Thursday, July 24, 2014


Since I started this blog back in 2010, I’ve been waiting for the right time to share this story. And with the upcoming release of the documentary film To Be Takei, about Star Trek actor and frequent Howard Stern Show guest George Takei, along with his ongoing status as a pop-culture icon, and his much-publicized recent appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher, during which he launched yet another attack on his former co-star William Shatner, it seems that time has finally come. So here’s the tale of my one and (thus far) only face-to-face encounter with the man best known as Mr. Sulu.   

It was July of 1998, and I was writing the five-issue limited series STAR TREK: UNTOLD VOYAGES for Marvel Comics, which featured adventures of the original crew set after Star Trek: The Motion Picture and before Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  

For issue #4, I wrote a story about Mr. Sulu taking command of the Enterprise when Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy leave the ship on a diplomatic mission. An emergency situation arises that Sulu must confront, and he is forced to take the ship into combat. Sulu, with the help of Scotty, Chekov, and Uhura, manages to save the day, and we get to see the beginning of his ambition to command a starship of his own. Longtime Star Trek fans know that we finally got to see Sulu as a starship captain in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which he is the commander of the U.S.S. Excelsior. This promotion of Sulu to the rank of captain was something that had been lobbied for by the actor who played him, George Takei, for many years.  

Okay, so here’s the incident. I had recently finished writing STAR TREK: UNTOLD VOYAGES #4 when I was sent by Marvel to Chicago, to represent the company at the annual Wizard World comic-book convention during the Fourth of July weekend. On the Saturday night of the convention, I was heading out to dinner with a Marvel contingent that included my friend and fellow staffer Bill Rosemann, artist extraordinaire Adam Kubert, and Marvel’s then-publisher, Shirrell Rhoades. Walking through the hotel, we passed by one of the conference rooms, and Bill noticed that a party was going on inside, and that Star Wars actors Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) were there. Bill wanted to check it out for a few minutes, so we all went in.

As we were leaving, Bill pointed out to me that Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei, was standing right near the exit, and nudged me to say hello. “Come on,” Bill said, “didn’t you just write a story about him? You gotta tell him that!” 

I shrugged my shoulders and casually made my way over to the actor, who was chatting with a group of fans and hangers-on. Bill and the others waited for me outside, and I patiently awaited my turn to speak with Mr. Takei. Then I got his attention.

What follows next is the exact exchange between me and George Takei, which I immediately committed to memory. 

“Mr. Takei,” I said, “I’m Glenn Greenberg from Marvel Comics.”

“Ahhhhhhhhh,” he replied in his rich, distinctive voice. “Marvel Comics . . .”

“Yes,” I continued. “We have the Star Trek license now. I’m one of the writers, and I just finished writing a story about your character!”

“Oh?” he said with interest. “You’ve written a story about Captain Sulu?”

“Yes,” I told him enthusiastically. “But he’s actually not a captain in my story.”

He looked puzzled. He said to me, “Well, you know, I am a captain now.” (Please note that he said “I am a captain,” not “Sulu is a captain.”)

“Yes, I do know that,” I told him earnestly.

He continued, “I became a captain in Star Trek VI. I was supposed to become a captain in Star Trek II, but the scene got edited out. With each film that followed, I pushed to be made a captain: Star Trek III, Star Trek IV, and Star Trek V. But each time, it didn’t happen. I thought, ‘Well, that’s it, I guess.’ So when I got the script for Star Trek VI and saw the words ‘Captain Sulu of the Starship Excelsior’ on the very first page, you can imagine how delighted I was!”

I knew all of this already—he’d related it in numerous interviews over the years—but I didn't want to be rude, so I just let him go on uninterrupted.

When he was done, I said, “Well, my story actually takes place a number of years before you became a captain.” (To be exact, as per Star Trek’s chronology, my story took place about 14 years before Sulu was given command of the Excelsior.) I continued, “But it shows how you decided that you wanted to become a captain, and how you gained the experience necessary to eventually become one.”

He thought for a moment, and finally asked me, “Well, do I become a captain at the end of the story?”

I looked at him and said simply, “No.”

He replied, obviously bewildered (and perhaps even a little offended), “Well, who wants to read about that?” The fans and hangers-on surrounding him burst out in laughter and spurred him on. “I am a captain now! You should show me becoming a captain!” I felt very much alone at that moment. 

“Yeah, but—yeah, but,” I stammered. How do I explain this to him more clearly than I already have, I wondered. But I just gave up. Time to get out of this conversation, I told myself. So I politely took my leave of Mr. Takei and rejoined my colleagues, who of course were having a great laugh over my encounter with Mr. Sulu—I mean Captain Takei—I mean Captain Sulu—I mean . . . oh, whatever.

You know, reflecting on this incident again, I’m now inspired to come up with a sequel to that story—one in which Sulu gets bumped down to ensign. That’ll show him!

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2014.


  1. Well, actors are people like everybody else... unfortunately sometimes they (and everybody else) tend to forget that... And like ALL people, sometimes they can (and should) handle things differently...

    I was at a Trek convention in Houston back in the mid-90's and met Jimmy Doohan, the ubiquitous Scotty. Even got a Trek novel I bought signed by him there. During the audience questions, a little kid started asking him "how the Enterprise worked". After a few light laughs from the audience, "Scotty" launched into an ad-lib of the "technobabble" commonly scripted about the dilithium crystals and the matter-antimatter injectors and stuff and then after about three sentences of it blurted out "Well, that thing's only a model ya know!" The audience laughed, and the kid looked somewhat crushed. I have to say I was somewhat let down by that response from our beloved "Scotty"...

    I mean, a better way to handle it would have been, "Well, you know the "Enterprise" is actually a filming model-- guys in the model making department work on it for months building and painting and decorating it and installing tiny lights and stuff... then the special effects department hooks it up to special fixtures and things and films it using computer controlled cameras, or (the then new field of CGI) other guys work to make the shots you see of the Enterprise inside the computer..." That would have at least gotten the kid thinking about how what he sees got on the screen... maybe inspired him. Barring that, maybe a simple, "Well, it's a lot of stuff we haven't invented yet. Maybe YOU will invent some of it, if you study math and science and work hard" and left it at that.

    Oh well... nobody's perfect...

    Later! OL JR :)

  2. Mr. Greenberg, I don't have a comment for this post, but I wanted to share with you a modified version of an article that you wrote for Time for Kids that has been used on a standardized test by the Houston City School District. The article is very much modified, but is attributed to you. If you are interested in seeing a screen shot, I can send it to you if you like.