The original Star Trek series left an indelible mark in the world of sci-fi. Originating from the creative mind of Gene Roddenberry, the series aired for three years. Dedicated fans, or Trekkies, even rallied to save the show when it was up for cancellation and ran one of the first successful fan campaigns ever. It was this dedication to the original that made it hard for fans to accept the next entry into its universe.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was headed by Captain Jean-Luc Picard and an entirely new crew. With time, fans came to embrace the new shows and its unique team including chief engineer Geordi La Forge.
Coming off of his success in numerous projects including Roots and Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton won the role of the blind helmsman and turned him into a sci-fi icon. From his intelligence to his famous VISOR, La Forge soon became a fan favorite for Trekkies everywhere.
Over seven seasons, La Forge stood not only as an iconic African-American sci-fi character but also a positive role model for fans with disabilities. The relatable nature of his struggles and success in overcoming his personal obstacles has made him an unforgettable character in the Star Trek universe.
Her are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Geordi La Forge.
15 He was named after a real Star Trek fan
While fans love watching their favorite TV shows at home, others aspire to be a part of the action. Though most of us will never get to be on these shows, a few lucky Star Trek fans had the chance to be a part of the crew. W
hile creating the characters for TNG, the Star Trek writers kept one particular fan in mind. George La Forge was a quadriplegic fan of the original Star Trek TV series who sadly passed away in 1975. With creator Gene Roddenberry focused on creating a new character with disabilities, it was screenwriter David Gerrod who suggested naming the character after the long-time fan. They both agreed this would be a special tribute to the late dedicated Trekkie.
A second Trekkie, a British fan named Janet Quarton, was the inspiration for the character “Q”.
14 Wesley Snipes and Reggie Jackson auditioned for the role
Initially, LeVar Burton did not seem like the obvious choice for the role of La Forge. However, with time, fans came to love him in the role and can’t imagine anyone else playing the character.
In the early stages of casting, however, the actors for the role varied considerably from the Reading Rainbow alum. Early casting choices included character actor Kevin Peter Hall (who played Harry in Harry and the Hendersons and the Predator in Predator) and baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
One of the bigger names interested in the role was Wesley Snipes. At the time, however, he was a relatively unknown actor with just a few credits to his name, including a part in the comedy Wildcats and playing Michael Jackson’s rival in his music video for "Bad".
13 He was originally conceived to be a Jamaican teacher
The creation of Geordi La Forge took some time to perfect. Though it was decided early to him a disabled Black crew member, his background and education were not fully fleshed out. His job on the series moved from helmsman of the USS Enterprise-D to eventually a role as the chief engineer.
However, creators were originally influenced by Burton’s career in their occupational choice for the character. In an homage to Burton’s legacy on the children’s program Reading Rainbow, the show’s producers originally planned to make La Forge’s specialty focused on “the starship school for children.” This idea was scrapped for a more technological background instead.
Also, his background would have been of Jamaican descent. Although this detail was left out of his backstory, his mother was played by Jamaican actress Madge Sinclair (Coming to America, The Lion King).
12 Burton was the most well-known actor at the time of casting
At the time of the casting announcement for Star Trek: The Next Generation, LeVar Burton was one of the most well-known cast members. He had an extensive acting career that included his acting debut as Kunta Kinte in the TV drama Roots.
In fact, he was featured in the initial casting announcement headlining over Patrick Stewart, whose fame was limited in the United States. As reported by The New York Times, an article in The Los Angeles Times once referred to "unknown British Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart".
Despite his fame, Burton was not chosen to be the lead in the new series. Instead, he was cast in a part that the Associated Press initially referred to as “the new Spock” (a role that was eventually filled by Data instead). In the end, Stewart was able to bounce back from his initial first impressions just fine.
11 Gene Roddenberry had plans to make La Forge gay
One of the greatest aspects of the Star Trek universe (and many other science fiction shows and movies) is an opportunity for highlighting new cultures, species, and worlds. With unlimited possibilities for new adventures, these shows still seem to reflect the growing changes in today’s societies.
