Hikaru Sulu was introduced to the world in the very first episode of “Star Trek: The Original Series.” The character was played by George Takei, one of the few Asian actors on television at the time. The character appeared in 52 out of the 80 episodes of the series, making him one of the central people in the “Star Trek” universe.
Takei reprised the role for “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” all of the TOS movies, and one episode of “Star Trek: Voyager.” Sulu’s appearance in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” revealed that he had been promoted to Captain and was in command of his own ship, the Excelsior.
This revelation apparently led to discussions about giving Captain Sulu his own spinoff series. Though many fans and Takei himself were on board with the idea, it never happened.
This is the story of the Sulu spinoff that almost was.
A Fan Campaign After ‘Star Trek VI’
After “Star Trek VI” premiered, some of Takei/Sulu’s biggest fans launched a campaign to show Paramount that there was significant interest in an Excelsior spinoff starring Captain Sulu.
Takei told Voyages magazine about the campaign in a 2010 interview, which was covered by TrekToday.
“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 [International Federation of Trekkers] 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… I was absolutely convinced that the audience was there based on the reception of Star Trek VI.”
However, Paramount never latched onto the idea. Takei said he was “baffled” by the studio’s choice to pass on what could have been a wildly popular series.
He spoke about the campaign again in an interview with StarTrek.com in 2020.
“They mounted a huge tidal wave of letter writing, and by then we were in the email 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, [so] they missed that opportunity. But the fans thought it was a great idea, and it surely would have been a huge, monstrous, galactic success.”
In that interview, Takei said he still wants to do a Sulu spinoff, especially given the success of “Star Trek: Picard.”
The ‘Backdoor Pilot’ Aired as an Episode of ‘Voyager’
A few years after “Star Trek VI,” Captain Sulu and the Excelsior appeared in a single episode of “Voyager.” The episode, entitled “Flashback,” gave fans a peek at Lieutenant Commander Tuvok’s time serving under Captain Sulu. The episode followed the crew of the Excelsior through the events that took place in “Star Trek VI.”
The episode brought back Grace Lee Whitney as Commander Janice Rand as well. In an interview with StarTrek.com in 2011, Whitney revealed that the episode was made to gauge interest in a Sulu series.
“They told us it was a (backdoor) pilot for (an Excelsior) mini-series. I’d said, ‘Why don’t you do this show and bring us on every three months in an episode? We could bring in all of the people, one at a time, from the original show?’ But they couldn’t get enough people to support it.”
According to Memory Alpha, Takei also believed the episode was meant to be a pilot, of sorts, for the Captain Sulu spinoff.
However, the idea still didn’t get the traction it needed with Paramount. After the “Voyager” episode, the idea of a Sulu series pretty much faded away. It has yet to be revived, though Takei is still ready to make it happen.
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