Star Trek Beyond features the Federation facing off against the villainous Krall, an alien who thrives on conflict, in direct opposition to the Federation’s mantra of unity and peaceful coexistence. This dynamic is not unlike the current state of U.S. politics (with some politicians obsessing over all the different people supposedly coming to kill us, and others calling for unity in troubled times), a fact that star John Cho says was not lost on him or his Beyond castmates.
“I think it does make the themes of the movie more resonant with us,” Cho told The A.V. Club in a new interview. “Oddly, the tumult of this year reminds me of the late ’60s, when Roddenberry created Star Trek. It was a similarly divisive time in America … Times seem similarly dark. The message of Star Trek, if there is one, seems to be that we should try to live up to the very best that we’re capable of.Star Trek seems to be an appeal to our better nature, the side of ourselves that works toward peace and cooperation and understanding and knowledge and yearns to seek out knowledge rather than the side that wants to divide and control one another.”
This isn’t the only debate about the meaning of Star Trek inspired by Beyond‘s plot choices. The new movie reveals that Cho’s character Sulu is gay. Although the reveal has plot implications (Krall’s aggression endangers a Starfleet station where Sulu’s husband is stationed) it was also partially an homage to George Takei, the original Sulu actor who has since become a renowned LGBT activist. Nevertheless, Takei was vocally opposed to the revelation. Cho told The A.V. Club that he anticipated possible opposition from Takei, though for different reasons.
“I thought that George would object because he’s a gay actor who was playing straight,” Cho said. “I know that was difficult, that he couldn’t come out and that he had crafted a straight character. Then, now, because he’s an activist and he’s out of the closet — clearly, this is an homage a little bit to him — [I worried] he would object to us taking that from his life and say, ‘Hey, I was a gay actor who created a straight character, and now you’re making him gay because I’ve come out of the closet?,’ that we were just seeing him for his sexual orientation. So I thought that would be where he would object. It turns out not to be his objection. But that’s what I was worried about.”
In commenting on the Sulu revelation, Takei wrote on Facebook his issue was with changing the intent of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who had originally envisioned Sulu as straight. “How exciting it would be instead if a new hero might be created, whose story could be fleshed out from scratch, rather than reinvented. To me, this would have been even more impactful.”
Read the full interview with Cho here. Star Trek Beyond hits theaters Friday.