Although he took heat and criticism while playing the part of Wesley Crusher in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Days, Wil Wheaton is proud of his Star Trek experience.
One of the toughest things for Wheaton was having his adolescence play out in front of the cameras. “I joke a lot online about how we all have had awkward teenage years,” said Wheaton. “Most people are really lucky because their awkward teenage years are evidenced only in photo albums that mom pulls out at holiday gatherings to embarrass you in front of your new spouse. But for me, it played out in front of the world and it’s preserved on the pages of teen magazines and in videotapes from the old days.”
But playing the role helped shape Wheaton, turning him into the man he is today. “It’s a huge part of my life, Star Trek, and the years I spent doing the show played an enormous role in developing who I am as an adult,” he said. “It was twenty-three years ago and I can look back on it very fondly now.”
If Wheaton could go back and time and have the writers develop Wesley Crusher differently, what would he want for the character? “I always wished that they’d taken advantage of something that I was experiencing in my own life at the time,” said Wheaton. “I was too smart for my own good and I was kind of precocious as a result of that. I was surrounded every day by adults who I could relate to professionally, but not really personally. At the end of the day they could all go out for drinks, and I just went home. We didn’t have a lot in common. I remember Frakes trying to get me excited about jazz and I was trying to get him excited about Depeche Mode, and we just couldn’t find common ground there.
“That created a lot of angst for me because I felt really conflicted. I loved these people and we were so close professionally, but personally I felt very lonely and very isolated. And I imagine that Wesley Crusher would have felt the same way and would have experienced a lot of the same feelings that I did. I think if the writers had spent some time exploring that it probably would have given Wesley some extra dimensions that would have made him appeal to a wider audience.”
At the time The Next Generation aired, the criticism of Wesley Crusher was painful for Wheaton. “…When I was a kid it was very hard,” he said. “It was hard not to take that personally. Kids are awkward. Kids are insecure. I spent fifty hours a week doing Star Trek when I was a kid. That was really my life. To go to conventions back then and have people criticizing me and attacking me personally instead of maybe talking about the writing, it was hurtful.”
Wheaton appears on The Big Bang Theory and will be seen next year on Eureka as a semi-regular.