Captain Kirk is back. Or rather, Captain Kirk will be back. Although Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 will debut on May 5, 2022, and chronicle the adventures of Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck), Number One (Rebecca Romijn), Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), and the rest of the Enterprise crew, we know now that in Season 2 — not the season coming this May — we’ll also see a new version of Captain James T. Kirk. But. He might not be the Captain. Yet.
According to a surprise announcement from Paramount+, actor Paul Welsey will join the Season 2 cast of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as James T. Kirk. The press release stops short of calling him Captain Kirk, although the promotional photo certainly makes it looks like this version of Kirk is rocking the captain’s stripes on his uniform sleeve. So, is Paul Wesley taking over for Anson Mount in Strange New Worlds season 2? The answer to that question is a big probably not, so the existence of Kirk in this show is a bit of a mystery. If we’re not seeing Kirk take over the Enterprise, and Pike step-down, what will Kirk’s role be in Strange New Worlds season 2?
At this point, only the people making the show actually know the answer, but one specific piece of existing Star Trek canon could give us a big clue as to what Paul Wesley’s Kirk might be doing. Maybe, in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2, we won’t just see the adventures of the Enterprise, maybe we’ll see Kirk as the captain of a different ship as part of a larger fleet.
When did Kirk Meet Pike?
In the classic two-parter “The Menagerie,” Kirk tells Commodore Mendez he met Pike when “he was promoted to Fleet Captain.” So far, we have no idea when that was exactly nor do we really have a clue as to what a “Fleet Captain” does. But, because Strange New Worlds is bringing in this new (younger) version of Kirk, it’s possible that this meeting will actually take place. And, if it does, it feels likely that Pike becoming “Fleet Captain” could take on a much bigger significance.
In other words, if Pike is still the captain of the USS Enterprise when he becomes Fleet Captain, there’s got to be some kind of reason why he gets that rank. This leads to a theory that could explain Kirk meeting him. What if, at some point in Strange New Worlds season 2 Starfleet has to assemble some kind of armada to combat an invasion or some kind of alien threat? Such a moment could necessitate Pike getting promoted to Fleet Captain, and Kirk meeting him during that moment. This could also mean that it’s possible that Kirk could be a captain at this point in his career, but perhaps, not the captain of the Enterprise.
There’s plenty of non-canon material that suggests Kirk did have a different captaincy before the Enterprise, and in-between Kirk’s time on the Farragut in 2257 (TOS “Obsession”) and his first year on the Enterprise in 2265 (TOS “Where No Man Has Gone Before,”) we know very little about his career in the Prime Timeline. For example, in Roddenberry’s early notes (published partially in 1968’s The Making of Star Trek) Kirk was thought to have captained a “destroyer” before the Enterprise. And, in the 1985 DC Comics Annual, “All Those Years Ago…” we saw Kirk leave the command of the USS Saladin to take over for Captain Pike on the USS Enterprise.
A Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Time Jump?
Here’s another wrinkle: we’re also not sure in what year Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 will take place. This is also oddly true of the first season, too, which has to occur after Star Trek: Discovery season 2, so some time after 2258. But it’s possible Strange New Worlds season one could take place much later, and if Season 2 happens some time closer to 2265, that could account for Kirk being closer to the age he is in TOS (Paul Wesley is 39 IRL, and Kirk was supposed to be 34 at the start of TOS).
Finally, if Pike’s promotion to Fleet Captain coincides with Kirk getting the Enterprise, then boom, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will somehow blow through the end of the 2250s and get right into 2265. Either way, it feels very likely that the Kirk we meet in Strange New Worlds will be very much a pre-Enterprise Kirk, and not quite the man we know from The Original Series. We don’t know the circumstances in which Kirk met Pike, and we don’t know about the Fleet Captain thing, but this casting could indicate both of those mysteries will be solved.
The Missing Piece of the Original Series
The first year of Kirk’s time on the USS Enterprise, at least in the Prime Timeline, is oddly missing. The Original Series lacks an actual origin story, because, other than “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the events of the year 2265, remain unseen. After “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” everything in TOS happens after 2266.
This could mean that Strange New Worlds Season 2 is going to tackle that very specific gap. Which could indicate that Paul Wesley’s new Kirk is just the tip of the dark matter iceberg when it comes to a bunch of TOS recasting. (In other words, gird your loins for a new Bones, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty, coming soon!)
For long-time fans, the best-case scenario here is that Paul Wesley’s bold, new Kirk could lead us to a missing piece of the Trek timeline we never expected to see. Pike might be back in the saddle for Strange New Worlds Season 2, but it looks like Kirk is ready to jump on this horse while it’s still moving.
Strange New Worlds Season 1 hits Parmaount+ on May 5, 2022.