Star Trek: What Makes Each Starfleet Captain Unique?

With new Star Trek series Picard on its way, Juliette provides a rundown of what makes each of the franchise's captains special...

Star Trek: Picard

Over the next few years, Star Trek fans are going to feel like all their Christmases have come at once, as we’re flooded with half a dozen different Star Trek shows and spin-offs – no need to worry if you don’t like one, another will be along five minutes later! The one that has fans really excited, though, is the one that takes its title not from a ship or a division of Starfleet, but from the name of the main character: Picard. Star Trek fans tend to get very attached to the Captains that run the ships (or space stations) that are the focus of the series, and anticipation is high for the continuation of the iconic Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s story.

In preparation for this televisual event, we thought we’d offer this handy guide to the ten Captains who have appeared as the commander of the featured ship (or space station) in the various Star Trek series, setting the tone for the show and forming the basis for a thousand memes.

Captain Jonathan Archer

Enterprise NX-01

Leadership Style: Democratic – he’s so concerned to consult with his command crew, they’re on a first-name basis.

Best Personal Quality: Archer is very personable, and he leans on that quality in his command style, establishing friendships with his crew that keep them united in the face of hardship and trauma.

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Worst Personal Quality: For a man whose entire mission is to go out and establish diplomatic relations with alien races, Archer is really, really terrible at understanding and empathizing with other cultures, human or alien.

Favourite Beverage: Passion fruit iced tea.

Favorite Sport: Water polo.

Most Ridiculous Command Decision: Taking his dog on a vital diplomatic mission to an alien planet that could expose the dog to who knows what to talk to aliens who are known to take offense very easily (“A Night in Sickbay”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: Trapped in an alternate version of World War II, Archer puts together a period-appropriate outfit that doesn’t really do much for him (“Storm Front Part 1”).

Most Triumphant Moment: Fights off Dolim in an epic and bloody beatdown, then runs off through a storm of exploding panels to (apparently) sacrifice himself to destroy a weapon of mass destruction (“Zero Hour”).

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Iconic quote: “We’re not here to make enemies, but just because we’re not looking for a fight doesn’t mean we’ll walk away from one.”

Further Reading: Star Trek: Enterprise and the Importance of Its Characters

Captain Philippa Georgiou

USS Shenzhou

Since the USS Discovery doesn’t appear until Episode 3 of Star Trek: Discovery, Georgiou is the Captain of the featured ship for the show’s two-part opener.

Leadership Style: Coach – she encourages personal and career growth in her officers.

Best Personal Quality: Georgiou is a dedicated mentor, encouraging Burnham and Saru to grow and develop as officers and as people/beings.

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Worst Personal Quality: She perhaps takes this duty of care a little too far, to the point that it can blind her to Burnham’s short-comings.

Favorite Beverage: Anything alcoholic – she could drink Pike and anyone else under the table.

Favorite Sport: Drinking games, by the sound of it.

Most Ridiculous Command Decision: By planting a bomb on a dead warrior so that recovering him will kill the Klingons, Georgiou and Burnham commit a war crime by modern standards – and at the very least, make themselves appear thoroughly dishonorable (“Battle of the Binary Stars”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: None. This woman lives in her Starfleet uniform.

Most Triumphant Moment: Her ship half-destroyed, left alive only to tell others of the massacre of Starfleet vessels by Klingons, she and Saru come up with a kamikaze mission to strike back at the Klingons (“Battle of the Binary Stars”).

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Iconic quote: Devious Saru… I approve.

Further Reading: Everything You Need to Know About Star Trek: Discovery Season 3

Captain Gabriel Lorca

USS Discovery

Leadership Style: Autocratic – Lorca is focused on his own goals and is definitely results-oriented.

Best Personal Quality: He is driven, you can’t deny him that.

Worst Personal Quality: Where to begin? Let’s just say he’s a pretty typical, if extremely clever, example of a Mirror Universe officer.

Favorite Beverage: Wee Bairns Scotch whiskey.

