Nutshell: Reasonably performed, but a pedestrian hour overall.
When the Klingon Empire offers General Martok the opportunity to command his first mission since returning from the Dominion prison in "In Purgatory's Shadow," he recruits Worf as his first officer. Along with Dax as the science officer, they take command of the Bird of Prey Rotarran, a ship and crew with a tarnished past (no victories in battle), in a search for the missing Klingon cruiser B'Moth, believed downed near the Cardassian border.
I generally like Klingons and their milieu when used effectively, but I've just seen so much of them that I don't find it all that interesting anymore unless it's part of a bigger, more interesting story—which is clearly lacking here. However, if you really like Klingons and are game for a very standard Klingon outing, you might like "Soldiers of the Empire," a fairly pedestrian outing that specializes in lots of Klingon honor dialog and clichés, but not much storyline.
The biggest problem with this episode is that it's far too routine. There just isn't much substance here. But at the same time, what is here is fairly well done, and done in the Klingon style that is very consistent with what we've always seen on both DS9 and TNG. Still, just about every scene in this episode amounts to "been there, done that," and the episode doesn't supply enough plot for us to sink our teeth into.
There are shades here of "A Matter of Honor" from way back in TNG's second season. Like that outing, a decent amount of this episode focuses on the way a Klingon vessel operates, forcing us to juxtapose it with Starfleet workings—not terribly fascinating this time around. The semi-twist in "Soldiers of the Empire" is that this Klingon crew is a disgraceful group that's down on their luck. They haven't been victorious in a battle yet; they've become renowned for turning and running from Jem'Hadar fighters.
There's a lot of dialog in this episode, and most of it comments on the lack of victory this frustrated crew has faced in past months. They're depressed, enraged, and hungry for blood. One almost gets the sense that this crew is a set of "Klingon underdogs," and the question of the episode is when there will be a triumph of these underdogs.
I will admit that a "Klingon underdog" is a fairly pathetic-sounding label to carry, and I did get the sense that this crew felt truly disgraced in the eyes of their people, and why. Unfortunately, this isn't what I would call compelling material, especially considering that there are five acts devoted to it, no B-story (not to say I wanted one), and limited action only to end the episode. One problem becomes that Ron Moore has a premise that simply doesn't contain enough material to stretch across 45 minutes of screen time. But Moore is no dummy, and he's quite experienced with the Klingon milieu. (He wrote or had a hand in writing many of TNG's most pivotal Worf/Klingon episodes, like "Sins of the Father," "Reunion," and "Redemption" parts I and II.) Moore is able to use what little story there is effectively, and most of what happens on the Rotarran makes a good amount of logical sense.
Once Martok takes command, he seems to be endlessly avoiding a fight with the Jem'Hadar—hardly plausible behavior for a Klingon captain. Some of Martok's rationales for avoiding battle make sense, slightly so even in Klingon terms: The mission is to find the B'Moth, not sacrifice the Rotarran in a blaze of glory, he explains to Worf and the crew. But there are signs Martok is slipping, and through the course of the episode they become progressively more evident: At one point he completely avoids a confrontation with a Jem'Hadar fighter that would've been an easy victory. He has his reasons, but the crew, including Worf and Dax, are very skeptical of his lack of Klingon initiative.
Dax knows one thing for certain: The crew's frustrations are about to explode. If Martok continues avoiding confrontations, someone will challenge his judgment and the crew will break into dissent. This leaves it up to Worf, naturally, to make the Big Honorable Decision. Worf has great respect for Martok as a warrior, a friend, and someone who saved his life. He believes in him and doesn't want to question his judgment, much less challenge his authority and kill him according to Klingon bridge procedure (ultimately to be the only way of preserving chain of command on the Rotarran).
I can appreciate the fact that Moore put Worf in a tough position, but this is about the millionth time we've seen Klingon Honor in need of satisfaction and Worf in the position to make the Big Honorable Decision. It's been done in episodes with much more relevance and power than this one.
Another problem I had with the situation was the characterization of General Martok. I just don't quite understand why exactly he was so "cowardly," at the end of the episode. Near the finale when it's obvious he's making the wrong choice, it doesn't seem in-character that he makes this choice. It feels a bit forced upon his character, who, as far as I can tell, still has his Klingon instincts and the need for vengeance against the Jem'Hadar (especially considering he was their prisoner for two years). There's discussion that Martok's Dominion imprisonment affected his Klingon lust for blood, but there just isn't quite enough development of the idea to really make his characterizations feel accurate. Martok's about-face after the ultimate confrontation (a knife fight that Worf loses), where he charges into battle and rescues the B'Moth survivors, also didn't feel completely justified. It was a bit too easy a solution to an underdeveloped problem.
Also, I must add that the ending might've worked a bit better if the preview people hadn't given it away, for all practical purposes, in last week's trailer. Because of the preview, we knew from the start that Worf was going to confront Martok for his cowardice, so it somewhat lessened the payoff's effect concerning Worf's solution to the problem.
I was, however, quite happy that the creators didn't decide to kill Martok in this episode (or something ludicrous to that effect), and that the necessary confrontation on the Rotarran didn't damage Worf's and Martok's relationship. In fact, I much liked the episode's coda, which had the opposite effect. Martok making Worf an official member of his family's house because of his honorable actions struck me as very sensible, and was quite moving—easily the best part of the show. These characters could really turn out to mean a lot for one another, and I look forward to seeing more of them together.
But the ending, for all its charm, doesn't make the rest of the show wholly worthwhile. This isn't a bad episode—it has some good work by the actors and some good moments. But it's not an important show either, because it doesn't have an urgent or enlightening story. It's merely standard Klingon stuff; very middle-of-the-road.