The Captains and their Journeys
With the announcement of the much-anticipated Star Trek 3 and the return of Christopher Pine as the cunning Captain Kirk, it's time to step back and reflect on Star Trek's beginnings as a television series and examine two of the most iconic characters in Star Trek, and along with that, the two most successful series in the franchise.
Captain Kirk marks the beginning of the era of Star Trek, plunging the world into a new adventure in a time of uncertainty. During the 1960s, the space race was going full speed, and the premiere of Star Trek capitalized on the curiosity that came with the first steps taken into space. James Kirk came off as bold, cunning, risky, and charming. He was the ideal person to be leading the Federation into undiscovered territory.
Like all things, The Original Series came to an end in 1969 after three years of running. Another live action series was not present until The Next Generation premiered in 1987. The new captain of the flagship Enterprise-D was Jean-Luc Picard. Captain Picard contrasts harshly with Kirk. He is a man who relies on diplomacy and intellect to proceed in difficult situations, and is more empathetic with the crew.
Both Picard and Kirk are regarded as the most outstanding captains of the franchise, but there is a debate on which captain is the better captain. In order to find a real answer, both captains must be deconstructed.
Captain James T. Kirk
A captain of a ship, no matter his rank, must follow the book.
We've all come to enjoy Christopher Pine's role as James Kirk in the new reboot for Star Trek, but Kirk wasn't always a rowdy Iowa farm boy like J.J. Abrams portrayed him in the alternate universe.
In the original prime universe, Kirk enrolled in Starfleet academy and graduated with honors. He became the youngest Starfleet captain at the age of 34, and although it was the same for Christopher Pine's Kirk (perhaps even younger), there was no cheating involved!
Although Kirk has an intelligent mind after being put through the rigors of Starfleet academy, he leads with his wits first. Kirk has no problem getting his hands dirty in a fist fight. In fact, it happens pretty much every episode!
Kirk is also a risky leader and does not falter easily. Rather than let his ship fall into the hands of an unknown group of aliens, he would risk the lives of his entire crew and the ship itself. At least it worked, or the series would have been cut short, but this is what makes Kirk great. When he does something, he makes sure he can get the job done, no matter what the risks might be. He acts confident in the face of imminent death because he is confident. He knows that the aliens will back down because the alien needs the ship.
Captain Kirk is an incredibly independent captain when it comes to decisions. Of course, he can't run the ship without Scotty, his chief engineer, or Spock, his first officer, but he can make his own decisions and they usually go pretty well (except when he's trapped and needs his crew to come rescue him).
Another remarkable quality of Kirk's is his charisma, not only with women, but with his crew as well. Although Scotty might take insults to the Enterprise herself rather than her captain, the crew is still extremely loyal to their captain. Kirk is close friends with most of the prominent crew members on the Enterprise, including Bones and Spock, and his friendly, yet still professional, attitude helps to fuel the sense of loyalty and trust.
Although, I don't know how I'd feel about having a captain who, pauses, all the time, when he speaks, to his crew.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
Picard is a Frenchman with an English accent. He is an experienced captain, having commanded the Stargazer before assuming command of the Enterprise-D, the flagship vessel of Starfleet.
Picard grew up on Earth on a vineyard owned by his parents in France. Longing for something more than a simple farm life, he runs away from home and enlists in Starfleet. His drive and ambition makes him a top student in his graduating class. A curious person, Jean-Luc considers archaeology one of his major hobbies, giving him an advantage when it comes to alien worlds.
Right off the bat, Jean-Luc Picard is more of a diplomat than a soldier. He is exactly what Starfleet wants, a captain who follows the Prime Directive as often as possible and avoids military engagements. However, Picard also follows his moral duty as a human being, and is renowned as man of wisdom.
This does not necessarily mean that Picard doesn't know how to face up against a couple Romulan ships though. In the Academy, cadets study what is known as the Picard Maneuver, a battle tactic developed by Picard himself during a hostile engagement with a Ferengi vessel.
Although Jean-Luc is an older gentleman, it doesn't detract from his potential for relationships. Picard charms several women during his career in Starfleet, from a woman much younger than him that longs for adventure, to a subordinate officer on the Enterprise that works in the Stellar Cartography department. I'm not sure his musical talent is what got him there, but he was doing something right.
If only every captain was so multi-talented. Picard made the most out of his spare time.
The Forgotten Captains
Before a decision is made on captain is best, honorable mention should be given to the captains who are usually left out of the competition: Sisko, Janeway, and Archer.
Although Picard has commanded battle groups, no captain has ever coordinated an army quite like Benjamin Sisko did against the Dominion.
Kathryn Janeway, although not exactly a fan favorite, should be noted for being able to command a crew while in a desperate situation to get back to Federation space.
Finally, Jonathon Archer should need no reason for praise. Without him, the Federation of Planets would not have existed, and the Enterprise might not have gotten past Warp 5
Both captains are highly qualified men that have changed history, whether it be in our universe or theirs, but it has never been settled which captain is the best captain? Who is more qualified? Who leads better, and who can get the job done best?
In all honesty, there is no better captain. There can't be, they're as different as night and day. It's like trying to decide whether to watch NASCAR or Formula 1. It all depends on what you want from a show and from the captain.
A very memorable episode of The Next Generation was "Lower Decks", where a group of young and ambitious ensigns struggle to advance in the Enterprise's chain of command. It is a story of friendship as well as loss and no TV show had ever hit me as emotionally as that episode had. Posts on reddit confirmed that I wasn't the only one feeling for the loss of Ensign Sito Jaxa.
Even though The Next Generation pulled at the heart strings, The Original Series tested the limits of the imagination. In the episode "Who Mourns Adonais?", Kirk and his away team are able to outsmart an alien who was originally the Greek god Apollo. This man, originally from middle-of-nowhere, Iowa, was able to face down a being that was formerly worshiped and was capable of great magical feats. No wonder the ladies loved him.
This was the real purpose of The Original Series, explore new worlds and new civilizations, more so than The Next Generation. It was one of the first shows to be based on space exploration, and the world didn't know what was out there. The Original Series was meant to boggle the mind excite the spirit for adventure.
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Stewart led the cast of The Next Generation into a new series that got rid of the silly, overly dramatic fight scenes in which Kirk would throw his trademark double punch and swept away the cheesiness that was his alien love life. Instead, The Next Generation explored questions of morality, humanity, and life. The crew came alive to the audience as large amounts of episodes were dedicated to developing not only main characters, but supporting characters as well.
For these purposes, each captain is perfect for his respective series. James T. Kirk is clever, adventurous, and headstrong. He does not hesitate to jump into a fight or to explore a dangerous scenario. All he needs is a couple of redshirts to take the hits.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard, instead of being headstrong, charming, and courageous, is played by Sir Patrick Stewart as a more cautious, intellectual, and empathetic captain. This does not detract from Picard's own bravery, but Picard is not willing to stare death in the eye by engaging a self-destruct sequence while his crew are on board. He cares too much. He needs them.
In the end, both captains are memorable and enjoyable, and both made their mark on history and on the galaxy.