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Favorite Sport: He’s from the Mirror Universe, so probably hunting down his superiors.

Most Ridiculous Command Decision: You’re running a super-secret, technologically advanced ship during a time of war and hiding a pretty big secret yourself. You meet a guy who’s been kept prisoner by the enemy for months and tortured, which means he could have all sorts of issues such as PTSD (which he does), Stockholm Syndrome, or he could have been compromised by the enemy (which he has). So naturally, instead of sending him off for psychological evaluation, you immediately make him your Chief of Security (“Lethe”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: Once back in his own universe, Lorca wears a rather nice coat, but underneath it is a breastplate of sorts with a rather loud geometric pattern (“What’s Past Is Prologue”).

Most Triumphant Moment: Having promised fellow prisoner Tyler he would come back to rescue him from the Klingons, Lorca fulfills his promise, reappearing to shoot one of the Klingons and injure L’Rell long enough to get Tyler away (“Choose Your Pain”).

Iconic quote: “Universal law is for lackeys. Context is for kings.”

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Captain Christopher Pike

USS Discovery

Captain Pike also features as Captain of the USS Enterprise in the original show’s pilot.

Leadership Style: Servant – he puts people first and wants all his crew to reach their potential.

Best Personal Quality: All the Captains on this list are extremely brave, and all have been willing to sacrifice themselves for others (except Lorca), with two of them actually making the ultimate sacrifice for their crew. But Pike has been tested in another way – he has seen that he will have to sacrifice not his life, but his health and bodily autonomy, and he’s shown courage in the face of a painful future. He is also extremely dedicated to saving every single member of his crew.

Worst Personal Quality: He sometimes makes assumptions without checking if they’re accurate, as he did when he first met the Discovery crew.

Favorite Beverage: Hangover cures, after losing drinking competitions to Georgiou.

Favorite Sport: He enjoys horse riding so much he’ll even ride a horse to a picnic.

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Most Ridiculous Command Decision: The Prime Directive is problematic in so many ways, but deciding it applies to an Earth colony is a new kind of obtuse. At least the crew of Discovery didn’t sit back and let them all die, which is something (“New Eden”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: The Talosians chose the outfits that appear in the various illusions they give to Pike, but since they are offering him a fantasy they think will be appealing, presumably they think he would like a shiny purple and blue satin tunic with a strange off-gold neck adornment on it (“The Menagerie”).

Most Triumphant Moment: The battle against Control (“Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2”) is absolutely epic and is a triumphant moment for everyone, but for Pike personally, the moment in which he turns away and accepts the horrible injuries that are waiting for him in the future for the sake of protecting everyone else is quietly, and tragically, triumphant (“Through the Valley of Shadows”).

Iconic quote: “No. I’m not going to abandon the things that made me who I am because of a future that contains an ending I hadn’t foreseen for myself.”

Further Reading: Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek Would Be Pulp Fiction in Space

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and NCC-1701-A

Leadership Style: Pace-setter – performance-focused and leads from the front, expecting everyone to match his own high standards.

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Best Personal Quality: He is absolutely determined to find a solution to every problem, and makes effort to consider every angle from every point of view.

Worst Personal Quality: While he makes a lot of effort to learn about other points of view, if your culture doesn’t embrace a certain set of relatively liberal values from the mid-20th century United States of America, you’re doing it wrong, and Kirk will destroy your entire society to teach you a lesson and then fly off and ignore the consequences.

Favorite Beverage: Illegal Romulan ale.

Favorite Sport: Rock climbing.

Most Utterly Horrifying and Backwards Command Decision: Commander Scott has experienced a head injury caused by a female crewmember making a mistake and has responded with total misogyny (McCoy’s medical diagnosis – a “total resentment towards all women”). Instead of sending him to some kind of diversity training, Kirk and McCoy take him to watch a female belly dancer from a “completely hedonistic society” so he can learn to objectify and sexualize women instead of hating them. The fact the belly dancer ends up murdered after leaving with Scotty is entirely on Kirk and this monumentally horrifying decision, possession by alien entity or not (“Wolf in the Fold”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: It wasn’t his choice to wear it, but a sparkly off-shoulder tunic and over-sized laurel wreath is not a good look for him (“Plato’s Stepchildren”).

