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Sulu (Star Trek)

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek dur...

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek during the third season (1968–1969). From left to right: James Doohan, Walter Koenig, DeForest Kelley, Majel Barrett, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sulu is the fictional helmsman aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek TV series. The character is played by actor George Takai.¹

Takai was one of very few Japanese Americans to hold a significant role in 1960s American television and his character was devoid of all the usual stereotypes present of that era.

With the inclusion of an international crew, Star Trek’s creators directly challenged racism.

In 2005 Takai made public that he had been and still was gay. In the very first episode of the first season, “The Man Trap” (1966), we find an interesting, perhaps, prefigurative dialogue between Sulu and Yeoman Janice Rand in the Botany department of the starship about the gender of a plant called Beauregard (traditionally male) / Gertrude (traditionally female).

RAND: Where are you, Sulu?
SULU: In here feeding the weepers, Janice.
RAND: I’ve got your tray.
SULU: May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet.
RAND: Thank you. Hello, Beauregard. How are you today, darling?
SULU: Her name’s Gertrude.
RAND: No, it’s a he plant. A girl can tell.
SULU: Why do people have to call inanimate objects she, like she’s a fast ship.
RAND: He is not an inanimate object. He’s so animate he makes me nervous. In fact, I keep expecting one of these plants of yours to grab me [italics added]. ²

¹ Sulu was originally known only by his last name. The full details at Wikipedia:

Hikaru Sulu is a character in the Star Trek media franchise.[1] Originally known simply as ‘Sulu’, he was portrayed by George Takei in the original Star Trek series. Sulu also appears in the animated Star Trek series, the first six Star Trek movies, one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and in numerous books, comics, and video games.[2] Sulu’s first name, ‘Hikaru,’ appeared in a 1981 novel well over a decade after the original series had ended. John Cho assumed the role of the character in both the 2009 film Star Trek[3] and its sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. See »


Related » Gene Roddenberry


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Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Tour Original Bridge: Conrad Quilty-Harper

Star Trek: The Tour Original Bridge: Conrad Quilty-Harper via Flickr

Star Trek: The Original Series is an American science fiction television program created by Gene Roddenberry. The show ran for three seasons from 1966-1969.

Although the starship Enterprise’s five year mission to explore new worlds was cut short by poor ratings, the ship and crew didn’t dematerialize quite so fast.

Devoted viewers demanded more. As the fan mail piled up, the show’s uniqueness was soon realized and run of successful movies were produced throughout the 1970s to 1990s, along with several new Star Trek TV spin-offs, closely following the original format.

A few second-rate academics might still scoff at the idea, but Star Trek TOS and its offshoots have taken on mythic proportions. Instead of Sumerian gods carved in stone, Star Trek gave us gods etched on film. And there’s arguably not too much difference between the two.

Star Trek TOS Cutting Room Floor Clippings: The Rocketeer / Kevin Trotman

Star Trek TOS Cutting Room Floor Clippings: The Rocketeer / Kevin Trotman via Flickr

Trying to be progressive in its day, the original Star Trek pilot episode featured a female first officer. But due to poor ratings she was replaced by the male Vulcan, Mr. Spock. The revised cast boasted a host of international characters at the command center, which for the mid-1960’s was virtually unheard of.

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is popularly c...

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is popularly cited as being the first interracial kiss portrayed on US television (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren” (1968) Captain Kirk and the black Lt. Uhura are forced by telekinesis to kiss, a controversial first for fiction characters on U.S. TV. And in the episode Balance of Terror (1966) Kirk scolds his navigational officer Styles for making a racial slur:

Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.

Some say that the whole Star Trek phenomenon has all the earmarks of not just a myth, but a true religion because it exhibits the following criteria:

  • A social component (Star Trek conventions are periodically held around the world)
  • The Star Trek ‘creed’ (the Prime Directive)
  • A general goodwill ethic
  • Implied transcendental ideas
Star Trek: The Original Series crew at "T...

Star Trek: The Original Series crew at “The Palace of Wax” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2009 hit movie Star Trek, directed by J. J. Abrams, brought the popular character Spock back into the spotlight. This time he’s both an elderly (played by the late Leonard Nimoy) and a young man (played by Zachary Quinto).

The fact that Leonard Nimoy is showcased in this blockbuster film while William Shatner (who played the original Captain Kirk) apparently didn’t fit with the script says volumes about public opinion and maybe Hollywood politics within the Star Trek universe.

