The Star Trek Next Generation Character That Was Originally Drastically Different

Early plans for Star Trek: The Next Generation had very different conceptions of the main cast, including a security chief inspired by a space marine from Aliens.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Cast
Photo: CBS/Getty

Yaphet Kotto as Jean-Luc Picard? Wesley Snipes as Geordi? Jenny Agutter as Dr. Crusher?

Gene Roddenberry considered all of these actors for Star Trek: The Next Generation before casting Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton, and Gates McFadden. However, the most surprising alternate idea for a TNG character involved Tasha Yar, the ill-fated security chief aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The Tale of Macha Hernandez

The TNG series bible, released before the show premiered as a guide for writers and actors, describes Yar in terms similar, if not completely one-to-one, with the character we know from the series. “Born at a ‘failed’ Earth colony of renegades and other violent undesirables, she escaped to Earth in her teens and discovered Starfleet, which she still ‘worships’ today as the complete opposite of all the ugliness she once knew,” the description explains.

Portrayed by Denise Crosby, Tasha Yar did show great loyalty to Picard and the Enterprise, even if that loyalty fell short of “worship.” And though we knew she had a terrible childhood, the full details wouldn’t be known until the season four episode “Legacy.”

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But the very first description written for Yar in preparation for auditions was very different. So different, in fact, that she wasn’t even called Tasha Yar.

“LT. Macha Hernandez – 26 year old woman of unspecified Latin descent who serves as the starship’s security chief,” read the first casting call for TNG. “She is described as having a new quality of conditioned-body-beauty, a fire in her eyes and muscularly well developed and very female body, but keeping in mind that much of her strength comes from attitude. Macha has an almost obsessive devotion to protecting the ship and its crew and treats Capt. Picard and Number One as if they were saints.”

If a space-fairing Latina warrior with muscles and an attitude sounds familiar, it should.

Macha Hernandez’s description also matches Vasquez, the standout space marine from Aliens. Portrayed by Jenette Goldstein, who also appeared in director James Cameron‘s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Titanic, Vasquez was the standout in a space marine corps filled with colorful characters. While the other marines struggled to shake off their cryosleep (save for Al Matthews’ Sgt. Apone, of course), Vasquez starts doing pull ups and fending off dumb jokes from Hudson (Bill Paxton).

Every single line that Vasquez delivers is an all-timer. When the xenomorphs descend upon the marines and overwhelm them, Vasquez shouts “Let’s rock!” and starts blowing them away. She’s got a fantastic final line, telling Gorman (William Hope) just before they both die in an explosion, “You always were an asshole.”

Unsurprisingly, the first actor the producers considered for the role of Macha was Goldstein, but how the heck would a character like that fit on the deck of the Enterprise? Especially while Roddenberry was in charge? After all, the man was famous for restricting conflict among the crew, which accounts for many of the bumps in TNG‘s infamously uneven first season. It’s hard to see how even a TV-softened version of Vasquez could work on TNG.

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Part of the answer is in the casting announcement. Macha is loyal to the Federation and Picard. So while there would surely be moments in which Macha would have leaned toward violence, a word from Picard would have made her stand down, as often happened with Worf.

Beside Goldstein, another early frontrunner to play the character that would become Tasha Yar was Marina Sirtis. No, the English daughter of Greek parents isn’t at all Latina. But for television producers of the 1980s, brown hair was enough to signify “unspecified Latin descent.” And Goldstein isn’t actually Latina either despite playing a Latina woman in Aliens.

Interestingly, the original description for Deanna Troi said the character was a “cool, Icelandic blonde, almost Spock-like,” according to Crosby. “Marina [Sirtis] was reading for Tasha. Somewhere, about the second or third audition, Gene Roddenberry had this idea: Let’s just switch them and see what happens.”

From Macha to Tasha

When Denise Crosby became the frontrunner for the Security Officer, not even the most incurious casting director could see her as someone named Macha Hernandez. Instead, the show rewrote the character as the Ukrainian-descended Tasha Yar. With the Hernandez connection severed, most callbacks to Vasquez disappeared as well. Yar became a tough character who was told to stop fighting much more than she actually fought, unfortunately turning her into a bit of a boring presence on the Enterprise deck. Yar died an ignoble death in the 23rd episode of season 1, “Skin of Evil,” but it’s hard to begrudge all involved for abandoning the character.

Of course, Crosby did get to return in various forms throughout the show’s run, getting a proper send off for Yar in the wonderful “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and then getting to play the fun villain Sela. And Goldstein eventually found her way to Starfleet too, as a science officer aboard the Enterprise-B in Star Trek Generations and voicing the Enterprise computer on Short Treks.

Even better, the other attempt to pull from Aliens was much more successful. Roddenberry and the other TNG creators loved Lance Henriksen’s gentle but still uncanny take on an android as Bishop. They looked to that quality for Data, which they first found in actor Mark Lindsay Chapman before going with Brent Spiner. Spiner proved to be the ideal choice, not just because he brought Bishop’s disquieting kindness to Data, but also because he could expand on the character to make him unique and not just knock-off.

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With time and the right casting, would Macha Hernandez have also become a distinct and beloved character? Maybe under Yaphet Kotto’s Picard and alongside Wesley Snipes’ LaForge.