‘Classic’ Trek Profile : Sulu

sulu star trek motion picture

Sulu : Date of birth: 2237 –

Takei : April 20, 1937 –

“Stardate 9521.6. Captain’s Log, USS Excelsior. Hikaru Sulu commanding. After three years, I have concluded my first assignment as master of this vessel, cataloguing gaseous planetary anomalies in Beta Quadrant. We’re heading home under full impulse power. I’m pleased to report that ship and crew have functioned well.”

One of the biggest missed opportunities in Original Star Trek was that the rest of the crew never really got the backstory they deserved. Outside of the “Friendship Axis” of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. There existed the rest of the crew or the “irregulars”, of Sulu, Scotty, Chekov and Uhura; whose appearances, after a promising start in Season 1, were stripped back to the odd appearance in Season 2 and a couple of minutes in Season 3 – or not at all.

sulu chekov bridge enterprise star trek tosThe show was originally to revolve around Kirk as the star – and then as the relationship with Spock and McCoy developed, all three would feature more prominently, much to the detriment of the rest of the crew.

Which was ultimately a shame, as episodes featuring the rest of the crew were a nice break from the “Friendship Axis”. This would have allegedly been put right in a 4th series which never happened and was eventually incorporated into Star Trek Next Gen, in which every weeks episode fleshed out the backstory of a different Next Gen crew member.

Ironically, Takei would have got more backstory in Season 2, but he chose to go on hiatus as he was working on the WWII movie The Green Berets – 1968. His part in Star Trek was filled in by new arrival Pavel Chekov. We must remember though, that Star Trek TOS was not the phenomenom it is today and to some of the actors, it was just another gig, compared to the opportunity to star in a film with John Wayne!

Takei was an experienced actor who had provided English soundtracks to dubbed Japanese films in the 1950’s such as Godzilla Raids Again – 1955 and Rodan 1955. Takei found his early film career hampered by his Japanese ethnicity but he did manage to star along with such notable actors as Richard Burton, Alec Guiness, Cary Grant and “Trek pilot” Captain Pike – ‘Jeffrey Hunter’. He appeared in Nimoy’s Mission Impossible in 1966 and played an uncredited Japanese destroyer helmsmen in PT-109, 1963.

Lt. Sulu first televised appearance was in Man Trap, 1966 – S1 but actually debuted in the pilot episode Where No Man Has Gone Before, 1966 as the Ship’s Physicist in a blue shirt. By Man Trap he was soon installed as Navigator, with his more familiar Yellow shirt.

He was a man with a brilliant mathematical brain and seemed to be intune with the Enterprise, flying it by touch like he was piloting a light aircraft. He always followed orders, but was not afraid to question them especially when they were given by an irrationally acting Spock or “evil” Kirk. He was a good tactician and whilst he could work out a set of coordinates in double quick time for a phaser or torpedo barrage, he was just as comfortable working the weapons system by manual control, using a special console which would rise out of the control display.

In Man Trap we learn that Sulu is a keen botanist, keeping many species of Alien plants. One of the plants saved both Sulu and Yeoman Rand’s life as a Salt Sucking Vampiric Alien (which could imitate other forms and was imitating a crew member it had just killed, called Green) was about to kill them both. The plant – sensing the Salt Vampire’s presence, emitted a high pitched scream, driving it away.

In Naked Time, 1966 – S1 Sulu attempts to stop a fellow crewman : Tormolen from killing himself and contracts the “PSI 2000″ virus, which manifests in Sulu as making him madly enact one of his favourite hobbies – fencing, on the crew! Sulu ran around the ship with his top off attempting to “run through” the other crew members with his sword.

“Stand! No farther! No escape for you! You’ll either leave this war bloodied, or with my blood on your swords!” Sulu – Naked Time

On guard …..Sulu !

sulu uhura kirk naked time star trek tosSulu usually formed part of the forward landing party which would beam down to an unchartered planet to conduct tests and investigations, along with the Captain and the “red shirts”.

