Gimme That Star Trek Ep.13: Ode to Sulu

Is Sulu the best Original Series character? Siskoid says yes. Let’s see what his guest David Ace Gutiérrez thinks. A conversation that spans the length and depth of Hikaru Sulu’s career, from astrophysicist to helmsman to captain of the Excelsior, and from George Takei to John Cho, in an attempt to dissect and explain the appeal of one of Trek’s most well-developed “lower deck” characters.

Listen to Episode 13 below!

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Credits:
“Star Trek Theme” by Alexander Courage, with the Irredeemable Shagg on vocals. End theme: “Deep Space Nine Theme” by Dennis McCarthy.

Bonus clips from: “Star Trek VI: The Undiscoverd Country” by Nicholas Meyer, starring George Takai, William Shatner, DeForest Kelly and James Doohan; Star Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror”, starring George Takei and William Shatner; “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” by Nicholas Meyer, starring William Shatner and George Takei; Star Trek: Voyager’s “Flashback”, starring George Takei and Tim Russ; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?”, starring Robert Picardo and Colm Meany; and “3rd Rock from the Sun” guest-starring George Takei.

And thanks for leaving a comment!

17 responses to “Gimme That Star Trek Ep.13: Ode to Sulu

  1. Great episode guys! I thoroughly enjoyed this deep dive on one of the Trek characters.

    As usual, Siskoid finds an angle I never considered–namely, that Takei as Sulu got to escape the stereotyping of Scotty and Chekhov–no “funny” voice, no leaning so heavily on cliches that Americans have about people from other countries.

    I was really torn during Trek VI–while I appreciated the verisimilitude of having one of the Enterprise bridge crew actually get promoted and move on, which only makes sense–I also missed seeing Sulu on the bridge of the Enterprise during that final shot. In the end I guess it was worth it,. because he does get to save the day at the end of the movie. I saw Trek VI in the theaters on opening night, and people went nuts went the Excelsior came flying in.

  2. Man, I loved this. I really like Sulu. Not as much as my wife, who famously had (and still has) a crush on George Takei, and not as much as I like Scotty, but I do like the character. I’m not sure I’d say he’s more fleshed out than the Holy Trinity, but he is probably the best developed of the “Other Four”. I think a lot of that is the sheer force of will and charisma that is Takei.

    Takei missed a lot of Season 2 making John Wayne’s troubled Green Berets film. That’s one reason why Chekov got pushed so much more in that season, and also because of the publicity around having a Russian heroic lead in the Cold War. But you’re right, it was nice to see Sulu as just an earthling, not a Japanese stereotype. Takei’s rich baritone voice was the antithesis of the way Asians and Asian-Americans were seen as on TV at the time.

    Star Trek VI is just awesome, and it and Khan fight back and forth for my favorite Trek film. I also loved the Voyager sequel, but you reminded me of how much I HATED Janeway’s commentary on our heroes. Berman and his crew could be REALLY dismissive of what they viewed as their “crazy grandpa” sometimes, and that’s just BS. I was one of those guys chomping at the bit for that Sulu series, and I’m still honked off we never got it.

    Have I mentioned how much I love Star Trek: Beyond? I like Cho’s Sulu. I wish they’d checked with Takei on Sulu’s orientation change, because it kind of sucks that it was a tribute he really didn’t care for. Either way, I like his version, like I do all the others in those series. I liked your take on them being the distilled memory of what those characters were. That’s perfectly stated.

    Great job fellas!!!

    Chris

  3. I’ll just say this: every time I re-watch Star Trek VI, I’m convinced that instead of a cross-over with TNG, the seventh Trek movie should have been centered around Captain Sulu. The other original cast members could have appeared in various capacities – Dr. McCoy, Chekhov and Uhura, for example, perhaps on board the Excelsior for a visit or something when some serious shi—-, er stuff goes down so they get caught up in the adventure (and Kirk and Spock having smaller but still prominent roles somewhere in the story). I know Shatner’s ego would have made something like that impossible, but man, what a missed opportunity…

  4. Great episode, guys.

    As a neophyte, I’m still making my way through the original series on Netflix (almost finished season 2!). Then I have to watch all six original cast films on Amazon. I barely remember STAR TREK: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY even though it was the first Trek film I ever watched, and solely because I heard Christian Slater was in it.

    Based on my limited experience with the original cast, Sulu is my fifth favorite after the Kirk, Bones, Spock, and Scotty.

