I want you to think about something dear reader: Name 5 Romulans throughout Star Trek.
Are you thinking about it yet? Here I’ll try and help you out
There you have it, what are likely the single most memorable names in regards to Romulans, and the worst thing is that Sela is barely even Romulan, she’s actually half human. So I’m going to let you browse through that list of names, and I want to you to realize that there has never been a Romulan who has made an appearance for more than 7 episodes. And the single Romulan who did manage to get themselves those 7 appearances was our half romulan mongrel friend Sela. I think the point that I am trying to make is that Star Trek has a nasty habit of just not giving any of the Romulans any sort of personality.
In fact, all we really know about the Romulans is that they are either traitors to the Romulan people OR they are the members of the Romulan people who have been assigned to kill those traitors. I’m almost willing to assign the Romulan people this sort of collective personality, but the Borg already have that. Than it occurs to me that the Borg have shown more individuality than the Romulans ever will. At least the borg that appeared throughout the franchise had a personality that wasn’t a copy and pasted “I am Sneaky” or “I am trying to kill sneaky”.
Even Commander Tomalak, who has the single most appearances as a pure-blooded romulan on the show, only manages to pull in 5 consecutive stories, all of which revolve around him trying to hide something. I could swear that Star Trek’s writers were in some kind of competition to find out how many Romulans they could draft in a story simply to dismiss them a few stories later, never to be seen again.
The thing is that the Romulans are considered one of Star Trek’s “Core Races” in that they make up one of the 3 things that someone might remember about Star Trek if you asked the average man on the street. He will probably remember Kirk (Representing the Federation), the Klingons, and the Romulans. This is likely because TOS tended to weigh pretty heavily on the Romulans in addition to the fact that Romulus was intended to represent Space China as opposed to the Klingons space Soviet Union and the Federation Space United States.
Originally in fact, it was going to be the Romulans who were going to have the ship in Star Trek 3. The Bird of Prey was named that because the writers were going to fill it with employees from Space China. This is why the Bird of Prey was called a Bird of Prey and not something like the traditional naming structure for the Klingons like the “D-7” or some amount of Klingon Gibbirish like the “Vor’Cha” and “Negh’var”. It was intended to round off the set of races we cover in Star Trek movies with 1 having Klingon ships, 2 having Federation ships, and finally 3 having a Romulan ship as a primary part of the plot.
And if you look at the crew for this Bird of Prey, you’ll quickly realize that save the makeup, you could have a Romulan reading off those lines and nothing would really change. Sure, Star Trek 6 might have had to rework Kirk’s possibility, but I doubt that Star Trek 3 canceled their idea to go with Romulans simply because they wanted Star Trek 6 to have a reason for Kirk to hate the Klingons.
So the Romulans, one of Star Trek’s core races, didn’t even get their own movie until Nemesis, after the Borg, the Sona, The Klingons, Pseudo-God, and a Whale. The best part of that is that the movie was about how the Romulans had lost out their government to the group of slave lizard people they keep locked away on their home planets dilithium plant. Even in the movie about romulans, they managed to be the guest stars for the alien races department.
Lets add to this that every time Star Trek does get to have a chance to mention terrible things happening to the Romulans in passing, they do. Every time TNG managed to pull off an alternate timeline where they are in the future, The Romulans are swiftly mentioned to include that the Klingons killed them all. DS9, not being the type to miss a beat, didn’t even bother to include the Romulans in their alternate dimension; instead choosing to hand the role of awesome species over to the Space Germans the Cardassians. Hell, even the most recent movie took great pride in letting the audience know that in the future, all Romulans will die.
I’m not sure why the Star Trek writers tend to hate the Romulans so much, I’m sure they have a decent reason for doing so. The best explanation I can give is that the Star Trek writers aren’t really sure how to handle a race that is all about being sneaky and governmental change. It’s this terrible handling of the Romulan character that really just gets them pushed to the side. In DS9 their super secret military organization the “Tal Shiar” which had been described in TNG as the best of the best was quickly dismissed as “Good but not Good Enough” in favor of the Obsidian Order.
Than to seal the deal, we decided to send off the entirety of the Tal Shiar off to the founders homeworld, because honestly the Romulans just needed another thing to rain on their parade. They were even tricked into a war by a Cardassian tailor.
But that’s what you have, the long and short of the Romulan story is that they are constantly getting rained on by the writers. If the show had “O’Brien’s day must be terrible” on the individual level, than it also had “The Romulan Empire must have terrible luck” on a large-scale level.