To the Stars
Author: George Takei
Published By: Gallery Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
This is going to shock some of my Star Wars followers out there. I am a huge Star Wars fan...who has dabbled with Star Trek. As a kid, my father was into science fiction, hence my fascination with the genre. He introduced me to Star Wars and, as luck would have it, Star Trek. My aunt was also a Star Trek fan and I would watched the show in reruns with both of them. Yes, Star Wars fans, I know the names of all of the characters from the original shows, have read some of the books and have even seen some of the movies. And in all of those years, the one character that I seemed attracted to was not Kirk or the exotic and mysterious Spock. It was Sulu, that stoic helmsman, later turned Captain, who would steer the USS Enterprise to "boldly go where no man has gone before."
Years later, I have always delighted at spotting George Takei, the man who so expertly brought Sulu to life, in other television series or movies. I loved his performance in Heroes, for example, and was delighted to hear him voice Lok Durd in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series (I can hear the Trekkies and Star Wars fans alike shuddering). I also often find myself following George Takei's other interests - his activist work, his online posts, etc. Though I never met him, I feel like he's an old acquaintance that I can instantly relate to and, should we ever meet, would easily fall into conversation with. So, when I learned that George Takei had written an autobiography and that it was available to read on Netgalley, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.
To the Stars takes us through George Takei's life up until 1991. Dedicated to his father, Takei begins his tale with the Silver Anniversary celebration of Star Trek in 1991 and the moment in which the cast was offered the opportunity to place their autographs in a block of cement at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, California. Anyone who has ever been to L.A. knows what a monument this theater is to the industry. Walking past, one can see the handprints, footprints and signatures of a number of famous actors, including Clark Gable, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and more. Obviously, this was a great honor and a fitting way to begin George Takei's story of his life.
After discussing the ceremony, George Takei takes us back to the start, back to his trip to Arkansas from his home in Los Angeles aboard a hot stuffy train. At the age of four, at the height of World War II, George and his family were being brought to a Japanese Internment Camp. His father was a hard working Japanese man who had lived in the United States since he was a teenager His mother was born in the United States and schooled in Japan. All of the Takei children had been born in America. But this was not important to the government at the time who viewed all persons of Japanese descent to be possible enemies of the country, working with Japan to destroy America.
Fortunately, the internment camp experience happened for George at a young age. Though, throughout the book, we can see that the injustice of the experience has shaped the man George was to become, it did not make him bitter. If anything, it made George Takei more aware of just how great a country America can be and how a country is only as great as those in power. The experience served to educate George about the government and the process of protecting one's rights. As I read these early chapters of To the Stars, I began to see the activist George Takei was to become, always lauding the rights of others.
After the internment camps, moving back to Los Angeles was not easy for the Takei family and George describes how hard his father worked to keep the family together and make certain there was always food on their plates. It is clear, through his writing, that George found his father to be an intelligent, hard working and honorable man and that he has tried to follow in his father's footsteps. George's father's attention to detail, prudence, hard work and helping others are values that he has emulated throughout his life and career.
The internment camps also had another profound effect on George Takei's life - they introduced him to movies. In reading To the Stars, we learn how George first fell in love with film and theater and, though he first studied to be an architect, his true love was acting. I was amazed at how supportive his family, particularly his father, was in George's pursuit of an acting career. But then, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - they supported almost everything George set his mind to, including running for various positions in student government, a preview of the political and activist rings George would find himself embroiled in in years to come.
Though I thought I knew quite a bit about George Takei, after reading this book, I realized I knew nothing of his life before the Star Trek television series. I knew nothing of the imprisonment in internment camps, nothing of his life in the L.A. barrio as his father struggled to begin another life for his family after the camps, nothing of his architectural studies and dabbling in politics. I was fascinated by all that To the Stars revealed to me. I was equally fascinated at all of the amazing actors George Takei worked with and was delighted to read about his experiences with and opinions of stars like Dean Stockwell, Richard Burton, Alec Guinness, Cary Grant, James Caan, Jerry Lewis and more.
And then I was into the Star Trek years, learning all of the behind the scenes stuff that I, not being a Trekkie, never really knew. I learned about the early stages of the show, the cancellation, the rebirth in movie format and more. I learned that my opinion of William Shatner was not far off. I learned that George had so closely related to his character that he was willing to fight for Sulu's improved career, not just for more screen time, but because George truly believed that Sulu was better than just a helmsman. And, taking us full circle, I learned the impact Gene Roddenbury's death just prior to the release of Star Trek VI had on the cast and crew who had worked so long to fulfill his Star Trek dreams.
I loved the revelations To the Stars made for me, bringing me that much closer to an actor/activist I have long admired. George Takei's intelligent and easy writing made the journey that much more interesting. I breezed through this book and my only lament is that it ended so quickly. Two decades have passed since this book was written and I wanted more. I know he has written a couple of books about his internet experience, but I would love to know more about his life after Star Trek. Hopefully, he will write another extensive memoir, picking up where he has left off with To the Stars. I know I would be first on line to buy a copy.