The Chicago Theatre went back to its roots last night, and resumed its role as a movie palace for a special screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan featuring a special visit from Lieutenant Sulu himself, George Takei. The familiar smells of popcorn and other concessions that permeated the “Wonder Theatre of World” filled the air once again and I could imagine this ornate auditorium as what it originally was- the prototype for all the movie palaces that came after.
One of my favorite experiences as a movie-goer is seeing a movie with an audience you know already appreciates it, whether that’s a midnight premiere of a highly anticipated movie in a series like The Force Awakens, a nationwide event like the Day of The Doctor for us Whovians, or the screening of a classic Star Trek favorite. It makes the audience less a group of strangers and more a group of friends, getting nostalgic over the interplay between Spock and Kirk, the ever-present crankiness of Bones, or Sulu’s incredibly expressive reactions to orders.
In this case, though, when the credits rolled on the film, the fun was just beginning, as George Takei took the stage. He was everything we hoped he would be- warm, funny, and fearless, and he managed a balance of entertaining stories and inspirational moments that would potentially fall flat in other cases.
George, as he prefers to be addressed, regaled us with descriptions of each of his castmates based off of one defining word, and in so doing told even seasoned Trekkies tales they may not have heard before. His respect for the Trek franchise and what it was trying to do were certainly evident, and his love for his character and fellow cast. In one of my favorite moments, he related a story about Leonard Nimoy, who upon finding out that Nichelle Nichols and Takei were not being included as voices in Star Trek: The Animated Series, insisted upon their inclusion as a condition of his own participation.
He also told of a time before he was out of the closet, when with Walter Koenig on set, he realized the actor knew he was gay. As they were chatting over coffee on set in the morning, Koenig had gestured at Takei to check out a group of particularly attractive male extras, giving a congratulatory wink to George when he caught on to his meaning.
It wasn’t all laughs though, as Takei told of his struggles, both as a Japanese American whose entire family was forced into the Arkansas internment camps during WWII, and as an actor who was in the closet. He also addressed current issues, like the immigration ban, making it crystal clear that the ban set the precedent for the same thing to happen to Muslim-Americans that happened to him as a Japanese American when he was younger, and urging the audience to take action, signing a petition he started on Care2 (and which you can access here) which is intended as a gesture of solidarity to the Muslim-American community.
Overall, the evening solidified our affection for this outspoken, hilarious and intelligent man, and felt like a bit of a love letter to a community that’s so often the butt of jokes, and we left feeling just a little more hopeful that the world could be a better place. We know for sure this won’t be the last we hear of the prolific Takei, and we’ll be anxious to welcome him to town next time he’s here.