Geordi La Forge aboard the USS Enterprise-D
|Affiliation||United Federation of Planets
USS Enterprise-D helmsman (1st season) and chief engineer
USS Excalibur, first officer
USS Enterprise-E chief engineer
USS Challenger, commanding officer (alt timeline)
Chief Engineering Officer
Captain (alt timeline)
|Rank||Lieutenant Junior Grade
Commander, Star Trek Nemesis (very end)
Captain, alt timeline
|Portrayed by||LeVar Burton|
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge (pronounced /ˈdʒɔrdi ləˈfɔrdʒ/) is a regular character in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and its feature films, played by LeVar Burton. He served as helmsman of the USS Enterprise-D in the first season, then occupied the role of the chief engineer for the rest of the series and in the TNG-era films.
La Forge is naturally blind so one of his trademarks in the series is wearing a VISOR, which is later replaced by ocular prosthetic implants in the last three films.
Previous to LeVar Burton being cast as Geordi La Forge, Tim Russ was a serious contender for the role and was almost picked. Russ eventually was cast into the Star Trek universe as Tuvok.
LeVar Burton auditioned for the role in 1986. He had previously appeared in Roots and other major network shows. He stated that "years ago I was doing a TV movie called Emergency Room and it was a fairly miserable experience. But there was a producer on that show, a man named Bob Justman.... six, seven years later, I get this call from Bob Justman and he’s working at Paramount on this new Star Trek series and he said I remember your love of the show, we’ve got this character, would you be interested in coming in and seeing us? And I said is Gene involved? He said he is. And I said I’ll be right there." Roddenberry was very pleased with Burton at his very first audition.
Burton also commented that he was anxious about his role, because he feared that ST:TNG was going to flop: "At the beginning, you know, there was a lot of conversation in the press at what a bad idea this was [but] I thought that since Gene was involved we had a real good shot of making a good show that would carry on in that tradition of Star Trek."
Throughout the series, Burton was equipped with Geordi La Forge's trademark VISOR, which he found extremely unpleasant to wear: "It’s pretty much a living hell... 85 to 90 per cent of my vision is taken away when the VISOR goes on... I bumped into everything the first season - Light stands, overhead microphones, cables at my feet - I tripped over it all... So it’s a sort of conundrum - the blind man, who puts on the VISOR and sees much more than everyone else around him, when the actor actually does that he’s turned into a blind person. Then there was the pain. In the second season, we re-designed the VISOR and made it heavier and the way we actually affixed it was that we screwed it, we literally screwed it into my head and so there were screws that we would turn and there were flanges on the inside that would press into my temples and so after fifteen or twenty minutes of that I got headaches. So I had a daily headache for about six years. Which was also no fun."
During the series, Burton's character was Chief Engineering Officer, and thus was often portrayed repairing machines or discovering new scientific phenomena. Burton commented how hard it sometimes was to straight-facedly deliver the Treknobabble used by La Forge in these scenes: "Technobabble brings with it its own challenge... I’m not an engineer, I just played one on TV. The methodology that I found most successful was to really spit it out as fast as I possibly could. Giving the illusion that I knew what I was talking about when, in fact, I really didn’t."
Asked about his favorite scenes, Burton answered that he especially liked holodeck adventures: "The Holmes and Watson episodes for Data and Geordi, the Robin Hood episode, you know, those were a lot of fun for us. I think the holodeck was a very cool concept, you know. You can create a three dimensional reality ... I mean, how cool is that?"
Finally, Burton has stated how much he profited from ST:TNG. He said: "When I got married my best man was Brent (Spiner, who portrayed the ST:TNG character Data) and my groomsmen were Michael (Dorn, Worf) and Jonathan (Frakes, Commander Riker) and Patrick (Stewart, Captain Picard). No-matter what, we will always be family to each other. I mean in every respect. There have been times when, there have been feuds within the family, when it hasn’t been all hugs and kisses. But we have stuck together."
Gene Roddenberry created the character in honour of George La Forge, a quadriplegic fan of the original Star Trek series who died in 1975.
In the series, we learn that Geordi was born blind and wears a VISOR (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement), an arc-shaped prosthetic attached at the temples that provides him with vision. Interfacing directly with his brain, the device enables him to "see" much of the electromagnetic spectrum – radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, but not normal light perception, though it does allow Geordi to see the visible light section of the EM spectrum.
La Forge was born February 16, 2335 in the African Confederation on Earth to Silva La Forge (a Starfleet command track officer and eventual Captain of the USS Hera NCC-62006 (TNG: "Interface") and Edward M. La Forge (a Starfleet exozoologist) (TNG: "Interface"). He has also mentioned having a sister. He attended Zefram Cochrane High School (Star Trek: First Contact) and then Starfleet Academy from 2353 to 2357 (TNG: "Conundrum"). In 2357, he was assigned as an ensign aboard the USS Victory under Captain Zimbata (TNG: "Elementary, Dear Data"). After his first cruise, he was transferred to the USS Hood serving with then Lt. Commander William Riker for her 2361-64 cruise, during which he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade (TNG: "Conundrum").
