As we prepare to embark on a new journey in the Star Trek universe in 2017, our way forward with a new captain and a new crew can only be better informed by looking to the titans who have come before them. The captains and first mates of the various Federation missions undertaken define each series’ most complex relationship. Often built from varying ideals and mutual respect, these officers are the core of what attracts most viewers to the series decade after decade. Perhaps that’s why the debate among fans is so fierce as to where exactly the captains and senior officers rank in terms of their capability, their personality, and their sheer jaw-dropping awesomeness. Fortunately, here’s your definitive list.
10. Kira Nerys, ‘Deep Space Nine’
Okay, so we had to start somewhere, right? Saying that someone is the lowest rank of this esteemed group of characters isn’t really an insult. And Kira Nerys isn’t an unlikable character (and Nana Visitor is a talented actress). The devoutly religious Bajoran woman who served as Benjamin Sisko’s second-in-command found fascinating ways to comb through the complexity of her position as the Bajoran representative aboard the Federation space station.
9. Chakotay, ‘Voyager’
Star Trek’s first Native American star, Robert Beltran’s Chakotay stands as one of the series’ most fearless and admirable warriors; he’s like the human Worf. Where many people would have crumbled in the face of Voyager’s impossible mission, Chakotay rose to the occasion to inspire confidence in all those around him.
8. James T. Kirk, ‘Star Trek’
In the grand history of nerds arguing about Star Trek, the fight has always really boiled down to which captain is best: Kirk or Picard. The assumption is always that the unchosen would be number two in the grand list. Well, that argument is BS, not only because Picard is leagues ahead of Kirk in every category (more on that later), but because Kirk himself doesn’t have half the depth and character that a lot of other people have. His tactics are brutish and outdated, he’s a cad, and he somehow always manages to find a way to get his shirt ripped off in combat (like anyone would want to see that). In a world that’s supposed to be ruled by compassion and knowledge, they got a real turd to take the lead on the Federation’s most important mission.
7. T’Pol, ‘Enterprise’
T’Pol is one of the most emotive Vulcans in the show’s history. She’s first installed aboard the Enterprise to essentially find a reason to shut down the Federation’s first attempt at deep space exploration. Of course, T’Pol’s loyalties soon shift, and with them Jolene Blalock expertly portrays an alien who’s experiencing the positive benefits of impetuousness for the first time.
6. William Riker, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’
Okay, if we’re being totally honest, here, Riker is a bit boring … which is to say that he’s exactly like Kirk. However, his presence in the cast (and Jonathan Frakes’ likably cavalier performance) is significant. Riker is the captain archetype of yesteryear, relegated to a supporting role that arguably best suits his talent. His burgeoning relationship with the ship’s counselor humanizes the adventure-loving hothead, but the core of the character’s likability is in Frakes’ endearing performance. In the actor’s hands, Riker’s character became the arc of a young man learning that forethought and education are the paths to being a better person.
5. Jonathan Archer, ‘Enterprise’
Played to perfection by TV and sci-fi veteran Scott Bakula, Archer is the first captain of the first iteration of the Enterprise to launch into deep space. As a result, he’s a cruder man than the ones that came before him. He’s a human struggling to adhere to the lofty goals his race strives towards. He understands the value and purpose of his mission, but he’s also a flawed (and sometimes completely xenophobic) person. Bakula takes that part and turns Archer into a symbol of humanity’s turning point. He’s a hero for the old world who’s trying to help his species take the next step on the road to knowledge.
4. Benjamin Sisko, ‘Deep Space Nine’
Few captains in the series have been able to convey the kind of gravitas that Avery Brooks delivered during his time at the helm of Deep Space Nine. Even when his origin story took on bizarre and epic supernatural proportions, the actor was able to maintain a firm grasp on the character, who never stopped being instantly relatable. Sisko was a two-fold threat, though, as he wasn’t simply a leader of men, but a fierce combatant whose strategic prowess was put frequently to the test but rarely overcome.
3. Kathryn Janeway, ‘Voyager’
These days, Kate Mulgrew is killing it on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black as the steely Russian, Red. For a while, however, she was at the helm of a ship lost in the uncharted Delta Quadrant. The first woman to captain a Star Trek show, Janeway was one tough broad. She was a no-nonsense captain who would unfailingly sacrifice anything necessary to what she believed to be right. In a setting where the crew could have easily come undone, it was Janeway who kept the course and saved everyone’s lives.
2. Spock, ‘Star Trek’
The real fight for “Who’s Best” boils down to a showdown between a captain and a first mate. It’s real close, but Spock takes a slight back seat to the bald Brit. Poor Spock; he’s the person on board the Enterprise with the most brains, bravery, and capability and he’s basically reduced to babysitting a cavalier fellow who’s trademark is leaping before he looks. Of course, Kirk’s daring does eventually earn him some measure of respect from the Vulcan, but Spock deserves mad credit for showing the saintly restraint that defines his time aboard the human exploration. Even more, Leonard Nimoy deserves immense amounts of respect for the talent with which he portrayed a person ruled by logic but learning to indulge his humanity for the first time in his life.
1. Jean-Luc Picard, ‘Next Generation’
In the grand scheme of things, this is kind of an obvious win, right? Patrick Stewart may be a short, bald British fella, but his steely gaze and booming bass made him a force to be reckoned with, and that was before you got to the fact that Picard was a lover of history, who’d translated his bookishness into immense tactical knowledge. What’s more, Picard was a peace-loving man who sought only knowledge. Combat was never something he desired, which made his time at the helm of the USS Enterprise something to really remember. Of course, the best part of Picard is the man behind the captain, an actor capable of delivering on the promise of those complex emotions.
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