Editor’s Note: This is the beginning of a series exploring the portrayal of women in the Star Trek franchise. Ash Freeman will focus on Star Trek: The Next Generation, April Bey will explore Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager. Those interested in contributing to analyzing the original series, the rebooted films, and other installments in the franchise are invited to submit their ideas for articles.
Star Trek as a whole is host to a vast array of characters, some more memorable than others. Loved or reviled, there are some characters that just stick with you. Female characters, however, seem to get the short end of the stick more often than not when it comes to depth and development.
1. Tasha YarTasha’s character had her roots in the space marine Vasquez, from Aliens. Yar was originally conceived as “Mancha Hernandez,” and read for by Marina Sirtis. The character was renamed to Tasha Yar when Sirtis and Denise Crosby switched roles. Crosby had initially auditioned for the part of Deanna Troi. The effect this could have had on the show had they kept the characters they auditioned for is unknown. As it happened, the death of Tasha in the Season 1 episode “Skin of Evil” would greatly influence the development of Lieutenant Worf. Ironically, it was largely a lack of development for Yar that would cause Crosby to leave the show in the first place.
No Boys Allowed
Yar was built up to be the Enterprise’s badass security officer, able to take down any intruder that might try to harm the ship’s crew and passengers. What we saw, and what caused Crosby to depart, was Yar mainly going up against other female opponents. This fed into a double-standard at the time that didn’t want to see male characters beating up on females. Combined with not having much else to do (besides get space-drunk and bang an overly-introspective RealDoll), Crosby decided it was time to go.
Red Shirt Down
There are conflicting reports as to how amicable Crosby’s departure was, but the end result was the same: Tasha had to be written out. By that point in the season there wasn’t enough time to write an episode dedicated to this, so “Skin of Evil,” an upcoming episode, was hastily rewritten to squeeze in Tasha’s death. The episode involves Deanna Troi and another officer who crash landed on a planet that was home to Armus, one of the most vile and sadistic villains in Trek.
Yet another of several Red Shirts (or Gold Shirts, in this case), Star Trek’s favorite cannon fodder, was slated to die in an attempt to retrieve Troi and the officer from the shuttle. But he would be killed by Armus instead. The opportunity was obvious, and Tasha was killed instead. Opinions vary on if this sudden and unexpected death was realistic and shocking or an insult to Yar’s character, but dead is dead. Well, as dead as you can get in Star Trek, anyway.
A funeral scene for Tasha was written in, and “Skin of Evil” added a little more poignancy with Data reminiscing about how he’d miss her. Worf was her replacement, taking the roles of both Security and Tactical officer for the rest of the series. Oddly enough, the show seemed to chug right along into its second season with no noticeable difference, for better or worse. Crosby went on to attempt a film career, which was largely unsuccessful. Meanwhile, The Next Generation was beginning to pick up steam and gain an audience. Given how wasted Crosby’s character was, it was easy to see why she’d want to leave. However, as the show improved in quality and reputation, it was just as easy to see why she wanted to come back.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise,” arguably one of the greatest episodes TNG ever made, is set in an alternate universe where the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire continued into the present. This is because the Enterprise-C, which was lost in a battle with the Klingons long ago, somehow went forward in time to the present. The Federation largely abandoned its peaceful mission of exploration as a result of this, and Yar was never killed by Armus in “Skin of Evil.”
Guinan, an El-Aurian played by Whoopi Goldberg with the ability to “listen” (who will be covered later in this series), senses that this new timeline is wrong, and that Tasha Yar shouldn’t be there specifically. Upon learning the truth about the original timeline, Tasha chooses to go back in time with the doomed Enterprise-C to put things right, giving the character the heroic sacrifice she should have gotten from the start… at first.
Unfortunately, Tasha’s implied death turned out to be exactly that a couple seasons later. Thought to have died in battle on the Enterprise-C, it would ultimately turn out to be subverted. Denise Crosby still wanted to return to the show, but how could she when Tasha Yar was dead? At her own suggestion, the character of Sela would be created by the writers.
Sela, the half-human, half-Romulan daughter of the Yar from “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” is played by Crosby. It is revealed that Sela betrayed her mother to the Romulans because of her attempt to escape from confinement on Romulus after the Enterprise-C was destroyed. As a result, Tasha was summarily executed, rendering her chance to have died heroically in battle moot. Reaction to Sela seemed mixed, and she only made one more appearance in the series after her debut. The last we would see of Crosby would be in the series finale, “All Good Things…”, on the whole a loving tribute to TNG from its start, and Tasha’s character was given as respectful a send off as the others.
We Hardly Knew Ye
Overall, the tragedy of Yar’s character is that she could have been the Action Girl of television, a full decade before the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series aired. The lack of focus on Yar could have easily come down to being part of an ensemble cast that was a little too large for its own good. Then again, our next subject was around for the full run, and was just as underutilized… or worse.