Even The Best Star Trek Movies Failed TOS’ Female Characters

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Summary

  • Star Trek movies failed to give significant roles to TOS’ female characters, such as Uhura, Chapel, and Rand.
  • Uhura remained a supporting character with limited screen time, while Chapel and Rand only had brief cameos.
  • The new female characters introduced in the movies were disposable and did not have lasting impact or appearances in future films.


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Some of the first six Star Trek movies starring the cast of Star Trek: The Original Series are great, but even they failed TOS‘ female characters. After years in syndication maintained the TV series’ popularity, Star Trek made the leap to the big screen in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Over the next 12 years, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the crew of the USS Enterprise would reunite a half-dozen times before riding off into the sunset in 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

There was never a doubt that Star Trek: The Original Series centered primarily on Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley). The Enterprise’s top trio drove the action of the first six Star Trek movies just as they did the 1960s TV show. TOS‘ main female character was Lt. Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), who was a revolutionary presence as an African-American woman on the bridge of the Enterprise, but she had relatively little to do besides declare “hailing frequencies open.” The only other prominent woman who recurred in TOS was Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett), who was also a supporting character, and Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) was dropped from Star Trek during season 1. This pattern would unfortunately continue in the Star Trek movies.


Star Trek Movies Failed Uhura & TOS’ Female Characters

Lt. Uhura Star Trek Movies

Star Trek‘s leap to the big screen didn’t afford Uhura a greater significance or purpose in the movies. Uhura was still stationed on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise at Communications, but she reliably played a supporting role, although Uhura’s presence was always welcome and appreciated. Uhura’s biggest spotlight moment was her fan dance in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. But at least Uhura got to appear in every movie, which isn’t the case with Christine Chapel and Janice Rand.

Star Trek: The Original Series‘ movies did offer Majel Barrett’s Chapel a long-deserved promotion to Doctor, and Christine was Chief Medical Officer of the USS Enterprise under Captain Will Decker (Stephen Collins). But Admiral James T. Kirk taking command of the Enterprise from Decker and bringing back Dr. McCoy meant Bones replaced Chapel as Chief Medical Officer (which Christine was fine with). The last time Chapel was seen was a quick appearance in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Meanwhile, Grace Lee Whitney got to reprise Janice Rand in three of the Star Trek movies, but they were always cameos.

Star Trek Movies’ New Female Characters Didn’t Last

Ilia Star Trek Motion Picture

The first six Star Trek movies introduced a host of new female characters, but all of them ended up being disposable. Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘s Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta) was meant to be prominent in the aborted Star Trek: Phase II TV series, but when that project was turned into The Motion Picture, Ilia was quickly killed off and replaced with a mechanical version before she and Captain Decker vanished after merging with V’Ger. Star Trek IV‘s Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks) and Star Trek VI’s villainous Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall) were also one-and-dones who, despite playing major roles in their films, weren’t seen again.

The most successful new female character in the Star Trek movies was Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley), who was intended to continue on after Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But when Alley didn’t turn for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and was replaced by Robin Curtis, Saavik was de-emphasized. After a quick cameo at the start of Star Trek IV, Saavik wasn’t seen again. It took 37 years until promotional material for Star Trek: Picard season 3 updated Saavik to reveal she became Captain of the USS Titan. Star Trek is now in a very different era where female characters are Captains and play lead roles, but the Star Trek movies’ treatment of The Original Series’ female characters is glaring, no matter how great some of those films are.