    1. A rewatch of six will bump up his number. To put in your parlance, he’s the series’ Boba Fett (before that movie with the sand puppet).

      And as CSlates friend and fan, that’s a hard scene for me to take. Fact: That’s William Shatner’s uniform from Trek 2 Slater’s wearing. The Shat had, um, outgrown it.

      Thanks for listening!

  5. I really enjoyed this episode, gentlemen. Sulu is my favorite member of the original Enterprise crew, and has been since I first watched TOS as a kid. While listening to this episode, I was trying to figure out what it was that initially drew me to him, but I’m not entirely sure. Your discussion certainly raised many interesting points concerning the unique role he played in the series, but all of that would have been lost on me at that age. In general, my favorite characters tend to be secondary ones. For example, Wedge Antilles is probably my favorite character from that franchise that lives on the other side of the tracks. In the end, it may just have come down to the fact that he was the guy who actually got to pilot the Enterprise.

    Hmmm…. Perhaps, there’s an underlying theme there, given that Wedge was also a pilot. Deep down, do I secretly long to pilot a spaceship? Darn it! Now, I have to go reevaluate my entire life, and the career choices I’ve made. I wasn’t planning on having my mid-life crisis for another couple of years.

  6. Excellent episode.

    Every time I hear Sulu’s first name, I’m always reminded it was first revealed in Vonda McIntyre’s “The Entropy Effect” back in 1981. Sulu defnitely fared better in McIntyre’s Star Trek film novelizations. The Voyage Home novel included a scene where Hikura meets his great-great-great grandfather, which might have been a touching scene; unfortunately problems with the child actor prevented it from being filmed.

    Hmmm, it might be time to break out those novels.

  7. Who asked for the Sulu spotlight? Not me, but I was on board from start to finish nodding my head so much I might as well had been headbanging.

    I was especially reminded of Sulu being a man of diverse interests. Even though the unfolding sword was his big hero moment in Trek ’09, its decidedly Asian appearance shows how progressively unorthodox TOS Sulu was over four decades earlier.

    Even though he wanted to appeal across demographics, George Takei’s imprint can never be understated where Asian American actors are concerned. There’s another universe out there where Jason Scott Lee made good in A-list movies the better part of a decade before reaping benefits on network television and then rising back in the Marvel CineVerse.

  8. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that your opinions on TOS basically matches mine. I love the show because of the supporting cast, not because of the Main Three (and of the main three, McCoy is my favorite). I don’t know why that is, but I think it is partly because the “others” somehow managed to be charming, and interesting, and competent even though they only have a few moments in every episode! (So in spite of Kirk/Shatner, not because of him!)
    My favorite TOS episodes all feature the full cast, or most of them…..Mirror Mirror of course, The Doomsay Incident, Amok Time….the ones where we really get to see “the family” aspect of the series that is only hinted at in so many films.

    By the way, I apologize but I feel I have to correct you: George’s last name is pronounced with a “kay” sound, not like in Kubla Khai. The second syllable of Takei rhymes with the letter “K.” In Japanese TAKEI is a rather common last name which means “well made out of bamboo.”

    Did you know that in the original TOS airing in Japan, Sulu’s name was changed to Katoh? Because Sulu is not a Japanese word, and he was originally not a Japanese character, just non-descript Asian. He became Japanese because of George Takei’s influence. Anyway, I always thought it weird that Sulu and the Green Hornet’s side-kick shared the same name. It was only in later airings and in the movies that he became “Sulu.”

    1. I’ve gone back and forth between KAY and KAÏ all my life. I guess I fell down on the wrong side during recording, thanks for the correction.

      Yes, Sulu is not a Japanese name; some have imagined that his ancestors changed their name (from Tsuru or something, you would know better about family names) when they immigrated to America.

  9. While Sulu was not my favorite Trek character, I certainly agree with your points in this podcast. And he stole the show in VI every time. Loved that movie.

    But you know, it’s the filmmakers own fault that we expected (not “wanted”, “expected”) an Excelsior series or movie. When they show Sulu on the Enterprise comm screen, with his entire bridge crew posing for their promo shot, what were we supposed to think? Making them heroes, charging to the rescue of the Enterprise, and give us that image? They set it all up, and didn’t deliver. Shazbot! (whoops, wrong series)

    Oh and Siskoid, I’m glad you played the actual clip from DS9 rather than read my horribly inaccurate description. That was fun to hear again!

    Thank you, gentlemen! Trek on!

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