Before Leonard Nimoy signed on for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a Vulcan replacement was created, but without Spock it would be a much poorer movie.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture got rid of two potential replacements for Spock (Leonard Nimoy) when the actor finally agreed to return to the franchise. Star Trek was canceled in 1969, and it took a decade for the Enterprise team’s live-action adventures to continue into a series of films. During this intervening period, attempts were made to resurrect Star Trek as a television show titled Star Trek: Phase II in response to the surprise success of Star Trek: The Original Series in syndication. Surprisingly, Spock actor Leonard Nimoy was only offered a guest appearance in two of the thirteen scheduled episodes.
The reason for Nimoy’s reduced involvement is unclear, but the actor believes his memoir I Am Not Spock may have played a small part in giving fellow Star Trek comrades Gene Roddenberry and Paramount , the impression that he no longer wanted to be involved. A new Vulcan character named Xon was created, portrayed by actor David Gautreaux, who participated in costume and make-up testing. When Phase II was scrapped in favor of a theatrically released director Robert Wise insisting that Spock be in the film, Xon’s plans had to change.
What Happened To Spock’s Replacements In Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Xon was written from the film’s script, and actor David Gautreaux was given a different role. Unfortunately for Gautreaux, his new role wasn’t as substantial as the one he would have played in Phase II or a film without Nimoy. He was instead given a small role as Commander Branch, the Starfleet officer who witnessed the destruction of the Klingons by V’Ger. It must be odd for Gautreaux to know that his most notable credit as an actor is replacing Spock in an abandoned Star Trek revival.
Spock also had a potential replacement in the fictional Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the form of Commander Sonak. The Enterprise’s new senior Vulcan science officer would have followed in Spock’s footsteps had it not been for a horrific accident. In one of The Motion Picture’s most disturbing scenes, Kirk (William Shatner) attempts to stabilize their transfer, but is unable to prevent Sonak and his teammate from having their genetic code fatally twisted in the process. Faced with this loss, Kirk observes that he would prefer another Vulcan to Sonak’s now vacant position, hinting at Spock’s eventual return.
Star Trek: The Movie Wouldn’t Have Worked Without Spock
Spock is crucial to the first Star Trek film because it’s his failed spiritual quest that provides the film’s emotional arc. Bringing the TOS team together a decade later, The Motion Picture is a film about finding meaning in later life. In his opening scenes, Spock fails the Vulcan kolinahr ritual, which is designed to purge all emotions. As the Enterprise’s investigation into the V’Ger crisis continues, Spock feels an affinity with the sentient former satellite, as he too questions his very existence.
The first Star Trek movie works because the crux of the film’s existential exploration of meaning is tied directly to Spock. If it had been Xon, a new character unknown to fans and audiences alike, it wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact. The scene where Spock cries upon finally meeting V’Ger doesn’t pack the same punch if it’s just another emotionless Vulcan. Star Trek: The Motion Picture may be unloved in some corners of the fandom, but without Leonard Nimoy’s performance, it would have been much worse.