She made a name for herself in Hollywood and in the hearts of “Star Trek” fans the world over. Her performance as Saavik in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” was one of many reasons why the film was so well-received by critics and moviegoers alike.
If she was so great as the Vulcan understudy for Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), why did Kirstie Alley leave the franchise?
To this day, Ms. Alley’s departure from “Star Trek” is hotly debated and controversial among fans. There are debates online over the better Saavik, Alley, or Robin Curtis, who replaced her for “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” Some wonder who was the best female Vulcan in the film series, including Kim Cattrall in the mix. Cattrall took on the role of Valeris for “Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country.”
Alley Was Cast by ‘Wrath’ Director Nicholas Meyer
What is so special about Alley’s performance as Saavik in “Star Trek II” is that it was essentially her first paying gig in Hollywood. Director and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer cast Alley out of obscurity and gave her the role of a lifetime.
“That was my first acting job,” Alley told The Chicago Tribune in 1996. “So I owe everything to that film, to Nick.”
“I remember every single, solitary second of the experience,” Alley said in the interview. “I was the happiest girl in the world because Nick gave me the biggest shot anyone could ever give an actress.”
Saavik Was Supposed to Be Spock’s Daughter
Saavik’s genealogy was supposed to be half-Vulcan and half-Romulan. While this was never explained on “Star Trek II” or the subsequent appearances of Saavik, this is one of the facts that is written and remembered about the character.
According to Forgotten Trek, Saavik was initially supposed to be the daughter of Spock. After encountering the Romulan operative known only as the “Romulan Commander,” Spock’s genetic material was used to spawn Saavik. This all was to have taken place after the TOS episode “The Enterprise Incident.”
This was all in one of the script treatments written by Samuel A. Peeples. Saavik’s heritage was discussed by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Kirk (William Shatner) in a deleted scene. Still, no mention was made of Saavik being Spock’s daughter.
Nimoy Didn’t Want a Half-Romulan
Thanks to a two-part interview on StarTrek.com, fans can read precisely why Alley’s Saavik was so different from Curtis’s version.
“Leonard felt that Saavik was Vulcan,” said Curtis in the interview. “That was his choice, and his choice was my choice. I played Saavik the way he asked me to play her. My job as the actress is to do what my director wants, and that’s what I did.“
Alley Left ‘Star Trek’ Over Money
According to Kirk himself, Alley left the franchise over money. In his book “Star Trek Movie Memories,” Shatner wrote that Alley was given an offer that she could refuse.
“Paramount’s offer came in very, very low; it was less than they offered me for ‘Star Trek,’ so I figured they weren’t interested in me playing the part,” Alley told Shatner.
Shatner also wrote that when Curtis took on the role of Saavik, she gave a “solid performance in a rather thankless role.”
Nimoy also went on the record with Shatner as to why Alley didn’t come back as Saavik.
“We just couldn’t afford her,” Nimoy said in “Star Trek Movie Memories.” Nimoy was both a star and the director of the film. “She’d been paid a decent sum for ‘Star Trek II’ for a beginner, and I think the studio was prepared to pay her more than twice that for ‘III.’”
Interestingly, Alley replaced another actress who left a successful show when she stepped into the television show “Cheers.” Alley replaced Shelley Long, who left “Cheers” to concentrate on a film career.