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Most Triumphant Moment: Having released two humpback whales into San Francisco Bay, Kirk and his crew cling, soaking wet, to their sinking stolen spaceship and whoop and cheer as they watch the whales swim under the Golden Gate Bridge and save the planet (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home).

Iconic quotes: “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” and “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

Further Reading: The Difficult Journey of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Kelvin Timeline)

USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and NCC-1701-A

Leadership Style: Transactional – also performance-focused, but he fits in a bit of mentorship too.

Best Personal Quality: Like his counterpart, he leads from the front, and he’s very brave.

Worst Personal Quality: He also shares his counterpart’s disdain for rules and fondness for cheating.

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Favorite Beverage: Illegal Saurian brandy.

Favorite Sport: Fighting in bars.

Most Ridiculous Command Decision: Lies on a report to cover up a violation of the Prime Directive, but fails to check that his First Officer is willing to lie on his report as well (Star Trek Into Darkness).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: This version of Kirk has a rather good sense of style, but the baggy outfit he wears to work undercover on the planet Nibiru isn’t the most flattering (Star Trek Into Darkness).

Most Triumphant Moment: After making the obligatory offer to help the Romulan captain Nero and being rebuffed, Kirk gives the order to fire on Nero’s ship and send it into a black hole, saving the Enterprise and the Earth (Star Trek).

Iconic quote: “My dad joined Starfleet because he believed in it. I joined on a dare.”

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Further Reading: The Influence of Forbidden Planet on Star Trek and Star Wars

Captain Spock

USS Enterprise NCC-1701

Leadership Style: Visionary – he sees the Enterprise through a period of change and is always open to new ideas.

Best Personal Quality: By the time he is promoted to Captain, Spock has become skilled at balancing his Vulcan training in logic with a certain respect for and even occasional ability to employ human emotions.

Worst Personal Quality: Tends to just do everything Kirk says, to the point that, when the Enterprise-A is commissioned, he slips back into his old role as Kirk’s second-in-command despite the fact they’re the same rank.

Favorite Beverage: Altair water.

Favorite Sport: Vulcan chess.

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Most Ridiculous Command Decision: Allowing Admiral Kirk to talk him into a “little training cruise” with a ship full of trainees traveling to a region of space where there are no other starships anywhere nearby, with the inevitable result that they end up answering a distress call, getting attacked, and a significant number of his trainee crew are killed (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: Vulcan fashion isn’t great in general, leaning towards heavy medieval robes. The outfit Spock wears in his attempt to complete a lengthy ritual in the first Star Trek movie is an especially bad example of desert rags, but what really makes this a terrible look is the outgrown Vulcan hairstyle, which is somewhere between The Beatles and Mick Jagger (Star Trek: The Motion Picture).

Most Triumphant Moment: Of course, it’s his dash down to Engineering, knocking out McCoy with a Vulcan neck pinch, and entering a room filled with deadly radiation to restore the warp drive and save everyone else (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

Iconic quote: “The needs of the many outweigh… [the needs of the few]. I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”

Further Reading: Star Trek’s 12 Best Morality Plays

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D and NCC-1701-E

Leadership Style: Bureaucratic – he’s an absolute stickler for the rules to the point of sitting and watching people die rather than break the Prime Directive (sometimes).

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Best Personal Quality: Picard is an extremely skilled diplomat, not just in the political sense (a major part of his job as commander of the flagship), but in his ability to manage his crew. He is able to manage people without them necessarily realizing they are being managed, which is why they reacted so badly to Jellico’s more authoritarian style.

Worst Personal Quality: He’s really, really bad at talking to children. This would be less of a problem if he didn’t insist on having a child on the bridge of his starship.

