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The Star Trek Captain Sulu Show That Didn't Quite Win Over Network Execs


In Nicholas Meyer's 1991 film "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) had moved from merely being a helmsman on the U.S.S. Enterprise to being the captain of a brand-new ship: the U.S.S. Excelsior. This new ship was equipped with a technology called transwarp drive, allowing it to fly more swiftly and nimbly than any other ship before it. In "Star Trek VI," Captain Sulu was exploring space near a Klingon moon called Praxis when a mining disaster caused the entire celestial body to explode. Later in the film, Captain Sulu would charge to the rescue, saving the Enterprise from a sneak attack by a cloaked Klingon vessel.


Captain Sulu's on-screen adventures ended there, although non-canonical sources continued to explore the character's career. In 1994 and 1995, a trio of audio-only adventures called "Transformations," "Cacophany," and "Envoy," all starring Takei, were released on CD and cassette, detailing a few minor missions that Captain Sulu engaged in while in command of the Excelsior. David A. Goodman's fictional history book "Federation: The First 150 Years" was sold with a taking stand, with Takei providing a brief narration, explaining that he eventually became an Admiral and that he reached the rank of Commander in Chief of Starfleet Command. Not too shabby.


Actor Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Rand on the original "Star Trek" series, and who returned for four of the feature films, was interviewed by the website TrekMovie in 2006, and she talked about the never-made "Star Trek" TV spinoff that would have starred her in a prominent role, with Takei at the helm of the Excelsior. Sadly, Whitney said, Paramount chose a different project instead.


Captain Sulu: The Series


It should be noted that many, many ideas for "Star Trek" shows have been spitballed over the years, with many of them never making it past the "we wrote the title on a whiteboard" phase. Some stalled "Star Trek" shows have actually been put into production before being canceled — see "Star Trek: Phase II" — while others were merely pitched.


One of the rumored "Star Trek" projects that floated through the Trekkies' collective unconsciousness for many years was a Captain Sulu series, a show that was to be set after the events of "Star Trek VI," but long before "Star Trek: The Next Generation." George Takei announced that, naturally, he would happily return to play Sulu, likely because he would finally get to play the lead character.


Whitney also revealed that she was going to be part of the Sulu series and that the initial plan was to release a new Sulu-based TV movie periodically, rather than abide by a more ordinary weekly TV schedule. Whitney explained:


"The idea was going to be a miniseries, every three or four months they would do a two-hour show. This was being talked about before 'Enterprise,' there was a big campaign on the internet. I actually gave George the idea. It was going to be 'George and Gracie' on the Excelsior. But in the end they went with 'Enterprise.'"


"Star Trek: Enterprise" was a prequel series set a century before the events of the original "Star Trek" series and it debuted in September 2001. "Star Trek: Voyager" had ended and it seemed like all of Paramount's budget was being directed at this one new series. A Sulu show, it appeared, was officially dead.


I get by with a little help from the IFT


Takei has also been asked about the Sulu series, of course, and in 2010, he talked to Voyages Magazine (in an interview quoted by TrekToday) more about what the new show would have been like. Evidently, a Sulu series was conceived by Russ Haslage, the head of the International Federation of Trekkers (IFT), a closely organized fan community that assigned its members to "ships" who would stay in communication via the mail. IFT members would decide as a group how to best run their ship.


Haslage was the one who contacted Takei and floated the idea. With a star attached, perhaps Haslage would have been able to pitch a Captain Sulu series to Paramount in earnest. Takei recalled:


"Back in the 1990s, Russ Haslage contacted me about a campaign to launch a new 'Star Trek' series called 'Excelsior,' which would have been based on the adventures of the U.S.S. Excelsior and Captain Sulu. And of course I have a deep and profound love and interest in Captain Sulu. And I must say, Russ and IFT mounted a very impressive campaign. It was a substantial idea. There was a huge following for it. And after all, 'Star Trek VI' seemed to have opened the door for an Excelsior television series."


Takei felt that there was 100% an audience for "Star Trek: Excelsior," but there just didn't seem to be enough interest to move beyond it. Paramount was busy with "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" at the time. Of note: Captain Sulu did appear in a flashback episode of "Star Trek: Voyager."


Sulu in the Paramount+ era


In 2020, several years after the launch of Paramount+ and a new slew of "Star Trek" shows, Takei was still talking about the lost Sulu-based series, discussing the organized letter-writing campaign with StarTrek.com. It seems that, despite the letter-writing campaign, the higher-ups at Paramount simply never saw anything. Takei, of course, was certain that his series would have been popular:


"They mounted a huge tidal wave of letter writing, and by then we were in the e-mail age, too. When we were on television, they were fan mailing us with pen and paper, but after that movie, fans inundated Paramount with email pleas for a new spin off series called 'The Excelsior with Captain Sulu.' Those executives at Paramount didn't see and didn't hear [...] they missed that opportunity. But the fans thought it was a great idea, and it surely would have been a huge, monstrous, galactic success."


Takei is currently 86, and if anyone thinks that's too old to star in a "Star Trek" series, note that Patrick Stewart was 81 when he shot the third season of "Star Trek: Picard." (Stewart has also implied that he wants to do more.) There's no reason — apart from boring financial reasons — that Paramount shouldn't greenlight a series with Admiral Sulu, Commander in Chief of Starfleet Command. Takei may be too old to be the commander of the U.S.S. Excelsior, but there are still adventures to be had.
















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