tell them that even if he is not the real Kahless, he is the rightful HEIR to Kahless."
- - Worf
"Kahless left us, all of us, a powerful legacy. A way of thinking and acting that makes us Klingon. If his words hold wisdom and his philosophy is honorable, what does it matter if he returns? What is important is that we follow his teachings. Perhaps the words are more important than the man."
- - Kahless
- Final draft script: 8 March 1993 
- Filmed: 9 March 1993 – 18 March 1993
- Premiere airdate: 17 May 1993
- First UK airdate: 13 December 1995
Story and script
- When pitching the story, James E. Brooks dubbed it "Jurassic Worf", in reference to the 1993 film Jurassic Park. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248))
- While Brooks' pitch focused on intrigue among the clerics, Ronald D. Moore decided to take the story in a different direction by examining spirituality and faith in the 24th century. Moore explained, "I thought it was a real nifty idea and I thought it was an opportunity to do a show unlike others we've done. The subject wasn't something that we tackled, so I was eager to do it. I wanted to do something interesting. I'm very proud of the script. It deals with faith and belief that we don't normally deal with on Star Trek." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248); Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
- Jeri Taylor recalled that the episode sparked discussion among the writing staff about their views on faith and its place in The Next Generation. "Gene Roddenberry was very much a secular humanist, and I don't think that story would have worked with anyone else but Worf." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248))
- Brooks did not use Kahless in his pitch, but Moore saw the episode as an opportunity to develop and redefine the character first seen in the TOS episode "The Savage Curtain". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248)) The Kahless in the Original Series episode was portrayed in a very different light – as a barbaric murderer who used cunning and trickery (including vocal mimicry of his enemies) to gain an advantage in combat. The Star Trek Encyclopedia (3rd ed., p. 228-229) notes that the apparent inconsistency could be explained as the image of Kahless being formed from the biased perceptions of James T. Kirk.
- Much of the lore of Kahless revealed here originated from dialogue cut for time from "Birthright, Part II". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248))
- Rick Berman recalled, "I had a lot of fights with Ron about this. The character of Kahless and the backstory and the dialogue of Kahless were all a little bit too on the nose Christ-like for me. We had a lot of long debates and eventually it was modified by Ron in a way that I think made it much better. I think he not only solved my problems but made the [episode] better." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
- In a line cut from the episode, Data revealed that Kahless' death occurred 1,547 years prior to the episode (822 A.D.). In another, the crew considers whether the Kahless clone was a plot by the Duras sisters or the "B'nok faction." Alexander's absence was explained as a visit to Worf's adoptive parents on Earth while Worf showed Kahless his quarters. Additionally, Worf interprets his entrance into Starfleet as the fulfilment of Kahless's prediction that he would do what no other Klingon had done before, with Kahless expressing pride in Worf as a worthy warrior who has upheld his status as a Klingon even living among non-Klingons. A scene is also included depicting Kahless's arrival on the Enterprise, where he greets Picard as a worthy warrior based on Worf's stories and moves on from his initial assumption that Deanna Troi was intended as a 'gift' for him. The script for the episode, including these deleted lines, can be viewed here.
- "Rightful Heir" was filmed between Tuesday 9 March 1993 and Thursday 18 March 1993 on Paramount Stage 8, 9, and 16.
- Director Winrich Kolbe recalled, "[This] was a difficult show to do. It started out rather conventionally, but once we got on Stage 16, we spent three days there. It was totally smoked in, in order to get that haze…I'm still coughing. The special effects people kept telling us it's non-poisonous and just a slight irritant. Well, I had a very heavy allergy which I think was caused by the smoke, but the show just looks terrific. It looks like a movie." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
- The design of the Klingon temple was inspired by similar structures Dan Curry had seen in the Himalayas. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248))
- On Michael Dorn's performance, Kolbe remarked, "Michael and I have an interesting relationship. I try to push him and sometimes I push too hard and he will fight back. Michael has matured since I met him four or five years ago. He has become a lot more secure and has become a lot better. That obviously helped on this particular show. He knew it was his show and we went in there from the beginning saying that we're going to make this the best show of the season." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
- Dorn stated, "It was a well-written script. Usually you get ten different colors or changes, but in "Rightful Heir" maybe there were two minuscule changes. Rick [Kolbe] and I had mini-discussions about where the character should be. He's wonderful and I trust him – so if he says, 'Michael, try it like this,' you go, 'Okay' and you trust him." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
Sets and props
- This episode features the Kahless shrine in Worf's quarters for the first time. It will later be seen again in the seventh season episode "Firstborn".