In The Enemy Within, 1966 – S1 Sulu was left stranded on a freezing planet as the Transporter malfunctioned, splitting Kirk in two. The rest of the crew were unable to beam up until the problem was identified and fixed. To stay alive, Sulu used his phaser to heat some nearby rocks, until help came.

sulu gun samurai shore leave star trek tosShore Leave, 1966 – S1 and Sulu was part of a scouting party on an unnamed planet, checking its suitability for the crew’s shoreleave. McCoy thinks he is going mad as he spots a big white rabbit, but by the time he shouts Sulu over, it has gone. Sulu starts to believe something is happening on the planet, when he is suddenly attacked by a katana wieldling Samuari. Sulu was also a keen antique gun fanatic, as he finds a police issue revolver in the undergrowth, which Kirk later confiscates.

In Tomorrow Is Yesterday, 1967 – S1 the Enterprise goes back in time to 1960’s earth. Spotted by a fighter plane, who radio’s a report into base. Kirk and Sulu beam down to attempt to steal the records of the sighting. Kirk is captured but Sulu manages to get the records back up to the Enterprise.

Sulu was again in a forward scouting party in Return Of The Archons, 1967 – S1 on Beta III, investigating the mysterious disappearance of the ship – the U.S.S Archon. The Betan society is a strange unemotional one, based on 19th Century Earth, presided over by the mysterious cowled lawgivers. The lawgivers detect that Sulu and his fellow crew member are not local and chase them. Sulu requests that they be transported back up, but not before one of the lawgiver’s shoot Sulu with his flaming stick. Back on the Enterprise Sulu appears to suffer from great mental anguish, due to being zapped.

this side of paradise sulu star trek tosIn This Side of Paradise, 1967 – S1 Sulu is part of the landing party which beams down to a colony to discover that colonists who should be long dead, are thriving on a world with no animals or insects.

The answer comes in the form of plants which release mind controling spores, which induce a blissful desire to remain on the planet. Kirk manages to snap Spock out of his peace and love stupor by making him angry, and the two flood the planet with supersonic soundwaves, which causes the mutinously affected crew on the planet – including Sulu, to get angry and start fighting with each other.

“When it comes to farms, I wouldn’t know what looked right or wrong if it was two feet from me!” Sulu – This Side of Paradise

Sometimes Sulu would be “stolen” from the bridge of the Enterprise against his will, such as in The Squire of Gothos, 1967 – S1. Sulu and Kirk suddenly disappear without warning, only to wind up as statues in Trelane’s collection. Trelane a “Q” style god entity is all powerful but childishly minded, who wants to play with his new captives.

Sulu also went missing from the bridge in the Halloween episode – Catspaw, 1967 – S2, along with Scotty, was transformed into a mindless zombie, by two powerful creatures, who had transformed themselves into a Witch and a Warlock, in a spooky old castle.

The City on the Edge of Forever, 1967 – S1 and McCoy’s problems with Cordrazine begin whilst treating an ill Sulu on the bridge of the Enterprise; McCoy accidentally injects himself with the Cordrazine and goes berserk.

evil sulu alternative mirror mirror star trek tosSulu had a notable turn in Mirror, mirror, 1967 – S2 playing an alternative universe treacherous version of Sulu, a navigator in the war-like Terran Empire, resplendent with a huge scar down his face.

“Mr. Spock has orders to kill you, Captain. He will succeed… apparently! You will also appear to have killed him, after a fierce battle. Regrettable, but it will leave me in command!” Mirror Sulu – Mirror, Mirror

He made more than a few passes at Uhura, until she smacked him down!

sulu uhura mirror mirror star trek tosSulu didn’t really figure much in many more episodes during season 2 and for much of season 3, Chekov replaced him for much of this time. But when he returned, Sulu and Chekov would take their seats next to each other and become something of an iconic image together, manning the control panel and bantering on.

Takei said that he was very wary of Walter Koenig when he joined the cast, as he felt he was replacing him on the show. However, the two hit it off and became good friends, even famously having to share a dressing room and even copies of scripts during shooting!

Sulu didn’t come back!

In That Which Survives, 1969 – S3 whilst exploring an unchartered planet with Kirk, McCoy and Geologist D’Amato, a beautiful woman seemingly appears and touches D’Amato killing him instantly. She appears again later, stating she is “for Sulu” and attempts to touch him. Kirk and McCoy rally round Sulu and prevent her from getting to him, she then disappears unappeased. Only to reappear later as three duplicates, one for each of the remaining crew. However, by this time Spock has discovered a control room hidden on the planet and beams down and destroys it, before the women can “touch” any of the remaining landing crew.

