Star Trek’s Paul Wesley Finally Gives Us the Version of Kirk That’s Been Missing

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds star Paul Wesley talks to us about exploring James T. Kirk's unknown past, his first visit to the Enterprise, and more.

Paul Wesley as Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds article contains spoilers.

Technically speaking, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 episode “Lost in Translation” is a Uhura-focused hour, which grapples with issues of loss, empathy, and miscommunication all wrapped up in rescuing a heretofore undiscovered alien species from being unnecessarily harmed by Starfleet mining equipment. But it’s also something else, too: The first episode in which Star Trek fans really get to meet the Strange New Worlds version of the franchise’s most iconic figure: James T. Kirk. 

After two previous appearances in episodes that took place in alternate timelines, we finally get to meet the “real” Kirk in “Lost in Translation,” a young man freshly promoted to First Officer on the U.S.S. Farragut who boards the Enterprise to visit his brother Sam and tell him the good news. Along the way, he meets several of the people who will one day change his life—and viewers get the chance to explore new elements of the future captain’s past.

I got to do some iconic moments,” Paul Wesley, who plays Kirk, tells Den of Geek during an interview conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike. “It’s awesome—I got to be part of history: meeting Spock for the first time, meeting Uhura for the first time. These are moments that will go down in Star Trek canon and I love it.”

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Season 2’s “Lost in Translation” marks Wesley’s third Strange New Worlds appearance as James Kirk, but only the first time we’ve actually seen the iconic character in the series’ primary timeline. (That minute-long video call with La’an back in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” doesn’t count.)

The series has (smartly, it would appear) chosen to ease its viewers into the idea of a new James Kirk, introducing us to alternate versions that highlight core aspects of his character we haven’t often had the chance to see. According to Wesley, that choice allowed him to be a little more flexible in terms of Kirk’s characterization, for both good and ill. 

“I got to do a dry run in some sense,” Wesley says, “And in the season 1 finale, obviously another alternate timeline Kirk, he’s captain of the Farragut and in many ways, that’s cool, you can do whatever you want. It’s a little more ambiguous in an alternate timeline, it just becomes a little more vague in your interpretation. But in some ways you’re like, ugh, I don’t know. Should I be doing it this way or should I be doing it that way? In some ways, you have less parameters, but maybe the parameters are actually kind of helpful.”

Still, the actor says, he tried to keep track of what he considered the “core” aspects of who Kirk is, and how those elements would naturally exist in any version of the character.

“Obviously, [“Lost in Translation”] is very different—different Prime timeline, different stakes, and he’s mainly dealing with Uhura,” he said. “But I wanted all the personality traits I had sort of created for Kirk in [“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”] to still be part of that prime timeline.”

For Wesley, one of the most interesting parts of playing Kirk is getting to play the progression of his intellectual and emotional journey from the young officer we see on Strange New Worlds to the famous captain of The Original Series

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“I’m all about arcs, and I think that’s how I’m approaching [Kirk],” he says. “I’m playing him in a way that’s…perhaps a little the opposite of what people expect. But that’s because I would like to build into [that character]. What’s the point of doing a Kirk origin story if he’s just Kirk already? Don’t we want to be surprised a little bit? Otherwise, there’s nowhere to go.” 

Part of that origin story necessarily involves exploring elements of the famous character’s life that we’re perhaps less familiar with or that occurred well before he was captain of the Enterprise. And while the fact that Kirk has an older brother is mentioned several times in Star Trek canon, prior to Strange New Worlds, Sam’s only onscreen appearance was as a corpse. 

“We actually don’t know a lot about Kirk,” Wesley says. “If you watch The Original Series, yes, there are some hints as to his past and there are references to things that happened, but for the most part—we don’t know. And, obviously, having a sibling is such a huge part of your development as a human being. Your relationship with your siblings informs who you want to become as an adult.” 

Given that there’s very little canonical information about the relationship between the two men, Wesley has been fairly free to think about how he sees the bond between the Kirk brothers.

“I think he’s very much the opposite of Sam,” he says. “In my opinion, all siblings are very different. Very rarely do you have two boys, and then they’re both very similar and get along perfectly. Usually, there’s one that’s like a yin and one that’s a yang, and somehow they fit and they’re still friends. But there’s a big difference in the way that they approach things. And I think Sam is all about doing the right thing the right way, a scientist, logical, one plus one equals two kind of guy. And Kirk is sharp and he’s smart, but he’s doing things his own way and figuring things out [on his own].”

According to Welsey, Sam’s perception of his brother’s seemingly easy success is one that likely has colored their relationship for much of their lives. 

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“I think it drives Sam crazy,” he continues. “Why is this guy always figuring things out, why is everything seemingly so easy for him when it’s difficult for me, why do I always finish last, that kind of thing. And I think their sibling rivalry is a big part of why Kirk is the way he is. He wants to succeed, and he wants his dad to be proud of him.”

Happily “Lost in Translation” gives both Kirk brothers a chance to shine, showing the value of both their approaches, particularly when working in tandem. “We’ll give Sam some credit,” Wesley laughs. “He figures something out—his knowledge, in the end, is what does solve the mystery.”

But Sam isn’t the only Kirk relationship we’re getting to see fleshed out more thoroughly onscreen. “Lost in Translation” is also the first meeting between James Kirk and Nyota Uhura, an encounter that shows off some of the best traits of both characters.

“When he first meets Uhura he sees someone in need and he wants to help,” Wesley says. ”And of course, his curiosity gets the best of him and he goes over and gets punched in the face. But I think Kirk’s a very selfless guy, honestly. He becomes a great captain because he has such great instincts.” 

Kirk and Uhura were of course immortalized by The Original Series, but their relationship on that show doesn’t have a tremendous amount of depth, a fact that makes Strange New Worlds’ decision to begin Kirk’s by establishing a genuine bond between the two all the more meaningful.

“It’s the beginning of this beautiful friendship, this trust that they build with each other,” Welsey says. “They actually communicate, and she slowly realizes ‘Okay, this guy isn’t such a jackass and he may actually be able to teach me something.’ And in many ways, she’s able to teach him things too. I love that journey, that this is where they start.”

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Of course, Uhura is not the only Original Series character that Wesley’s Kirk meets during this episode. In the hour’s closing moments, he’s introduced to Enterprise Science Officer Spock for the first time, and a bromance for the ages (though they don’t know it just yet) is born. But, according to the man who plays Kirk, we might have to wait a bit to see that relationship play out onscreen.

“Look, we all know where they’re going to go in terms of what we see in The Original Series. Kirk and Spock become this incredible iconic duo that are very much polar opposites and best friends. But [in terms of Strange New Worlds], I don’t know. I’m not even playing coy, I haven’t read any scripts,” Wesley says. “I don’t know where we’re going or whether we’re going anywhere or whether they’re going to explore that. I really don’t. But I hope they do. Because I’m a huge fan of Ethan Peck—not only as a person, because I consider him a friend but also, he’s an amazing actor. And I love our dynamic in real life, which in my opinion is very Kirk/Spock, so I want to bring that to the screen.”

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is streaming now on Paramount+.