‘Star Trek’ Insider Spills the Secret Behind Guinan’s ‘Sixth Sense’

Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan on 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

YouTube Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan on 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

In the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), Guinan, the El-Aurian alien portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg, was a character shrouded in mystery. Every once in a while, fans would get a detail or two about her backstory, but these revelations often created more questions than they answered.

One such detail became a central part of the storyline for one of TNG’s most beloved episodes, “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” When the timeline of the Enterprise D was altered by the appearance of Enterprise C, Guinan was the only being on either ship aware of the changes. When she tried to convince Captain Jean-Luc Picard that something was wrong, Guinan revealed that her species was capable of seeing beyond the bounds of time and space.

Though this “sixth sense” was central to Guinan’s character, it wasn’t originally part of the character at all. In fact, Guinan’s ability was a spur-of-the-moment decision made to solve a storyline problem.

In a February interview with Heavy, Eric Stillwell, one half of the team that developed the story idea behind “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” revealed how the decision was made and discussed the impact it had on the Star Trek canon.

Solving ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’

Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan in Star Trek the Next Generation


“Yesterday’s Enterprise” has some complicated alternate timeline mechanics. Stillwell revealed that when the writing team was refining the details of the story, they kept getting stuck on one particular aspect.

“The difficult part of coming to a resolution on the story, was we couldn’t figure out ‘how does the crew of the Enterprise realize that there’s been a time change if they’re not aware of it?’ And we had all these machinations where they’d sent a probe through the anomaly and then the probe came back afterwards and it was all technical and boring. Finally, it was Michael Piller who came up with the idea that Guinan, that her species, could see through multiple dimensions and so she became the key character in that part of the script.”

Initially, some of the writers didn’t like the idea. They said that it was “too convenient” that one of the existing characters just happened to have this ability. However, the writers were on a tight deadline, and they needed to get the script together as soon as possible. So, they went forward with the idea.

A Critical Change to Canon

Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan in Star Trek Generations


At the time, the impact that this quick decision would have on the Star Trek canon wasn’t apparent. However, the ability to see beyond the bounds of time and space became one of the defining characteristics of the El-Aurian species and was used as a central plot device multiple times.

In “Redemption Part II,” the first episode of the fifth season of TNG, Guinan used her sixth sense to confirm that the version of Tasha Yar that went back to the Enterprise C timeline did survive long enough to have a daughter. Guinan’s ability to see glimpses of that timeline also allowed her to confirm that Sela was Yar’s daughter.

In the movie Star Trek: Generations, Guinan’s ability to see through space-time allowed her to communicate with Picard as he journeyed through The Nexus, a temporal anomaly. Without her guidance, Picard never would have been able to find Kirk and defeat Soran.

So, a snap decision made to neatly wrap up a plot hole became an essential part of the Star Trek universe. Without Piller’s quick thinking, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” might have looked much different and the El-Aurians might have remained an obscure mystery.

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