The infamous fan dance by Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier began as a joke solution to a problem in the film’s story.
Uhura’s (Nichelle Nichols) infamous Star Trek movie moment started out as a joke. As the Communications Officer of the USS Enterprise commanded by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Lt. Uhura appeared in the three seasons of Star Trek: The Original Series and all six movies starring the TOS cast. Uhura became an iconic presence despite her role as, essentially, a background character. Uhura got to shine in parts of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but her most embarrassing moment was her fan dance in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
In the first act of Star Trek V, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise arrive at Nimbus III, “the Planet of Galactic Peace,” to liberate it from Sybok (Lawrence Luckinbill), who was revealed to be the Vulcan half-brother of Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Sybok and his ragtag army had captured the frontier town of Paradise City, and Kirk mused how to infiltrate the fortress and rescue the prisoners inside. The solution was to distract Sybok’s men thanks to Uhura, who enraptured them with her fan dance: a performance on top of a sand dune where she sang and danced in the nude, using fans to cover her body. In a film peppered with ill-conceived ideas, Uhura’s Star Trek V fan dance ranks high on the list.
The Origin Of Uhura’s Star Trek V Fan Dance Was A Joke
In The Journey, a behind the scenes documentary included in the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Blu-ray, screenwriter David Loughrey explained the origin of Uhura’s fan dance: “And really meaning it as a joke,” Loughrey suggested to director William Shatner and producer Harve Bennett, ‘Well, why don’t we put Uhura up at the top of the sand dune singing a song and doing a dance?’” With the idea now on the table, Loughrey said Shatner and Bennett, “looked at me, and they said ‘that’s it — we’ll do it!’” On set, Nichelle Nichols performed the fan dance in the nude, but she told StarTrek.com she wore a g-string.
Shatner famously encountered numerous creative and budgetary issues creating Star Trek V. Bill’s concept of the Enterprise encountering Sybok, a holy man who seeks God, was always fraught with problems, and the budget Paramount forced Shatner to adhere to meant excising his more fanciful ideas, like giant rock men fighting Kirk. It’s likely Shatner that seized upon Uhura’s fan dance idea as an expedient way to solve a minor issue in the story so that he could focus on more important matters. In addition, it probably seemed like a good piece of business for Uhura where she helps the Enterprise crew accomplish their mission.
Why Nichelle Nichols Was Disappointed By Uhura’s Star Trek V Fan Dance
One aspect of Uhura’s fan dance that disappointed Nichelle Nichols is that her voice was dubbed in the final film. In her 1994 autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichols wrote, “Since the time we finished shooting [Star Trek V], I’d appeared at probably a dozen fan conventions. All the fans knew that I sang, so they would be thrilled to learn that Uhura would be singing in the new film.” Unfortunately, it isn’t Nichols’ singing voice heard in the film.
Uhura’s Star Trek V fan dance was set to the song “The Moon’s a Window to Heaven,” which was performed by the band Hiroshima (which George Takei was a big fan of). Star Trek V‘s composer Jerry Goldsmith worked with Hiroshima’s band leader Dan Kuramoto to create “The Moon’s a Window to Heaven,” and the vocalist of the track is Machun, but Nichols was initially promised it would be her. Uhura’s fan dance in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was probably best left as a joke – indeed, it was Nichols riffed on it in a popular episode of Futurama – but it’s certainly an unforgettable moment of the only William Shatner-directed Star Trek film.
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