Nichelle Nichols — famous for playing Nyota Uhura in Star Trek and six classic-era Trek feature films — has died at the age of 89. Her legacy as an activist and icon will live on not just in Trek, but also in the countless people she inspired. Martin Luther King Jr. was a personal fan of Nichols on Star Trek, as are Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams. She changed the direction of NASA forever by recruiting the first Black and female American astronauts ever and changed the way mainstream science fiction TV actually looked. Basically, without Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek couldn’t have changed the world.
But what happened to Uhura, the character, after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country? While the 2008 Tim Russ-directed fan film Of Gods and Men revealed Uhura had become a Starfleet captain, that fact wasn’t exactly canonical. But now, it appears that the production team of Star Trek: Picard has established that Uhura did become a captain at some point, and we even know the name of the ship she commanded, and which years it was in service.
After the news of her death broke, countless colleagues and fans shared their memories and love of Nichols on social media and elsewhere. Among those tributes was an interesting one for Star Trek completists. Turns out, among the various starship plaques glimpsed in the Star Trek: Picard season 2 premiere — “The Star Gazer” — one starship in Jean-Luc’s past was apparently captained by none other than “Captain Nyota Uhura.”
As a tribute to Nichols, Picard production designer Dave Blass tweeted the plaque image of the USS Leondegrance, a starship commissioned in 2288, but captained by Uhura from 2301 to 2305 — basically a decade after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — on a five-year mission of exploration in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. The details from the plaque also reveal that: the Leondegrance became an Academy training ship in 2317— much like the Enterprise did in The Wrath of Khan — and Uhura remained captain until 2333.
Dave Blass tells Den of Geek that the idea of creating a backstory for Uhura’s ship came from the “braintrust,” of John Eaves, Doug Drexler, Geoffrey Mandel, and Michael Okuda. He also makes note that John Eaves had created a separate plaque for “Picard’s first Faster Than Light Certificate,” and that certificate has him as a cadet on the Leondegrance in 2327. This certificate was briefly glimpsed in the Picard season 1 episode “Remembrance,” which means that, as Blass said, it’s normal to ask the question: “Wait, did Picard serve Uber Captain Uhura?”
Was Uhura Picard’s First Captain?
Because all of these details exist as Easter eggs on background plaques, Blass stops short of saying that all of this is real-deal canon. “We never locked it in as we then end up creating these big story moments that ‘technically’ didn’t happen,” he explains.
Still Star Trek canon wiki Memory Alpha (not the non-canon Beta!) lists all the information about Uhura captaining the Leondegrance as canon, including the detail about Jean-Luc Picard serving on the ship during his first faster-than-light trip. Because this period of Star Trek history is largely unexplored it would be amazing to get some kind of story that took place here, either in a novel, comic book, or even an episode of Short Treks. There’s nothing right now to indicate that we’ll be getting the adventures of Captain Uhura anytime soon, but the idea that it’s possible, and that a very young Jean-Luc Picard could appear, is amazing.
We never got to see Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura become captain of her own starship onscreen in Star Trek canon, but it looks like it may have happened anyway. As we remember Nichols, it’s also exciting to think that somewhere, out there in the future, Captain Uhura is teaching the next generation how it’s done.