ByTom Tennant, writer at
Editor/publisher of (@midwestmovies) and MarvelCinematicUniversity (@marvelcineuniv)
Tom Tennant

Are you wondering who played Star Trek’s Hikaru Sulu in the recent Saturday Night Live sketch? The one featuring Chris Pine as William Shatner’s Captain Kirk? You’re not alone. Star Trek and fans all over the world are asking the same question. Who is it? Well, the answer's pretty cool.

The actor is Akira Yoshimura, though he’s no actor at all. Yoshimura is Saturday Night Live’s production designer, a role he’s had since 1980. Prior to that, Yoshimura worked in SNL’s art department. He was there when George Carlin hosted SNL's premiere episode. Better still, Yoshimura has played Sulu in every Saturday Night Live Star Trek sketch ever. It's one of the show's many in-jokes and an Easter Egg for diehard fans. Yoshimura has appeared so often as Sulu on SNL that he might as well be canon.

Sulu To Three 'Star Trek' Captains

Yoshimura first played Sulu in 1976, three years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit theaters. He was at the helm when John Belushi played Kirk alongside Chevy Chase’s Spock in Star Trek: The Last Voyage. In the sketch, NBC executives arrive on the Enterprise bridge, announce that the show is cancelled, and shut the series down.

'Saturday Night Live' [Credit: NBC]
'Saturday Night Live' [Credit: NBC]

A decade later, in 1986, he’d play Sulu alongside William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in Star Trek V: The Restaurant Enterprise. The crew, now running the Enterprise as a restaurant, comes into conflict with Khan (played by Dana Carvey), a health inspector eager to shut down the establishment.

Yoshimura would join Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard when Patrick Stewart hosted the show in 1994. Picard captains a refitted Enterprise-D, now operating as a cruise ship, in Love Boat: The Next Generation.

More than 20 years would pass before Yoshimura’s Sulu would appear again, with Chris Pine, Captain Kirk in the big screen reboot of Star Trek, playing William Shatner’s Kirk in a lost episode of the original series. This time, Yoshimura's one line would cause his co-stars to break character: “Yeah, we’ve never seen him before. It’s weird.”

Saturday Night Live Loves Star Trek

Those four skits comprise just a portion of the love Saturday Night Live has shared with its audience over its historic run.

Shatner appeared in quite possibly SNL’s most famous Star Trek skit: “Get a life!” During the skit, Shatner speaks to a throng of Trekkers who regale him with questions focused on minutiae about various Trek episodes. Frustrated, Shatner tells the crowd to “Get a life! It was only a TV show!” He later recants that his outburst was a portrayal of Evil Kirk from a famous episode. The crowd goes wild.

'Saturday Night Live' [Credit: NBC]
'Saturday Night Live' [Credit: NBC]

SNL even set a Democratic presidential debate sketch at a Star Trek convention, spoofing Rescue 911 — a 1990s reality TV show hosted by Shatner — with Patrick Stewart (played by Michael McKean) filling in, and poking fun at extreme Trekkers with the "Worf M.D." skit.

Pine and Zachary Quinto even appeared in a "Weekend Update" segment right before the release of the Star Trek cinematic reboot. During their visit, the actors reassure two Trekkers in the audience that the new movie fits seamlessly into Star Trek canon.

'Saturday Night Live' [Credit: NBC]
'Saturday Night Live' [Credit: NBC]

But when they admit they don’t really understand the technobabble they have to speak and are threatened by concerned fans, Trekkers become visibly angry. It isn’t until Leonard Nimoy appears that cooler heads prevail. He tells the fans not to worry, assures Pine he will be accepted as the new captain, and that fans will deem Quinto not as good as the original Spock, but "ultimately OK.”

Which Star Trek segment on SNL has been your favorite?


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