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Strange New Worlds: Illyrians Call Back to One of Star Trek’s Darkest Moments


Illyrians like Rebecca Romijn’s Commander Una Chin-Riley and Yetide Badaki’s Neera may be new to Strange New Worlds, but their conflict with the Federation goes back to Star Trek’s dark past.

Rebecca Romijn as Number One in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds article contains spoilers.

It always comes back to Khan. Yes, even the latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which finds Number One aka Commander Una Chin-Riley on trial for hiding her Illyrian heritage of genetic modification, and in the process violating the Federation’s restriction against augments. As made clear by Number One’s defense lawyer and fellow Illyrian Neera (Yetide Badaki), the ban seems to contradict the Federation’s central values, one that seeks (as the Vulcans put it) infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

In order to understand why the Federation restricts genetically modified individuals, one must take a look at one of the most infamous villains of the franchise: Khan Noonien Singh. Although Khan first appeared in the 1967 Original Series episode “Space Seed,” and then returned for the beloved 1982 movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he has his roots in the 1990s.

Not our ’90s, of course, but the ’90s of the Star Trek universe. That’s when Khan conquered over a quarter of the Earth, making him the most powerful of the era’s augmented warlords. Eventually, humanity resisted their modified overlords, resulting in the Eugenics Wars, battles that destroyed large swaths of the planet and killed over 30 million people. At the end of the war, Khan and his cohort were sentenced to exile. When Earth formed the United Federation of Planets with Vulcan, Tellar, and Andoria, they convinced the organization to protect itself by adopting their ban on augments.

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