La Forge once impressed Captain Jean-Luc Picard by staying up all night to fix a shuttle craft that Picard mentioned had a superficial problem. Upon learning this, Picard decided he wanted Geordi on his next command ("TNG": "The Next Phase") which ended up being the Enterprise-D where Geordi was assigned to him as a helmsman. At the beginning of Season 2, he was promoted to Lieutenant and named Chief Engineer; in Season 3, he rose to Lieutenant Commander, a rank he held until his promotion to Commander at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis.
In 2372, Geordi is transferred to the new Sovereign class starship Enterprise-E. When the ship travels back in time to the 21st century, he works alongside Dr. Zefram Cochrane and helps him successfully launch Earth's first warp-capable vessel and achieve first contact with the Vulcans (Star Trek: First Contact).
During the Ba'ku incident, La Forge began to experience pain in his eyes after sojourning on the planet. Doctor Crusher removes his ocular implants to discover that his optic nerves have regenerated and he has gained normal sight. This effect is caused by the healing properties of the Ba'ku ring system and, at the time, it is speculated that the effect will fade after La Forge leaves Ba'ku (Star Trek: Insurrection). This diagnosis proved correct; La Forge again wears the implants in Star Trek Nemesis.
In the alternate timeline of TNG series finale "All Good Things...", La Forge has, by 2395, married Leah Brahms and had three children (Alandra, Brett, and Sydney) with her. He had left Starfleet and became a novelist. However, these events may never happen because of the divergence of the time line at the episode's end.
In the alternate 2390 future in Star Trek: Voyager's "Timeless", La Forge is a captain and the commanding officer of the USS Challenger, doing his best to stop Harry Kim and Chakotay from altering the time line. He had micro-implants in his eyes, allowing him to see without wearing his visor. However, Kim and Chakotay succeed in their mission, erasing the alternate time line.
In the hologram alternate history depicted in Future Imperfect, La Forge had cloned eye implants and had no need of his visor.
In the Star Trek fictional universe, a VISOR is a device used by the blind to artificially provide them with a sense of sight. The device scans the electromagnetic spectrum, creating visual input, and transmits it into the brain of the wearer via the optic nerves. It is a thin, curved device, with the sensors on the convex side, that covers the eyes and attaches at small input jacks implanted in the temples. The only VISOR seen on screen was used by Geordi La Forge, who was blind from birth. VISOR stands for "Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement", though the complete term never appeared in the series, only in novelizations and other written spin-offs.
The VISOR also caused him persistent pain, which could not be treated without interfering with the device. It can be presumed that use of a VISOR is very rare, since no other characters in the franchise have appeared with a similar enhancement, and both high-ranking doctors who served on the ship were unfamiliar with the device.
The device does not reproduce normal human vision, but does allow the character to "see" energy phenomena invisible to the naked human eye, as well as allowing him to view things at infrared and at microscopic levels. This also allowed the character to see human vital signs such as heart rate and temperature, giving him the ability to monitor moods and even detect lies. In the TNG episode "Heart of Glory", Captain Picard keys the main viewer to Geordi's visor allowing him to see the way he does. Seeing all the overlapping and different wavelengths was highly confusing to the Captain, prompting him to ask Geordi how he was able to differentiate between them all. Geordi's response made the comparison of child hearing many different sounds at once and eventually being able to pick out what they needed; it is a learned talent. The character's special visual abilities were responsible, at least in part, for his unusually rapid advancement in rank seeing as how his enhanced eyesight was a kind of built-in diagnostic tool allowing him to sidestep certain mechanical sensory tools.
Twice in the series, Geordi refused to be granted natural vision, first by Commander Riker who had been given extraordinary amounts of power by Q and later by Doctor Katherine Pulaski. Geordi refused the gift of natural eyesight in the first instance because it would have come at the cost of Riker's humanity.
Sometime between 2371 and 2373, before the time of the film Star Trek: First Contact, the VISOR was replaced by prosthetic implants, performing not only the same functions, but according to Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki, the new implants have even more enhanced functions. On film, they are depicted using a combination of cosmetic contact lenses and CGI.
New Scientist magazine reported on research as to whether a device similar to a VISOR can actually be created for blind or visually-impaired people. Partial sight has been successfully restored to blind rats by installing an implant behind the retina.
Several types of visual prosthesis are in development or trials in humans, and one device has been approved for sale in the European market. As of 2006[update], 16 blind people worldwide have had sight partially restored in a procedure where electrodes implanted in their brains take impulses from a camera to allow patients to see lights and outlines of objects.
LeVar Burton, who played the character of Geordi La Forge, disliked the VISOR prop because it restricted his peripheral vision – albeit less than its prototypes – and the constant pressure of the prop's arms on his temples caused headaches. The original prop was created from a Honda automobile air filter.
Critics and fans have responded favorably to the character. Burton himself has complained on DVD featurettes about the lack of romantic interests for his character. At least one scholar, however, decries that out of seven principal black characters across the Star Trek series, only La Forge and Tuvok "really qualify as nerds, and neither of them compares with the extraordinary geekiness of the teenaged Wesley Crusher." According to Dr. Ron Eglash, then, the construction of the La Forge character fails by the standards of Afrofuturism.