Geordi La Forge is a regular character in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, 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.
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 LaForge'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 LaForge 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 favourite 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 (Brent Spiner, who portrayed the ST:TNG character Data) and my groomsmen were Michael (Michael Dorn, Worf) and Jonathan (Jonathan Frakes, Commander Riker) and Patrick (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.
In the series, we learn that Geordi was born blind and wears a VISOR (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement), a half-moon-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 Edward M. La Forge (a Starfleet exozoologist) (TNG: "Interface"). 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 for her 2361-64 cruise, during which he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade (TNG: "Conundrum").
LaForge once impressed Captain Jean-Luc Picard by staying up all night to fix a shuttle craft that Picard had mentioned a superficial problem in. 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, Geordi was later promoted to Chief Engineer.
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 annoying 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 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 either was not blind in this time line or had his blindness cured, as he was not wearing his visor. However, Kim and Chakotay succeed in their mission, erasing the alternate time line.
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. Some scholars decry that out of seven principal black characters across the Star Trek series, only LaForge and Tuvok "really qualify as nerds, and neither of them compares with the extraordinary geekiness of the teenaged Wesley Crusher. The construction of the La Forge character then fails by the standards of Afrofuturism.