Lt. Sulu to visit 'Star Trek' convention this weekend


Area Trekkies will be setting their transporters for Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn starting today for the 13th Shore Leave Star Trek convention this weekend.

Actor George Takei, forever known to Trekkies as the eager Lieutenant Sulu, will take a break from his promotional tour for the Australian-made movie "Prisoners of the Sun" to attend the convention tomorrow and Sunday.

"Prisoners of the Sun," in which Mr. Takei plays accused Japanese war criminal Baron Takahashi, opens in Washington this month.

Mr. Takei, 52, has attended hundreds of Star Trek conventions since the sci-fi TV series went off the air in 1969 after only three seasons. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the show's premiere.

In a phone interview from New York, Mr. Takei said he remembered when fledgling Trekkies invited him to the first convention in Los Angeles a couple of decades ago. He dropped by the gathering -- which consisted of a handful of fans -- in his spare time. "I thought, 'Oh, so sweet and charming,' " he said. "I thought that would be the extent of it."

Then came a call from organizers of a convention in New York City, offering free travel, expenses and a fee. "I was absolutely blown away by that," said Mr. Takei, adding it was then he first knew "something extraordinary was happening."

A third generation Japanese-American, he expressed pride in the show's values, especially its multiracial cast, which challenged the standard roles assigned to minority actors during the 1960s.

"Whenever you saw an Asian, it was always stereotyped, usually a menial [worker] or a stoic," he said. "But here's Lieutenant Sulu, a heroic character."

Almost any given weekend, there is a Star Trek convention somewhere in the country, and Mr. Takei slips back into the role of Lieutenant Sulu as often as two or three dozen times a year for appearances. That's in addition to the six Star Trek movies made by Paramount Pictures.

Yet he has not grown weary of the role. "I take it as an opportunity to thank the people who made this phenomenon possible," he said.

Last year he did more than just thank his fans; he enlisted their help. Hearing of a plan by Paramount to make the sixth Star Trek movie take place before the other five -- using younger actors to play the characters earlier in their lives -- he encouraged fans to write protest letters to the studio.

"I thought that would be a bad idea, and I thought our ultimate bosses, the fans, would think that was a bad idea," said Mr. Takei. "So I had a mission."

"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" is scheduled to be released at the end of the year with all the familiar faces intact.

The frequent traveling required of Mr. Takei is made more pleasant by his fondness for cities. He said he is particularly impressed by changes in Baltimore since he visited as a teen-ager in the 1950s.

"Baltimore really has a sense of place," he said. "You've done things that are appropriate to Baltimore."

The convention runs today through Sunday. A three-day pass costs $35. One-day passes are available for Saturday or Sunday for $20 for adults and $10 for children 5-12. For more information, call 821-5563.

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