Lt. Commander Sulu was back at the helm of Enterprise – after the 5 year mission ended, whilst it underwent a refit in Star Trek The Motion Picture – 1979,dispatched under its new Captain – Willard Decker (also with “Admiral” Kirk aboard) to investigate the V’ger probe.

Commander Sulu was back at the helm again under Captain Spock in Star Trek II – Wrath Of Khan, 1982. Briefly seperated from Chekov, who was aboard the U.S.S Reliant on a scientific mission to Ceti Alpha, Sulu’s new co-helmsman was the Vulcan – Lt. Saavik.

Sulu was to jepordise his career in Star Trek III – Search For Spock, 1984, by helping Kirk boost the Enterprise from Spacedock and McCoy from the funny farm. Sulu opened a can of whoopass in a memorable encounter with a Star Fleet Security guard”.

“….And don’t call me TINY!” Sulu – Star Trek III

Don’t Call Me Tiny!

Sulu time travelled back to Earth 1986, in Star Trek IV – The Journey Home, 1986. Sulu seemed comfortable piloting any craft, whether it was a Klingon Bird Of Prey, a Huey Chopper or the newly refurbished Enterprise B. Which the crew were assigned to, upon returning to the 23rd Century.

Sulu’s trekking expedition with Chekov, on Earth – was cancelled in Star Trek V – The Final Frontier, 1989; and he was ordered along with the crew to deal with a diplomatic row on Nimbus III. Upon arriving at Nimbus III, Chekov keeps the negotiations going with the captors pretending to be the Captain, whilst Kirk, Sulu and Uhura take a shuttlecraft down to the planet, with an armed response.

Overcoming some guards and stealing their horses, the party ride to ‘Paradise City’, where the Vulcan Sybok is waiting to spring a trap. Sybok brainwashes Sulu into helping him take over the Enterprise so he can breach the Great Barrier at the centre of the Universe and go in search of the fabled ‘Shakeree’.

In Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country, 1991, “Hikaru” Sulu as he is now ‘officially’ known by Trek Lore, has been promoted to Captain and is now in charge of the U.S.S. Excelsior. Whilst cataloging anomolys, the Excelsior is hit by an Energy wave which turns out to be the Klingon homeworld companion moon of Praxis exploding.

Captain Hikaru Sulu Excelsior Star Trek VI

Captain Sulu: “In range?”
Helmsman : “Not yet, sir!”
Captain Sulu: “Come on, come on!”
Helmsman : She’ll fly apart….!”
Captain Sulu: “FLY HER APART THEN!”

Later, when the Enterprise B is taking a pounding from a rogue prototype Bird Of Prey (which can fire whilst cloaked!). Sulu and the Excelsior ride to their rescue to give the Klingon’s something new to shoot at.

After destroying the prototype Bird Of Prey and uncovering a conspiracy which involves both the Federation and the Klingon’s; Sulu bids farewell to the Enterprise and continues his mission aboard the Excelsior. In something of a crossover, Tuvok from Star Trek Voyager served aboard Excelsior during the events in Star Trek VI.

This was covered further as part of Star Trek ‘s 30th anniversary, in Star Trek: Voyager episode – Flashback, 1996. In the episode, Captain Sulu appears in Tuvok’s flashbacks of his time served aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior, during the events of Star Trek VI.

Captain Sulu and Tuvok

We learn in Star Trek VII – Generations, 1994 that Sulu’s daughter – Demora, is serving abroad the newly commissioned ‘Enterprise B’.

Sulu’s time in Star Trek can be summed up as both a brilliant masterstroke in terms of a breakthrough of ethnic diversity on 60’s American TV and on the other hand, a badly missed opportunity for such an interesting character.

For the first time, a Japanese character, instead of starring in a War film as a badguy, was working for the common good in a utopian future, aboard a ship staffed by a culturally diverse crew.

When he was given the odd juicy story line, such as Mirror, Mirror, he excelled, but many other times he was just sat on the bridge of the Enterprise pushing buttons. This was a shame as he was a forthright, intelligent member of the crew who could fly the Enterprise, like it was second nature.

He did however, eventually receive charge of the Excelsior and went on to become a great Captain in his own right. Like Kirk, Sulu was showing himself to be the calm, concise but measured risk taker Kirk had been. Again, a TV series following Captain Sulu’s command after the events in Star Trek VI would have been a fitting continuation of the spirit of the original crew, but it didn’t happen – another missed opportunity.