Nimoy’s popularity endures after his death. Recently an asteriod was named after him—4864 Nimoy. This goes to show that Star Trek is not only mythic. Many scientists, astronomers and astronauts admit to loving and being inspired by the show.



Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura.

Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nichelle Nichols – American actress and singer who first plays Uhura

Lieutenant Uhura is the communications officer serving on the bridge of the starship Enterprise and Enterprise-A in the original TV Star Trek and the first six Star Trek films.

Uhura is one of the few black women to take a prominent role in 1960’s American television. Previously, black women had been cast as servants or foreign ‘primitives’ in the popular media.

As for the name itself:

“Uhura” comes from the Swahili word uhuru, which means “freedom”. Nichols states in her book Beyond Uhura that the name was inspired by the fact that she had with her a copy of the book Black Uhuru on the day she read for the part.¹

With the inclusion of an international crew, program creator Gene Roddenberry hoped to eradicate racism and many other forms of prejudice. The original series, however, may seem sexist from a contemporary standpoint.

Zoë Saldana as Uhura in Star Trek (2009).

Zoë Saldana as Uhura in Star Trek (2009). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zoë Saldana – American actress and dancer who plays a younger Uhura

In the 2009 film Star Trek, a younger Uhura is played by actor Zoë Saldana. We learn that she’s a former student of Spock, who is also romantically involved with him. In the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, she and Spock are still romantically involved.²

The young Kirk flirted with Uhura at a earlier point in the story arc, but she rebuffed him. However, on board the Enterprise they have a good rapport, and share their frustrations in dealing with Spock (Kirk as best friend, Uhura as his lover).

Uhura is particularly heroic when using her linguistic skills to face hostile Klingons by herself, getting Kirk and Spock out of a jam³ (Klingons had not joined the Federation of Planets at this time in the overall storyline).


² It might seem this film takes too much artistic license by having the super-emotional Spock play the lover. Would not Spock’s emotional repression be worse at a young age, only flowering, perhaps, in old age? This is one way of looking at it. Another is that Spock had not mastered his emotions at a younger age, and he increases mastery as he grows older. In defense of the film, Spock’s father Sarek was married to a human woman, Amanda, so romance must come into play in a Vulcan’s life. This also means that Spock is only half Vulcan. He’s also half human.

³ For more details see

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Worf (Lieutenant)

Worf figurine by Patries71 via Flickr

Lieutenant Worf is a Klingon officer in the American science fiction TV shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.The character is played by actor Michael Dorn.

Unlike the Klingons of the original Star Trek, who were hostile to the Federation of Planets (which includes Earth), Worf and his race are allies with the Federation.

Star Trek lore has it that the show’s producer, Gene Roddenberry, at first didn’t want Worf as regular in the series. Apparently Roddenberry didn’t want to rehash existing themes (like the standard alien race of “Klingons”) from the original TV series.

But Worf’s popularity was undeniable, and Roddenberry, along with subsequent producers, changed their outlook on the Star Trek mythos. Instead of avoiding past episodes, they embraced and adapted them to enhance the overall story, which is a literary device called ‘retroactive continuity.’

Related Posts » Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: The Original Series


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Pavel Chekov

The Space Shuttle Enterprise rolls out of the ...

The Space Shuttle Enterprise rolls out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities with Star Trek television cast and crew members. From left to right, the following are pictured: DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. “Bones” McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry; NASA Deputy Administrator George Low; and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pavel Chekov is a Russian ensign in the original TV series Star Trek (1966-69), played by Walter Koenig. He was portrayed favorably in the midst of the 1960s Cold War between America and Russia. With the inclusion of an international crew, the series’ creator Gene Roddenberry hoped to eradicate this and many other forms of prejudice. While the original Star Trek may seem sexist from today’s standpoint, in many ways it was groundbreaking for late the 1960s.

Roddenberry also wanted Star Trek to appeal to teens, so thought a young, fresh face would do the series good.

Walter Koenig appears not just in the TV show, but in the first seven Star Trek films. In the eleventh Star Trek film, Anton Yelchin depicts Chekov as a likeable math whiz who’s a bit hard to understand because of his Russian accent.

Chances are Pavel Chekhov is named after the Russian doctor, dramatist and short-story writer, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904). The people behind Star Trek had a knack for recasting famous names and ideas into Sci-fi. This arguably helps the show resonate within viewers’ collective unconscious.