¬The Evolution of Star Trek Captains
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Thus begins Star Trek: The Original Series, the first of five live-action television series and eleven movies to date chronicling the adventures of various Starfleet captains, their ships, crews, and countless alien species throughout the universe. It has been called “the most influential science fiction television series of all time” (Gross). What is so fascinating about the Star Trek franchise is not only the influence that it has had on society, but the influence that society has had on it, and what we can learn about ourselves from studying the shows. While each series was set in the future, they all reflected the environment in which they were created. Of the various captains to pilot the featured Starfleet vessels over the past 44 years, what does each say about the culture which created them?
Captain James Tiberius Kirk
“All your people must learn before you can reach for the stars.” James T. Kirk
Star Trek: The Original Series premiered in 1966 to a country that was dealing with some very weighty issues. War, race relations, and gender equality were at the forefront of the national consciousness. What could a science fiction show set 300 years in the future have to say about these problems? Plenty, it seems.
Instead of different races, you had different species working together and the characters of the show helping to forge relationships between them. There was even a woman (a black woman, at that) on the bridge of a starship, holding an important position on the crew.
Captain Kirk himself was a cowboy; a trail-blazer; a rebel. In an era which was dominated by Westerns on both large and small screen, this was exactly what the country wanted. Kirk was a man's man. He took initiative, never hesitated to draw his weapon, defied orders, and seduced nearly all available females, regardless of species. He was unorthodox, but he got the job done and he did it with style.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
“If we are going to be damned, let’s be damned for who we really are.” Jean-Luc Picard
Twenty years after the original show and eighty years further along in the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: The Next Generation was both a continuation on the existing premise and a new incarnation for a new audience. Instead of one female main character, there were three – including a female security officer. Instead of veiled plotlines about racism and equality, the series tackled mostly issues of ethics and diplomacy. Gone was Kirk with his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ways. We now had Jean-Luc Picard: well-spoken, level-headed diplomat.
Picard was a natural leader; a more evolved captain to suit a people who could no longer afford to take such daring risks. He always tried to adhere...