I have been a Star Trek fan for as long as I recall, but I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore trekkie/trekker. By that I mean that I can’t name specific episodes, or tell you the names of the various classes of starships, and never felt the need to attend a Star Trek convention, etc. I was more of a casual fan. But I liked the idea of a bright shiny future, where humanity had overcome all of their prejudices and problems and could now explore the stars. It’s a nice contrast to all of the cynical apocalyptic future scenarios, that are detailed in films like Terminator and Escape From New York.
My interest began with the first set of Star Trek films. For some reason, I never got interested in the original TV series, which was before my time, but always available in reruns. I think I’ve only seen a handful of complete episodes. But I loved the movies with the original series cast.
But for TV, my first real exposure was with The Next Generation. I watched that show regularly for the first 4 or 5 seasons, and then semi-regularly until the end. Even while the original film franchise was still going on, that was just one movie every few years, vs. a new episode on TV every week. I also watched and enjoyed Voyager on a semi-regular basis. I never got into Deep Space 9, despite liking that they had a badass Black Captain. The premise didn’t appeal to me, I preferred the action taking place on a starship, not in a space station. And I wasn’t interested in Enterprise, either. @ the time, I thought it was a step backward. I thought that they should have moved forward, set a new series on the Enterprise, 100 years after The Next Generation took place. I guess my lack of interest in the original series contributed to my lack of interest in a series that was set even earlier than that (though I liked the idea of the film reboot). So I only ever watched a few episodes of Enterprise and DS9.
So this is probably why, for me, my favorite Captain has been Picard.
I liked his dignity, and the Shakespearean aura that Sir Patrick Stewart so ably portrayed. Unlike Kirk’s brash cowboy style, Picard was a cerebral man, who tried to think his way out of a problem instead of punching it. I also liked the interaction of the crew, the way they were treated more like equals. He wanted and accepted everyone’s input, but in the end, the decision would be up to him, and they would all follow it.
Of course, this is probably why the feature films starring that cast didn’t work quite as well as the films starring the original cast. The Next Generation cast was more of an ensemble, fitting for a TV series. The original cast was mostly focused on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Sure, we liked Sulu, Uhura, and Scotty, but they were not the stars. Give them a couple of decent lines in the films, to remind us that they’re there, but give the best lines to the Holy Trinity.
You couldn’t do that with The Next Generation, precisely because they had all been built up as equals over the course of those 7 seasons. But that’s too many characters to focus on in a 2-hour movie, so they’d have to sideline some, to put the focus on others. Yet then it felt like something was missing. Picard and Riker never had that same camaraderie that Kirk & Spock had. That was most evident @ the end of Nemesis, when Riker is leaving to become a Captain. That scene where he’s saying goodbye to Picard didn’t feel as important as it should be. Similarly, the death of Data didn’t have the same emotional impact as the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan. In fact, when they tried to make a film that utilized the entire cast, Insurrection, it just felt like an extended TV episode. It was okay, just not good enough for a feature film.
Now, let me be clear, I love Captain Kirk, and the way William Shatner portrayed him. So this isn’t a criticism of him. I’ve bought William Shatner’s “Shatnervese”series of books, where Kirk is revived after (the extremely disappointing) film Generations, and has a new bunch of adventures in the 24th century, with and against Picard and The Next Generation crew. I also bought his prequel book, Starfleet Academy: Collision Course, and I liked that too. And I very much enjoyed the Star Trek reboot, and Chris Pine’s portrayal of a young Kirk. Who knows, if the new franchise continues as well as it began, I may end up declaring one day that this Kirk is my favorite?
But, for now, The Next Generation is “my” Star Trek, that’s the one I grew up on, and therefore I have to go with Captain Jean-Luc Picard as the best Starfleet Captain. If I could pick a ship to be on, it would be his.
As long as I didn’t have to wear a red shirt.