Favorite Beverage: Tea, Earl Grey, hot. Also wine from the family vineyard.

Favorite Sport: Horse riding, but he is also very keen on fencing and a top-class marathon runner.

Most Ridiculous Command Decision: Promoting a child to “Acting Ensign” (complete with weird cat-suit “uniform”) and making him a helm officer, i.e. the kid is driving Starfleet’s flagship because a mysterious alien told him the kid was great/he wants to bang the kid’s mum.

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: Since Picard is on holiday and sunbathing, his choice of an open white shirt to wear on Risa is sensible enough. But the rather small and shiny pink and blue swimming trunks he pairs it with are unforgivable (“Captain’s Holiday”).

Most Triumphant Moment: THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS! (“Chain of Command Part 2”)

Iconic quotes: “Let’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise” and “The line must be drawn here! And now! This far, no further!”

Further Reading: Captain Picard’s Biggest Star Trek Fails of All Time

Captain Benjamin Sisko

Deep Space Nine and the USS Defiant

Leadership Style: Laissez-faire – with several “crew” on the station who aren’t Starfleet, Sisko is more hands-off than the Captains of spaceships.

Best Personal Quality: Sisko is very adaptable – we see him as Commander or Captain of Deep Space Nine in both peacetime and war and he does well in both situations. He’s also a formidable warrior when he needs to be.

Worst Personal Quality: It’s fair to say he’s got a bit of a temper.

Favorite Beverage: Raktajino (Klingon coffee).

Favorite Sport: Baseball.

Most Ridiculous Command Decision: Poisoning a Maquis colony and threatening to do the same to all Maquis colonies, just to capture one man (“For the Uniform”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: Way back when he met his wife Jennifer, Sisko was on a beach, proving his holiday wear is even worse than Picard’s, with a bright purple tank top featuring a red stripe and tight, bright blue shorts (“Emissary”).

Most Triumphant Moment: Convincing the Prophets to get involved in the war against the Dominion, and then captaining the Defiant in the battle to take back Deep Space Nine (“Sacrifice of Angels”).

Iconic quotes: “You can pulp a story, but you cannot destroy an idea” and “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.”

Further Reading: The Best Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Stories

Captain Kathryn Janeway

USS Voyager

Leadership Style: Transformational – completely committed to organizational objectives, but equally concerned with employee motivation.

Best Personal Quality: Janeway is the embodiment of absolute determination against overwhelming odds, and that is what gets her crew home, and prevents them from going down the same path as the crew of the Equinox along the way.

Worst Personal Quality: She has a tendency to put the interests of Voyager’s crew over and above all other considerations, which doesn’t always go down well with the alien races left in their wake.

Favorite Beverage: Coffee, black.

Favorite Sport: Tennis, and she is also an accomplished pool hustler.

Most Incredibly Reckless But Sort of Awesome at the Same Time Command Decision: Determined to get rid of alien scientists who are using Voyager’s crew as test subjects, Janeway flies the whole ship into a binary pulsar system, giving them a one in 20 chance of survival. To be fair, she was hoping Tuvok was exaggerating. He was not (“Scientific Method”).

Worst Non-Uniform Fashion Mistake: The outfit she wears to play Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People is rather spectacular in its own way, but you couldn’t wear it to pop out to the shops (“Bride of Chaotica!”).

Most Triumphant Moment: The reset button has a bad reputation among fans, but without it we wouldn’t have the epic moment when a scarred Janeway rams a battered Voyager into Annorax’s time ship to destroy it and them together, declaring “Time’s up!” (“Year of Hell Part 2”).

Iconic quotes: “There’s coffee in that nebula!” and “Sometimes, you just have to punch your way through.”

Honourable mention: Temporary Captain of the Enterprise-D Jellico gets a bad rap, but although his autocratic style is very different from Picard’s, he was absolutely right to get Troi to wear a proper uniform.

Further Reading: Why the Star Trek: Voyager Pilot Is Worth a Rewatch

Read and download the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!