The actress talks filming Tasha Yar's death on 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' in 1988 after one season on the Enterprise NCC-1701-D.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987, Denise Crosby helped Patrick Stewart and co. launch a new chapter of Gene Roddenberry's universe. But unlike Captain Picard and other OG characters, security chief Lieutenant Tasha Yar didn't survive TNG's inaugural outing -- let alone reunite with the Enterprise crew during Star Trek: Picard's final season.
ET was on the set of "Skin of Evil" in 1988, as Crosby filmed Tasha's now-infamous death scene, following a sit-down between the actress and Roddenberry, who "came together agreeably" while discussing her exit from the series.
"I am leaving the show. I am taking off. I am hitting earth, sort to speak, to see what else is out there for me," Crosby announced to ET while being interviewed on the Enterprise's hallway set. "It was a tough decision to make."
Speaking with ET in his office, Roddenberry shared, "[Crosby] said she wanted to be released and explained it. She said, 'If it hurts you at all, I'll wait.'"
He added, "After her being such an asset to the show, and such a pleasant person to have around, I just felt we couldn't stand in her way."
"There are nine of us and it's an incredibly large cast to write for," Crosby explained. "And I sympathize with the writers having to try to give us all meaty roles. That just isn't the nature of the show. We don't have three or four storylines going at one time."
In "Skin of Evil," Tasha, just as she did many times throughout the first season, was part of an away mission to Turkana IV, where a slime-based alien, Armus, kills her unceremoniously. Later, the crew watches a previously recorded holographic message left by Tasha, who reflects on her short time aboard the NCC-1701-D. (In season 3 of Picard, the holo was one of many visual easter eggs in "Surrender," meaning Tasha, however briefly, got to reunite with her TNG family.)
"It's an incredible, incredible episode," Crosby said at the time, weeks ahead of its eventual air date on April 25, 1988. "It's one of the most powerful episodes we've shot this season, and probably will be one of the more powerful ones in the whole series, I would think.”
Roddenberry promised that it's "not a sad, downer script," but rather "it leaves you with tears in your eyes and a sort of smile, too.”
As for becoming the first regular cast member to depart early, Crosby accurately predicted that it would cement her and the character as legends within the canon. "I think that it'll probably elevate me even further… as a kind of cult figure in terms of Star Trek history. And that's great," she said. "She's a great character, Tasha Yar. She will be fondly remembered."
Roddenberry echoed Crosby's mindset, holding a glass half full perspective in the wake of both her decision, as well as the intense uncertainty that initially surrounded the spinoff. "No show I've ever made has lived up to everything I want it to be. It's like lightning has hit twice. We have a marvelous cast. They're truly professional and talented people. And I feel like a man blessed by two families," he said. "I know that sounds impossible and false and everything, but it's exactly the way it is.”
"We've really had a wonderful ensemble, and we've been able to really make something of each role and each character," Crosby added. "And to know that I was in on the ground level with this show is an incredible thing. I am very, very flattered that I could be part of this, and it will always be very special to me."
As for what Crosby said she would miss most about Star Trek? "Probably working with the people. I think it's just been incredible. Working with the people, and being able to really work on the scripts with the writers and directors. And really be a welcome part of the group."
Despite Roddenberry and Crosby's positive outlook on "Skin of Evil," the episode -- and Tasha’s manner of death, in particular -- continues to spark ire among Trekkie generations old and new. Meanwhile, there's a shared acknowledgement that Tasha's exit led to fan-favorite TNG stories, made memorable by on-screen reunions and their creative approaches to get Crosby back on set.
When presented with the old adage, "You can never go home again," on the TNG set in 1990, Crosby replied, "Never say never. It's a really good story."
The story was "Yesterday's Enterprise," a frequent entry on lists of celebrated Star Trek episodes, plus an elevated spot on TNG's "best of" rankings. In the season 3 episode, the Enterprise crew find themselves in a split-timeline (not to be confused with the Mirror Universe), and one where Tasha Yar was never killed by Armus and is still maintaining her original position atop the ship's bridge.
"I'm having a ball. It's so much fun," Crosby told ET behind the scenes, once again donning a Starfleet uniform. "First of all, my old spacesuit is back on. This thing still fits. That's a great relief. And it's weird. It's like I never left… That was the hardest part for me to leave. The friendships."
While Crosby's return was a surprise for fans, she recalled that amid her season 1 exit, "there was talk of me returning for an episode somewhere down the line if we could figure out a good enough story."
As it turned out, the character's resurgence led to another good story, with this one playing out across "Unification Part 1 & II," and Crosby playing the villainous Sela; the half-human, half-Romulan daughter of Alternate Timeline Tasha. Crosby would return one last time for TNG's series finale ("All Good Things…"), followed by her narrating and producing the popular documentary Trekkies and its sequel.
When it comes to legacy, Tasha Yar has seen loving shout-outs in the modern Star Trek era -- in addition to multiple references across TNG's seven seasons, especially by Data (Brent Spiner), who never forgot their romantic tryst ("The Naked Now"). As revealed in season 2 of Picard ("Penance"), Tasha was an officer in the Confederation of Earth, as evidenced by a report citing her name in yet another alternate timeline. Then, in a somewhat therapeutic moment for Tasha fans, Lower Decks' Cerritos crew prank called Armus ("The Spy Humongous"), who's seemingly doomed to be alone while stranded on the planet where Tasha met her grim fate.
While looking back on her time with the franchise, Crosby revealed to StarTrek.com in 2012 that she has no regrets about her departure. "I think you have to take your chances. I was really young… I'd been in acting school really dreaming of playing all kinds of different things. Whether it'll happen or not, you don't know, but you've got to give yourself a chance. God forbid you go through your life thinking, 'What if?'"
Amid fans taking to social media with their disappointment that Tasha has yet to be resurrected in the franchise's landscape today -- or, perhaps, Crosby stepping into another role -- there's plenty of current and future Star Trek programming to fan cast another return. As Lieutenant Yar might put it, those hailing frequencies are open -- and loud.
Star Trek: The Next Generation streams on Paramount+.