Early in the process for creating the new series, Roddenberry had significant plans for the diversity of this series. According to IMDB.com, “Gene Roddenberry had made public his plans to add gay characters to the show (with Geordi La Forge reported to be one such character in the original series treatment), and had even commissioned scripts to introduce them at the start of the series' run.”
His newfound outlook on LBGT characters came after overcoming his own homophobia. Sadly, Roddenberry passed away before he could make these changes in the fifth season of the show.
10 Geordi's VISOR was improvised on the first day of shooting
Production on Star Trek: The Next Generation began in 1987 with a relatively unknown cast. For some actors, like Patrick Stewart, working on a television program like this came with a big adjustment. While the main outline of the plot was finalized, there were still small touches to iron out like makeup, costumes, and set designs.
On the site StarTrek.com, several photos were shared showing initial tests with the makeup for the series including La Forge’s VISOR. However, the props team created a very unique version of his famous eyewear for the initial shooting.
According to IMDB.com, “Geordi's VISOR was improvised on the first day of shooting using chiefly an automotive air filter and a hair band.” After the first day, a more permanent prop was created and used going forward. That future design was not that far off from this makeshift prototype.
9 His VISOR design was inspired by '80s fashion hair trends
Many of us are haunted by pictures from our youth. Looking back, we gasp on our poor fashion choices and style that have been forever captured in photos and film.
At the peak of 1980s fashion, in particular, women were decked out with oversized scrunchies, crimped hair, and thousands of plastic bracelets. However, the hideous trends of the '80s led to the creation of one of the most iconic props from the Star Trek franchise.
Enter the banana clip - the plastic hair accessory fashioned with two sets of “crocodile” teeth to help pull your hair into a fanned ponytail. According to an interview on StarTrek.com, this particular accessory led to the creation of La Forge’s VISOR. Star Trek archivist Penny Juday explained that set artist Michael Okuda was inspired by his girlfriend’s use of the hair product.
His inspiration led to the final design of the VISOR, or Visual Input Sensory Optical Reflector (which was later updated to Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement).
8 The VISOR helped Burton sleeping on set undetected
The simplistic origins of the VISOR led to a final product that, well, simply was not made for enhancing anyone's vision in reality. The half-circle “teeth” design made it difficult for Burton to see clearly. Not only was his central vision impaired but his peripheral vision as well. He often found himself running into low-hanging props and tripping over chairs.
Although the process of wearing the VISOR was a nightmare, it did have its perks. During the 2015 Star Trek Official Convention in Las Vegas, several cast members were assembled for a special panel including Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton. As the cast recalled tales from the series, Burton opted to share the fact that, “In the first season, during a long take, I fell asleep in the VISOR." Sounds like the best prop ever made.
7 La Forge and Burton shared similar ailments on the show
Playing the character of Geordi La Forge was a new challenge for Burton. Known for having very expressive eyes, he had to learn other ways to best convey his emotions throughout the series. Given that his VISOR gave him so many visual limitations, he learned how to make the best of his challenging role. However, over time, Burton came to share one particular ailment that always plagued La Forge: painful headaches.
In the series, the character often complained about experiencing headaches as a result of wearing the VISOR. In reality, Burton was experiencing the same issue.
In an interview with the BBC, Burton stated, “In the second season we re-designed the VISOR and made it heavier and the way we actually affixed it was that we screwed it, we literally screwed it into my head and so there were screws that we would turn and there were flanges on the inside that would press into my temples and so after fifteen or twenty minutes of that I got headaches. So I had a daily headache for about six years.” Wow.
6 Geordi La Forge was promoted faster than any other Star Trek character
Geordi La Forge has had one of the most impressive careers in the Star Trek Universe. He existed as more than just the blind member of the crew and blossomed into an integral member of their team.
