the story: The clone of the legendary Klingon warrior Kahless causes considerable political turmoil among his people.
similar to: "Way of the Warrior" (Deep Space Nine), "Barge of the Dead" (Voyager)
my thoughts: After the intensity of the series Klingon arc begun in "Sins of the Father" three seasons earlier, the "Redemption" climax made it look like not only had it become difficult to continue ("Rightful Heir" arrives nearly two seasons later), anything that tried to had to do something truly out of the ordinary to justify itself.
"Rightful Heir" does exactly that. The legendary Kahless is second only to Vulcan's Surak as a great historical figure in Star Trek's aliens mythology, said to have, like Surak, set his people on their present course. Both of them debuted in the original series episode "The Savage Curtain" (Surak would have to wait ten more years, in an Enterprise three-part episode, to have his return engagement). The idea of cloning comes up surprisingly sparsely in franchise lore (Deep Space Nine's Vorta are big proponents; Next Generation's "Up the Long Ladder" makes the Dominion's Vorta program look virtuous by comparison), but that's how Kahless ends up in this episode. Cloning itself isn't even the issue (somewhat surprisingly), but what to do with Kahless now that he's, for all intents and purposes, back.
As a standalone Klingon episode (unlike every other Next Generation effort, following "Sins"), "Rightful Heir" thusly has a unique position. If you somehow don't have the time to sift through the whole preceding arc, in which we eventually meet Gowron and see how he becomes Chancellor of the High Council, you can still enjoy his predicament in a different kind of power struggle (the Dominion War in Deep Space Nine eventually gives him another, don't worry!). Caught in the middle, as always, is Worf.
This is another Next Generation preview of Deep Space Nine, in a way. The importance of spiritual beliefs would become an increasingly important part of Deep Space Nine mythology. Worf's struggles here are similar to the ones Kira and Sisko continually face. Again, if you somehow don't have time to parse through a whole series, "Rightful Heir" fits the bill for that, too.
As far as exploring Klingon mythology goes, Voyager later features the Klingon afterlife in "Barge of the Dead." Worf is caught in an equally tricky situation, in a crossroads of his career, in his Deep Space Nine debut, "Way of the Warrior."
But I don't mean to bog you down in a lot of references you either will or won't track down. "Rightful Heir" works in its own right, which is mainly why I'm classifying it as a classic. The bottom line is, this is a story about the messiness of actually confronting a legend, and whether or not they can live up to their reputation. It does the idea justice.
criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)