- A throne for Kahless was especially constructed for the episode, featuring for the first time a new variant of the Klingon emblem (red on a yellow field), replacing that of the previous one (red on a gray field), used under the reign of K'mpec. The new variant was adhered to for the remainder of the television franchise, arguably to indicate that the Klingon Empire was now under new, albeit titular only, leadership.
- Gowron says there has not been a Klingon emperor in 300 years. According to Moore, the previous reference to a contemporary emperor in "Sins of the Father" was just a throwaway before the writers firmly established the structure of the Klingon government in "Reunion". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 248))
- Early in the episode, Worf makes references to his visit to Carraya IV in "Birthright, Part II", revealing how this experience with the isolated Klingons affected his faith.
- This episode marks the final appearance of Gowron on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His next appearance is in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The House of Quark".
- Deanna Troi and Geordi La Forge do not appear in this episode. They both, however, appear in deleted lines found in the script.  According to the call sheet, Sirtis also filmed a scene in the shuttlebay.
- The clone of Kahless warns the Chancellor by saying: "Do not stand before the wind, Gowron". Coincidentally, Gowron will meet his end six years later in DS9: "Tacking Into the Wind", also written by Ronald D. Moore.
- The monastery of Boreth is further explored in the Star Trek: Discovery episode "Through the Valley of Shadows".
- Brannon Braga remarked, "It's a show which has some powerful metaphors for modern day religious beliefs. Star Trek has never tackled religion with such vigor as in this episode. The man playing Kahless as the Jesus Christ of the Klingon Empire was great and Michael Dorn's performance is powerful. It has the potential to be a very controversial episode that will take Worf's character in some interesting new directions." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
- Rick Berman commented, "Kevin Conway's performance is great and it's a wonderful episode." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 278)
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 75, 10 January 1994
- As part of the TNG Season 6 DVD collection
Links and references
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- David Keith Anderson as Klingon pilgrim
- Martin Brümmerhoff as Klingon pilgrim
- Cameron as Kellogg
- Tracee Lee Cocco as Jae
- Debra Dilley as Klingon pilgrim
- A. Ettinger as Klingon pilgrim
- Arvo Katajisto as Torigan
- Diane Lee as Klingon pilgrim
- Rad Milo as operations division ensign
- Michael Moorehead as science division ensign
- Joycelyn Robinson as Gates
- Irving Ross as Klingon priest
- Unknown performers as
- Chris Doyle as stunt double for Robert O'Reilly
- Ken Lesco as stunt double for Kevin Conway
- Rusty McClennon as stunt double for Michael Dorn
- Debbie David – stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Michael Echols – stand-in for Michael Dorn
- Eric – stand-in for Kevin Conway and Charles Esten
- Tim McCormack – stand-in for Alan Oppenheimer and Kevin Conway
- Lorine Mendell – stand-in for Gates McFadden
- Richard Sarstedt – stand-in for Jonathan Frakes and Alan Oppenheimer
- Dennis Tracy – stand-in for Patrick Stewart and Norman Snow
9th century; 21st century; 2350; ability; Alwanir Nebula; anatomical profile; banner; bat'leth; bioreplicant; Boreth; Boreth's primary; Bortas, IKS; brow; Carraya IV; Carraya system; cave; Caves of No'Mat; century; coalescent organism; day; duty roster; empirical data; ETA; exobiology department; faith; Federation; figurehead; Followers of Kahless; fungus; Galaxy class decks; Gariman sector; genetic analysis; Guardian; heart; holographic projection; hour; Human; impostor; Kahless; Klingon; Klingon Empire; Klingon High Council; Klingon sacred texts; Klingonese; Knife of Kirom; Kri'stak volcano; Kurn; laboratory; Lake of Lusor; leader; leadership; leap of faith; memory; Mogh; Molor; mortar; neurophysiology scan; Omicron Theta; painting; political power; Qo'noS; Quin'lat; shrine; Starfleet; statue; Sto-vo-kor; storm; Story of the Promise, The; supernatural; surgically altered; Sword of Kahless; test tube; Toq; traveler; tricorder; Tripoli landing party; tyrant; unconscious; Vor'cha-class; Vorch-dog-baghk, Kahless!; warnog; wisdom; Worf's shuttle
Spacecraft Systems Status: Bussard collector; captain's yacht; class M; gross vehicle mass; impulse engine; main shuttlebay Mars; navigational deflector; observation lounge; phaser bank; service docking port; shuttlebay 2; shuttlebay 3; torpedo launcher; umbilical connect port; Utopia Planitia; warp nacelle
- "Rightful Heir" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Rightful Heir" at Wikipedia
- "Rightful Heir" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Rightful Heir" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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