A Die Hard Bad Guy Was One Of Star Trek’s Most Game-Changing Villains

William Sadler played Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Sloan, who changed the franchise forever.

By Michileen Martin | Published

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There are some who say Star Trek has strayed far beyond Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the franchise, and those criticisms aren’t without merit. Honestly, they wouldn’t have been without merit decades ago. Long before Discovery, Strange New Worlds, or even the Kelvin Timeline films, Trek was going in directions that Roddenberry would–at the very least–have voiced concerns about. In particular, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine included a lot of elements Roddenberry may very well have balked at, including a multi-year serialized war story. Another thing that the Trek creator may have had a few thoughts about was DS9‘s introduction of Section 31: a covert agency operating outside all of the Federation’s laws and ideals, but often with full unspoken blessing of Starfleet’s upper echelons. The agency would go far beyond the boundaries of DS9 and–for better or worse–change the franchise forever. In part, we have William Sadler of Die Hard 2 fame to thank for that change.

William Sadler Outside Star Trek

When you see a movie about a cop from New York City who–purely by chance–winds up in an office building on the very night its occupants are taken hostage by heavily armed thieves, you wouldn’t necessarily think there’s a sequel or four in the mix, but that’s exactly what happened. Two years after the release of Die Hard came Die Hard 2, with Bruce Willis’s John McClane once again finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time he’s at Dulles International Airport waiting for his wife’s flight to land when the place is taken over by terrorists led by Colonel William Stuart, played by William Sadler. Stuart is just as cunning as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber and–unlike Gruber–given the right set of circumstances he could probably push McClane’s face through the back of his head faster than you can say “fanatic.” Of course, since there were three more Die Hard films to come we know that right set of circumstances never arrived for Stuart. Luckily, Sadler got the chance to play a much more nuanced villain for Star Trek.

Sadler’s Die Hard 2 role isn’t the only one he’s known for, of course. As the white-faced Death itself, Sadler played an assortment of games–like Clue and Twister–against the heroes in 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and reprised the role for 2020’s Bill & Ted Face the Music. He was also the good-hearted but often complaining Heywood in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption.

William Sadler Becomes Sloan, Head Of Star Trek’s Section 31

Star Trek has its share of “it was all an illusion” episodes, and one such beast was the Michael Dorn directed “Inquisition” in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s penultimate season. We first meet William Sadler’s Sloan as a man claiming to work for Starfleet Intelligence. Sloan makes like he’s treating Doctor Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) with kid gloves, but we soon learn he believes the doctor is a mole for the Dominion who isn’t even consciously aware of it. After a tense drama in which it seems like everyone aboard DS9 has turned against Bashir, we learn it’s all a hologram and that Sloan works for the clandestine Section 31, which neither Bashir nor most of DS9‘s heroes have ever heard of. He’s convinced of Bashir’s innocence and actually tries to recruit the doctor. He appears twice more and, in spite of doing things that should have him thrown in prison or worse, convincingly portrays himself as a necessary evil working for the greater good.

star trek sloan william sadler section 31
William Sadler in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges”

There are a lot of things in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that sometimes seem to have been utterly forgotten. In spite of commanding an army that–if it had ever had the opportunity–could have crushed the combined forces of the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan Empires, the Dominion has hardly been heard from since DS9 concluded. We don’t hear much about the status of Bajor or the (former? current?) Cardassian Empire. The Prophets have been quiet and Quark and his family have largely been relegated to a series of Easter eggs. But Section 31 has endured far beyond the closing moments of DS9‘s series finale.

In the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, we eventually learn that Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating) joined and left Section 31 before serving under Captain Archer (Scott Bakula), and his old commanding officer coerces him into continuing to help the organization. Much later, in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, the group is integral to the creation of the villain A.I. Control. In 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, we learn the organization is thriving in the Kelvin Timeline. Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus is a member, and has been secretly using that timeline’s version of Khan (Benedcit Cumberbatch) to fight a covert war with the Klingons.

In fact, there has been talk of a Section 31 Star Trek series in development for some time now, with Michelle Yeoh expected to lead the series as the Mirror Universe version of Philippa Georgiou and joined by Shazad Latif as the once Klingon-possessed Ash Tyler. There haven’t been a lot of updates about the series in the past year or so, however. If it does see the light of day, the series, along with all the other Section 31 stories in Trek, will in part have William Sadler to thank for his portrayal of what remains one of the franchise’s most interesting and enigmatic villains.