Over the course of the seven year run of the series, La Forge moved up in the ranks at a fairly quick rate. In season 1, he began as the helmsman of the USS Enterprise-D as a Lieutenant Junior Grade. By season 2, he was promoted to Lieutenant and finally Lieutenant Commander (in season 3) and became the Chief Engineer for both the Enterprise-D and the Enterprise-E.
Although other characters have held the same titles, no one has been promoted as fast. His promotions did not end at the conclusion of the show, either. In the futuristic timeline of Star Trek: Voyager: Timeless, Geordi eventually becomes a Captain.
5 La Forge was planned to be revealed as the product of alien experimentation
In the course of the series, many planned storylines were abandoned due to either lack of believability or the series as a whole taking a different course. Once such storyline would have put an interesting twist on the truth behind La Forge’s life.
According to The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J. J. Abrams, there were plans to have La Forge revealed as an alien. In the book, Star Trek scriptwriter Jeri Taylor shared, "We wanted to make Geordi an alien. He was going to discover that his father was not who he thought he was, and his mother had an almost Rosemary's Baby-kind of thing and had been impregnated by an alien. As a result, Geordi was actually half alien and now, at his present age, his people were coming back to get him."
In the end, the alien backstory was abandoned for the character.
4 His parents have connections to Burton’s role on Roots
La Forge’s success during the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation could easily be linked back to his successful parents. His mother, Silva La Forge, served as the captain of the USS Hera until the ship was declared “missing in action”. His father acted as an exozoologist in the science division and even became a commander.
Geordi's parents were played by Madge Sinclair and Ben Vereen respectively, who were not new to playing onscreen relatives to Burton. In the 1977 mini-series Roots, they played fairly different roles in the life of Burton’s character Kunta Kinte. Sinclair was cast as Kinte’s wife (though the older version of the character was played by John Amos) and Vereen played his grandson, "Chicken George".
Interestingly, Sinclair and Burton have a further connection within their acting careers as Burton has played her son in four different projects.
3 Star Trek/Reading Rainbow Crossover
Reading Rainbow became a staple in children’s lives for over 23 years with Burton at the center of the show’s success. When Burton got the La Forge role in 1987, he made sure to stay dedicated to his education program and split his time filming episodes for both shows. However, out of his dedication to maintaining both series, fans of both shows were treated to some exclusive TNG footage that has never been released in any other form.
In the 1988 episode “Reading Rainbow: The Bionic Bunny Show”, viewers were shown behind the scenes footage that included bloopers from the show. To date, this footage has only been released legally on this show.
Incidentally, the included TNG footage has made this episode of Reading Rainbow the most popular episode of all time.
2 Data and Geordi was originally paired together as “The Perceivers”
The friendship between Data and Geordi was established fairly quickly in TNG show and became a favorite of Trekkies. However, the show creators had additional plans for their relationship that never came to be.
In an interview with Gizmodo.com, Burton shared that, “During the casting process, there was a scene that Gene Roddenberry wrote between Geordi and Data, that established their relationship. In that scene, Geordi and Data discussed how Geordi's eyes and Data's brain saw the world in a very similar way. They saw the truth of the world around them. And so, in the scene that Gene wrote, they formed a team, and they called themselves the Perceivers, because their perceptions were alike.”
We can only imagine how much fans would have loved the Perceivers as a super Star Trek duo.
1 Geordi Almost Lost His Disability
The cultural significance of Geordi La Forge is a legacy that remains to this day. Not only was he one of the few African-American science fiction characters on TV but he was also one of the few engineers as well. However, his largest impact has been in the portrayal of a sci-fi character with a disability.
As noted in an article by The Slate, Geordi La Forge became “first recurring character with a disability” in Star Trek. Originally, there were actually plans in place to take the representation away. In the planning of season 2, there were talks of La Forge having his eyes healed and removing the VISOR permanently. However, the importance of his representation far exceeded the need for his healing, so the idea was scrapped.
Do you have any trivia to share about Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation? Leave it in the comments!