Star Trek: How Aliens Inspired TNG's Data and Tasha Yar
Star Trek: The Next Generation's Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) and Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) were inspired by characters in James Cameron's Aliens. Picking up from where The Original Series left off in the 23rd-century, Star Trek's epic 24th-century era kicked off with TNG, encompassing 4 TNG movies, the spinoffs Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, and it recently resumed at the dawn of the 25th-century with Star Trek: Picard. While it all started with the crew of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's (Patrick Stewart) U.S.S. Enterprise-D, the creation of two of TNG'score characters can be traced back to James Cameron's 1986 sequel to Alien.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
Data is, of course, one of TNG's pivotal characters, and he's one of the most beloved in all of Star Trek. The golden android died in Star Trek: Nemesis but his story was truly concluded in Star Trek: Picard's season 1 finale, which gave Data the happy ending he deserved. Back in TNG season 1, however, Tasha Yar became the first main Star Trek character to be unexpectedly killed off before the season was even over. Lieutenant Natasha Yar was the original Security Chief aboard the Enterprise-D, and she died in "Skin of Evil," the 23rd episode of TNG season 1 when, during an away mission to the planet Vagra II, Tasha was murdered by an alien creature called Armus. Though an alternate reality version of Yar appeared years later, the original blonde, 27-year-old Starfleet Officer's death was permanent, and the loss of Tasha altered the dynamics of Picard's bridge crew forever. Further, Data and Tasha had become intimate, and while the emotionless android couldn't quantify Yar as a "loved one," Data had to learn to cope with the death of someone close and special to him.
Since Data and Tasha were intertwined in TNG season 1, it's probably no coincidence that the creation of their characters also shares a common origin. After Paramount commissioned a new Star Trek spinoff in 1987 to be overseen by its creator, Gene Roddenberry, he and his initial writing and producing staff set to work conceiving what the new series would be about and who would be the crew of the new Starship Enterprise. In order to get a sense of how the sci-fi genre had evolved in the two decades since the original Star Trek premiered — and to get a feel for the competition in the 1980s — Roddenberry and his team watched a slew of sci-fi movies. But it was James Cameron's Aliens, and specifically the character of Private Jenette Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), that left the strongest impression on Roddenberry. He wanted his own version of the muscular Space Marine in TNG, so Roddenberry created Lt. Macha Hernandez, described in the casting call as "a 26-year-old woman of unspecified Latin descent who serves as the starship's security chief."
According to TNG season 1 story editor David Gerrold, "After Aliens, Gene would say about Jenette Goldstein, 'That woman created a whole new style of feminine beauty. We should have something like that in Star Trek.'" The concept of Matcha Hernandez was a blatant copy of Aliens' machine gun-toting Private Vasquez. However, during the casting stages, Denise Crosby won the role of the revised Security Chief, Tasha Yar (after initially auditioning for Deanna Troi). After Crosby was cast, Tasha Yar's physical description was altered to fit the actress and Tasha became a pioneering character for Star Trek as the franchise's first female action hero who didn't wear the miniskirted uniform other female Starfleet Officers wore (as Troi initially did).
As for Data, the spark for his creation was derived from Bishop, the android portrayed by Lance Henriksen in Aliens. Since Roddenberry had always been fascinated by artificial intelligence, TNG supervising producer Robert Justman recalled in the Star Trek oral history The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, "I thought we could establish a new series "regular" — an android programmed by Starfleet Command with all of the familiar abilities and characteristics of Spock fused with the leadership and humanistic qualities of Captain Kirk." But as the character who would become Data evolved and Brent Spiner was cast, the idea that the android was literally programmed as a combination of Kirk and Spock was abandoned (perhaps so skeptical Trekkers wouldn't dismiss Data as a literal copy of the classic Star Trek heroes).
Instead, Data became the opposite of Spock, an emotionless being who longed to be human as opposed to the half-Vulcan who denied his own humanity. Data and Tasha also became intimate until Crosby, who told TrekMovie in 2012 that she was "miserable" on TNG, became the first-ever series regular to quit a Star Trek series. But Star Trek will always owe a debt to James Cameron's Aliens for helping to bring Tasha Yar and Data to life.