As fans count down the days to the theatrical premiere of Star Trek Beyond, one aspect about the film has been a key talking point of late. It was recently confirmed that John Cho's take on Hikaru Sulu would be the franchise's first gay character, a decision that was made to honor the original Sulu, George Takei. The announcement stirred up a great deal of controversy, especially after Takei expressed displeasure with the move. Beyond co-writer Simon Pegg and star Zachary Quinto have offered their explanations, but it's safe to say they still haven't won everybody over.
Takei's major point of contention is that the new Sulu being a homosexual goes against the vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in which the character was straight. But Pegg doesn't necessarily see it that way, saying that the series canon dictates that alterations can be made in the modern movies of the newly formed Kelvin Timeline.
In a post on his blog, the actor discussed the reaction to the Sulu revelation, once again offering a well-thought-out defense for it. After stating that Cho is portraying "a different Sulu" (and not a young George Takei like he would have in a normal prequel), Pegg detailed the freedoms the alternate timeline presents:
With the Kelvin timeline, we are not entirely beholden to existing canon, this is an alternate reality and, as such is full of new and alternate possibilities. “BUT WAIT!” I hear you brilliant and beautiful super Trekkies cry, “Canon tells us, Hikaru Sulu was born before the Kelvin incident, so how could his fundamental humanity be altered? Well, the explanation comes down to something very Star Treky; theoretical, quantum physics and the less than simple fact that time is not linear. Sure, we experience time as a contiguous series of cascading events but perception and reality aren’t always the same thing. Spock’s incursion from the Prime Universe created a multidimensional reality shift. The rift in space/time created an entirely new reality in all directions, top to bottom, from the Big Bang to the end of everything. As such this reality was, is and always will be subtly different from the Prime Universe. I don’t believe for one second that Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t have loved the idea of an alternate reality (Mirror, Mirror anyone?). This means, and this is absolutely key, the Kelvin universe can evolve and change in ways that don’t necessarily have to follow the Prime Universe at any point in history, before or after the events of Star Trek ‘09, it can mutate and subvert, it is a playground for the new and the progressive and I know in my heart, that Gene Roddenberry would be proud of us for keeping his ideals alive. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, this was his dream, that is our dream, it should be everybody’s.
This argument has been made several times and it still holds strong. Ever since the 2009 reboot, there have been slight changes in the Kelvin Timeline; George Kirk, who lived to see his son Jim become the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Prime Universe, is killed in the opening moments of J.J. Abrams' first film. The creative team is allowed to go off in different directions if they so choose, otherwise rebooting a property would be pointless. Yes, there are certain elements that the Kelvin Timeline needs to adhere to in order to resemble Star Trek, but individual character traits can be altered so the new films offer something different. As Pegg says, they don't have to stick to what's come before.
It's also important to keep in mind that when Star Trek first aired in 1966, opinions on specific topics (such as sexual orientation) did not reflect the open-mindedness of today. Roddenberry always envisioned Star Trek to be a diverse property, where people and aliens of all walks of life came together to work in harmony. For a series defined by being all-inclusive, it would seem strange if Trek never featured a gay character, even if it is one of the areas few blockbuster projects tackle. From the first interracial kiss on television to making a Russian a hero during the Cold War, Star Trek has always been noted for its progressiveness. Sulu being gay in Beyond marks an important step forward and hopefully will open new doorways other films will push through.
There are many of the opinion that Pegg and co-writer Doug Jung should have created a new character to break this ground, but as Pegg has said in the past, that creates its own set of problems. He wrote on his blog that "the new characters in Star Trek Beyond have enough on their plate, without stopping to give us the intimate details of their personal lives." There arguably wasn't an easy way to go about this, but the filmmakers behind Beyond did the best the could, and ultimately took a classy route that paid respect to what the franchise stands for.
Star Trek Beyond opens in U.S. theaters July 22, 2016.
Source: Simon Pegg