When Star Trek: Discovery returned this week, it was greeted with gasps of shock and surprise at one of the most controversial moments in the 50 years franchise. Some have argued that being on a streaming service has liberated Star Trek to follow in the trend of shows like Game of Thrones is how it can embrace violence. provocative moments and “colourful metaphors”. However, Star Trek has always had moments in front of the camera and behind the scenes that shocked audiences or caused controversy and here are the top 5…
Vulcan Destroyed (Star Trek ’09)
Soft reboots continue to be a popular movie making opportunity for studios looking to milk franchises that still have brand recognition or went on challenging times and vanished. After Nemesis bombed at the box office and Enterprise’s ratings tanked, Star Trek’s uninterrupted run from 1987 came to an end. However, JJ Abrams and Bad Robot were called upon to inject life back into the franchise and in 2009, Star Trek returned.
Using the plot device of going into the Kelvin timeline, Abrams was given carte blanche to do anything in this universe without fear of upsetting the timeline. In one of those unexpected moments of the movie, Nero drops red matter into the heart of the Vulcan planet core, causing it to implode. Vulcan, a staple of the Federation, Star Trek and Spock’s story was wiped out in a savage attack. Spock’s mother Amanda was a victim of this attack and in one quick swoop, JJ Abrams delivered a truly shocking moment and made the Vulcans an endangered species.
A Racist Enterprise Crew (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek has always been one of no confliction and descent within the crew, sometimes this didn’t always match up with what he always wrote or produced but that was his sales pitch. As Roddenberry neared the end of his life and time with Star Trek, he moved further away from any hands-on involvement with Trek, picking up just token credits.
In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Nicholas Meyer returned to the director’s chair for the first time since The Wrath of Khan which largely redefined the look and feel of the series and a clash with Roddenberry was on the horizon. Roddenberry would clash with Nicholas Meyer’s story which would show the Enterprise crew casually displaying bigoted views of the Klingon’s. Kirk saying, “Don’t believe them, don’t trust them, let them die!”, Uhura in the original script, uttering “You wouldn’t let your daughter marry one?” and Chekov remarking, “guess whose coming to dinner”, a pointed reference to the Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier movie about interracial marriage.
Star Trek VI shows a morally grey universe that gives our characters and the Federation an arc as they seek to overcome decades of war and mistrust to enter a brave new world. This caused huge confrontation with the shows creator and Meyer, but it resulted in one of the finest movies in the series.
Political Assassination (Star Trek Deep Space Nine – ‘In The Pale Moonlight’)
Deep Space Nine’s finest hour sees a Federation captain get into bed with an ex-spy, Garek, and criminals to persuade a Romulan senator that the Dominion are preparing to strike against them, despite a signed non-aggression pact. Throwing all the holier than thou traits of Federation officers that had been built up over thirty years, Sisko goes ahead with paying off thugs, siding with spies and criminals to dupe a possibly ally into the war.
As viewers we become part of this act of moral betrayal and sabotage as we want the Federation to succeed, however Sisko is caught out with three piercing words, “it’s a fake!”. Sisko has now potentially swung the war to the Dominion after trying to fool the Romulans. However, Garek never had much faith in his forgery and just wanted to plant a Cardassian bomb on the Senator’s ship. With one bomb, a dead Senator and the guilty conscious of a Federation officer, Sisko was able to change the tide of the war and save millions of lives, and we all know he’d do the same and wouldn’t we all?
Sulu’s Sexuality (Star Trek Beyond)
When we see in Star Trek Beyond that Sulu is married to a man and they have a child in a small and sweet moment as the Enterprise crew disembark for leave at Yorktown base, it was a moment that most fans had been hoping would come for years had arrived. LGBTQI representation had been lacking in the franchise, despite significant and popular episodes like ‘The Outcast’ and ‘Rejoined’ that touched upon the subject.
Sulu’s coming out naturally caused some fans to complain but the biggest controversy was that original Sulu actor and gay actor, George Takei took issue with Sulu being also portrayed as gay. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung who co-wrote the script and in agreement with director Justin Lin felt that portraying Sulu as gay would also be a great tribute to the advocacy of Takei. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” Takei said to the Hollywood reporter but “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
John Cho had called Takei personally to break the news to him but Takei wanted a new character to take on the gay mantle. “Honour him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen.”
Cast and Crew Clashes (Star Trek Nemesis)
Behind the scenes clash and controversy isn’t anything new with Star Trek, it’s been a staple of nearly every series and movie. However, these clashes often didn’t effect the quality of the series or show but in the case of The Next Generation’s final movie the outcome was a box office disaster and a poor end to one of the most popular series in the franchise.
Nicholas Meyer had written two of the most popular Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country and while he turned down Generations, producer Rick Berman again reached out to Meyer to find out if he would take on this generations final adventure. Meyer was interested but demanded a page 1 rewrite, Berman declined this offer and they negotiations stopped. After the success of Jonathan Frakes behind the camera in First Contact and Insurrection, Berman suggested to Paramount using Levar Burton who played LaForge in the series and had directed numerous Trek episodes, including the highly popular Voyager episode ‘Timeless’.
Jonathan Frakes, despite the financially success of his efforts with the series was overlooked, even though he’d have signed on if asked for a third time in the directors chair. Paramount rejected the option of Burton by Berman and instead with editor Stuart Baird, who had experience of working on the movies Executive Decision and U.S. Marshals. Baird confessed he’d never watched an episode of the series and even went as far to think Geordi LaForge was an alien due to his eyes and that LeVar Burton’s name was Laverne.
Marina Sirtis and LeVar Burton spoke on the convention circuit and when asked about the failure of Nemesis would highlight that the cast was resistant to the direction of Baird and questioned his knowledge of the series, believing this contributed towards the failure. Sirtis was almost fired before the film began for questioning the discrepancy in pay for female actors. Sirtis and Paramount clashed during the negotiations and she was told they would fire her and replace her with Jeri Ryan if she didn’t sign up, though Sirtis pointed out they wouldn’t get Ryan to sign for the money she was offered. Paramount even applied some pressure on Berman to recast the entire movie and not to use The Next Generation cast, however Berman resisted and the cast all eventually were signed up to appear in the movie.
In a move that felt like financial suicide, Paramount decided to release the movie during December 2002, where it would go up against, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day. The movie would come second to Jennifer Lopez romcom, Maid in Manhattan. The movie would go on to make $67 million at the box office, a shocking low for the franchise. The mixed at best reviews from critics and the fan disappointment and anger meant that there would be no more movies from The Next Generation crew and their adventures would go out with a limp, not a bang.
What would you consider the most controversial Star Trek moment?