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Takei says he's ready to take helm of a new 'Trek' -- if fans say so

George Takei -- Mr. Sulu himself -- will be warping into Salt Lake City this weekend as one of the celebrities at FanFest 2000. And, if a vocal contingent of fans have their way, he'll be warping back onto television before long -- as captain of the starship Excelsior.

He's the focal point of a campaign to make his character the lead in the next "Star Trek" series. To go back a generation from "Voyager," "Deep Space Nine" and, of course, "Next Generation" and send Capt. Sulu and his crew on adventures across the galaxy."Isn't that an amazing phenomenon?" Takei said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "But it's consistent with the whole history of 'Star Trek.' "

He recalled that the original series was canceled only three years into its five-year mission, only to be brought back -- this time on the big screen -- for a series of movies because of pressure from the fans. That one movie turned into nine. That one series has turned into four -- at this point -- all because fans continued to press for more "Trek" (and make it financially rewarding for Paramount to keep the franchise going).

"It's always been the fans who determine the destiny of 'Star Trek,' not the so-called powers-that-be at the networks or at the studio," Takei said. "And here again, the fans have taken up the cause. And this time, they have the additional weapon of the Internet. Isn't that something?"

The "Excelsior Campaign," as they're calling it, has its own Web site (www.excelsior.iftcommand.com) under the auspices of the fan group International Federation of Trekkers. And, apparently, the whole thing grew out of appearances Takei made at fan events like this weekend's FanFest 2000.

"I had talked about it at conventions," Takei said. "After 'Star Trek VI,' when we first met Captain Sulu, I thought the way that ended it was a natural segue. So, at conventions I had talked about a Captain Sulu series being the natural continuation of the original generation. The guy that's spearheading the campaign, (IFT president) Russ Haslage, was at one of those conventions and heard me say that.

"So, you've got to watch what you say -- especially at 'Star Trek' conventions," Takei said with a laugh. And, even after three decades of appearing at things like FanFest, he hasn't tired of the experience. As a matter of fact, he finds them amusing.

"Have you seen 'Galaxy Quest'?" he asked. "To me, that was not a spoof. It was a serious documentary. I recognized every detail in that very well-researched documentary."

"Galaxy Quest," of course, depicts the cast of a long-canceled sci-fi TV series whose appearances before a convention crowd attracts the attention of real-life aliens -- aliens who take the actors into space to help them save their planet from the bad guys.

"And I do believe that it is going to be these devout, intense 'Star Trek' fans that know every nook and cranny of the Starship Enterprise, that are going to save us from a major galactic crisis," Takei said, laughing again.

Not that he's at all down on "Star Trek." He'd be more than happy to take Capt. Sulu on a five-year (or more) mission of is own. And he enjoyed reprising the character on an episode of "Voyager" back in 1996.

"Oh, it's wonderful to be on that (bridge) set," Takei said. "I've always enjoyed that. From the time we first started filming the pilot back in 1965. There's a special energy. I'm an old warhorse, I guess, and I love being in harness. And that's the corral I'm most familiar with, and, therefore, most comfortable in."

Not that "Trek" is his only on-camera experience. He co-starred in the feature film "Who Gets the House," which was produced by a Utah-based company. (He's donating his script for the movie -- which he autographed -- to the FanFest charity auction.) And he co-starred in the sci-fi thriller "Overlord" (directed by Tony Dow, who played Wally on "Leave It to Beaver"), which has yet to be released.

But he'd welcome the chance to reprise the role of Sulu in a new series.

"Well, I love the character," he said. "Particularly, I think, the vision, the core value of 'Star Trek' is important even today, although it's 35 years old now. The idea of finding strength in our pluralism, to work as a team made up of that diversity, is one of the great challenges in American society today. And diversity isn't all just diversity. It's economic diversity, diversity of ideas, diversity of beliefs. And to make a team out of that -- to find the common ground and look at the common challenge, that's a message that's very pertinent to our times today."

How likely is a Sulu-centered "Star Trek" series? Paramount executives have not commented on the prospect, which is not a hopeful sign. And if Rick Berman (the executive producer of every series since "Next Generation" and every movie since "Generations") is to be believed, and there's no reason not to, it's not going to happen.

Berman and his colleagues have a new weekly show in development -- a show they expect to see premiere as early as January 2001 or as late as January 2002. And, while he's not giving out details, expect it to be contemporary to "Next Gen," "DS9" and "Voyager."

"I think the one thing we can't do is what we've already done," Berman said. "And, since we've done 500 episodes . . . from the start of 'Next Generation' to the present, it's difficult to come up with ideas that we haven't done before. . . . The only hint I'll give you is that the new show will be more different than any of the three previous series."

Whether there's a Sulu series or not, Takei isn't at all unhappy that people continue to identify him with the character. "They don't approach George Takei. I'm walking down the street and someone shouts out, 'Sulu!' and I turn around," he said with a laugh. "I'm absolutely prepared for my tombstone to read, in great big bold letters, 'Here lies Sulu' and then in smaller letters, 'a k a George Takei.' "