The Weapon That Saved ‘Star Trek’

Star Trek’s original Phaser Rifle

CBS Star Trek’s original Phaser Rifle

As most “Star Trek” fans are aware, there are actually two beginnings to their favorite franchise. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Trek, didn’t get just one shot to start his series. The idea was so novel and different that NBC gave him a second try. 

In the world of American Football, “The Cage” would be called a “false start” — something wasn’t quite right, but there was time for a “do-over.” Roddenberry’s first pilot was rejected, but NBC liked enough in what they saw that they wanted him to try again. So he gave them “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” 

According to, NBC told Roddenberry that they wanted “a simpler, less erotic action-adventure story and a somewhat different cast.”

Uncaging Trek

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So, there were big changes for this second pilot. Most point out that Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) was now in charge of the Enterprise, as Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) was no longer part of the story. The female executive officer known as Number One (Majel Barrett) was gone and replaced by Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who was originally just the first lieutenant in “The Cage.”

There were several changes to the crew, the sets — notably the way the main viewer and other screens looked and acted — and a few essential differences to props. One subtle yet easy-to-miss change was the addition of the phaser, which was not a part of “The Cage.”

Enter ‘the Phaser’

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Fans might not realize that the “phaser” was a later addition to Trek since, from the very start, Kirk, Spock, and the other members of the Enterprise crew used them liberally. But in “The Cage,” Captain Pike and his officers used “round barreled lasers.” These were different from the phaser and more like the “ray guns” or “blasters” that were seen in the film “The Forbidden Planet,” which many consider to be the spiritual precursor to Roddenberry’s show.

On “Star Trek,” the phaser name actually is an acronym, meaning “PHASed Energy Rectification.” According to Mike Okuda and Rick Sternbach’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Technical Manual,” the phaser used energy stored and “converted to another form toward a target.” Okuda and Sternbach write that the phaser replaced the laser and other EM (electromagnetic) weapons. 

In “The Cage,” these lasers were an upgrade from what Roddenberry called for in his original TOS “pitch document,” where he said that the crew would be armed with “rifles and pistols with an adjustment and will fire simple bullets, explosive projectiles, or hypodermic pellets which will stun or tranquilize.”

The lasers became phasers because Roddenberry did not think the audience would believe that a laser could do all of these fantastic things. He asked the great Matt Jefferies to design a new weapon, and with the help of Desilu’s propmaster, Wah Chang, the phaser was born. 

Jefferies’ design was really for two phasers — the pistol-style phaser and the power-pack (which fans dubbed the “jewel phaser”), which popped out of the top of the pistol. Both the Phaser 1 (pistol) and Phaser 2 (power-pack) are beloved by fans and collectors. 

The Phaser Rifle

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For his second shot at a pilot, Roddenberry wanted something even more dramatic. Fans may recall “Where No Man Has Gone Before” centered around two ship crew members gaining god-like powers. It was up to Kirk to stop them with a high-powered phaser rifle. 

The phaser rifle was created not by Jefferies but by Reuben Klamer, who had been a part of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Klamer created the gun used by the character Napoleon Solo on “U.N.C.L.E.,” and Roddenberry wanted something just as dramatic. 

“He wanted me to do a rifle, a special kind of rifle,” Klamer said of Roddenberry in this interview with Julien’s Auctions. Roddenberry told Klamer that he had just two weeks to complete this new rifle. Klamer said that two weeks wasn’t enough time. 

A 2-Week Deadline

Julien's Auctions Star Trek Phaser Rifle2013-03-29T17:47:03Z

“To come up with the theme and the design in two weeks — that was impossible,” said Klamer. Roddenberry told Klamer that they needed this prop in two weeks because they were about to shoot the second pilot. 

“Bill Shatner jumps up and says ‘we gotta have it — we gotta have it!’” Klamer recalled. “It took a lot of hard work and at least three men on it at all times to put it together.”

Roddenberry returned to Klamer’s offices after two weeks passed to pick up the new weapon and was thrilled.

“This is it! This will do the job! Those guys at NBC are going to be so surprised when they see this in their show,” Roddenberry told Klamer. 

Klamer kept ownership of his phaser rifle, which eventually was auctioned for a cool $231,000. For Klamer, the phaser rifle is more than just a prop. In his opinion, it was one of the reasons why the second pilot worked. 

“This rifle was instrumental in selling ‘Star Trek’ as a series,” Klamer said in the interview

This phaser rifle prop was never used on Trek again. 

READ NEXT: How One of the Worst ‘Star Trek’ Films Became Its Most Significant

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