Editor’s note: George Takei, best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in "Star Trek," was gracious enough to speak with Geek Out for nearly an hour and a half. We discovered that he had more than one story to tell. Check back with us next week to see more of Takei's heroism at work.
When you talk to people about George Takei, they often begin with a sigh and follow up with, “I just love George.”
It’s the kind of love that anyone involved in a fanbase or subculture can relate to – supportive, intuitive and unconditional.
When Takei expressed his wish that I'd “live long and prosper” and tossed in a nice “Oh, my!” for good measure during our conversation, I could feel my heart tingle a bit. Takei is so amicable that you immediately feel as though you’re receiving the confidences of an old friend.
But I wanted to know: Why exactly do we love Takei so much? Brokering “Star Peace” after William Shatner and Carrie Fisher began a "Star Trek" vs. "Star Wars" social media feud is just one feather in his cap.
Is he a geek hero? Fan Dorinda Paige says, "Amen to that!”
Paige first encountered Takei on TV reruns of The Original Series and then followed helmsman Sulu in the first six films of the "Trek" franchise. Even in Sulu's early days on the Starship Enterprise, Paige could identify with his character. He piloted a massive starship, but he was considered a supporting character.
“Sulu wasn’t the main focus of any episode really, but he was always that cool guy in the background that you could identify with,” Paige said. “If you aren’t the main one on stage, there is always someone in the background that is important and represents the glue that holds everything together, and he did that for me.”
“She is very discerning and has high standards and good taste,” Takei told me, laughing. “But she has also got to have a keen eye and ear, because I didn’t get that many opportunities to shine. I was more one of those art deco reflective globes. You can’t say Sulu is a shining character.”
Paige continued to see “Sulu” everywhere. When he showed up on the TV series “Heroes” as Hiro’s dad, Kaito Nakamura, it was all Paige could do to keep from “squeeing like a fan girl.” The show referenced "Star Trek" on several occasions while Takei was part of the cast, even showing his character’s license plate as “NCC1701,” referring to the Starship Enterprise.
“Heroes” revealed a different side of Takei’s acting range, and what Paige calls a “forceful side to Sulu that we never saw.” She also believes that other actors would have shied away from obvious references to their previous work.
As Trekkers, we love Takei because he returns that affection wholeheartedly, which isn’t always the case when we encounter our favorite member of Starfleet in plainclothes. To find someone who recognizes the importance of what he is associated with, and not only understands but embraces it, is a gift. It is an affirmation that we made the right choice, falling in love with a show or a character.
“I love Shatner and Nimoy, but you get the idea that, at times, they wanted to distance themselves from 'Star Trek,'” Paige said, which ends up a hurtful experience for fans.
“What we want to tell them is, ‘You don’t seem to get that I love you for who you were in this role.’ I think George Takei gets that. He always seems to truly appreciate the fans and their enthusiasm for the show, his role and him, personally.”
Takei doesn’t understand “biting the hand that feeds you.” “'Star Trek' has fed me this wonderful opportunity to do and talk about the issues that I’m passionate about,” he said.
During his time on "Trek," Takei could appreciate show creator Gene Roddenberry’s boldness. No one else was exploring the allegorical implications of the turbulent 1960s on television.
“Gene felt that television was a medium that was being wasted,” Takei said. “It was a time when there was such anger, confrontation and anguish, and he wanted to look on the better angels within us and project that into the future - to say that all of these issues we’re struggling with are overcome-able.”
At convention after convention, fans have approached Takei and shared thousands of inspiring stories with him about what Sulu did for them. Takei’s character didn’t fall into a stereotype – he spoke without an accent and didn’t represent “a villain or a servant,” as media had previously treated Asian-Americans. "Trek," and Takei, have taught acceptance where there was none.
“What makes that starship so engaging and powerful is its diversity, finding strength in that diversity and making our collective strength even better,” Takei said.
Trekkers everywhere have connected with Takei’s accepting nature. He isn’t afraid to be enthusiastic and optimistic (“It’s the optimists that get things done”) and although Takei doesn’t identify himself as a geek, he’s completely happy being himself, and encourages others to follow suit.
“I consider myself to be me. I embrace everything! There is no need for us to wear labels - we are capable of so many things.”
Takei maintains his fanbase by respecting fans' integrity as well as his own.
"Because of someone like George Takei, it’s OK for us nerds, geeks and Trekkers to be out there,” Paige said. That's a good reason to be thankful.