Despite the growing list of films in the Star Trek universe, the franchise still has its roots in television, and many fans are wildly anticipating what the new CBS All-Access series Star Trek: Discovery will bring to the table. Though the series will not center on a captain, it will nonetheless offer a new addition to the franchise’s long history of powerful Federation captains, a distinction of characters that could include many of the most iconic ones across the entire franchise.
For this list, we’re taking a closer look at all five of the main captains to headline any of the previous Star Trek films and/or television series. We’re not including any captains who may have appeared in a supporting capacity across the franchise’s many incarnations or those beloved characters (like Hikaru Sulu) who ultimately became captains later on in the canon.
5. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula)
Star Trek: Enterprise is arguably the least popular of the franchise’s live-action series, but it still features a memorable captain in Jonathan Archer. Instrumental in forming the Federation of Planets (which he later serves as president of), the character gives viewers a glimpse of an earlier part of the timeline than even the original series, and it is through his eyes that many key events within the Star Trek canon are explored. Archer is a pivotal character in the franchise’s history, and even if the show in which he was the lead wasn’t the most notable, he remains a key part of the mythology that serves as the foundation for all that followed.
4. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks)
A man with a complicated past and a vendetta against another captain on this list, Benjamin Sisko rose in the ranks to captain of the USS Defiant. During his time onboard the ship, he becomes embroiled in much political intrigue along the way, playing an integral role in the events of the Alpha Quadrant and ultimately fulfilling the destiny set out for him by the Bajoran Prophets. After two such wildly popular live-action series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine managed to keep the streak alive with yet another excellent addition to the ranks of franchise captains past.
3. Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew)
The only female captain to serve as the main character of a Star Trek television series, Kathryn Janeway led the USS Voyager for seven seasons, becoming one of the franchise’s most beloved captains. While her background is largely rooted in science, Janeway also boasts combat training, which she used periodically throughout the series to protect her crew and save lives. She faced the Borg on numerous occasions and ultimately went on to become an admiral for the Federation, making a brief cameo appearance in the 2002 feature film Star Trek: Nemesis.
2. James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner/Chris Pine)
The most popular captain on this list, James Tiberius Kirk, of course, is the first captain to lead a Star Trek series. Along with iconic characters like Spock and Bones, Kirk is part of the classic crew of the USS Enterprise, an ensemble that was recreated in 2009 when director J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise with the formation of a new timeline. Whether played by William Shatner or Chris Pine, Kirk’s roguish charm, penchant for bending the rules, and undeniable leadership skills have made him an icon the likes of which few franchises — sci-fi or otherwise — have created.
1. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)
Yup, we made it so. Although Kirk could have easily topped this list, we’re giving the edge to Jean-Luc Picard, the captain at the center of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After all, a poll at StarTrek.com named him the best captain in the franchise. So who are we to disagree? As played by the incomparable Patrick Stewart, Picard is a leader the likes of which has rarely graced the franchise. An inspiring, courageous figure who carried the franchise through seven seasons and four features films, Picard embodies the best of nearly every other captain, proving to be the quintessential example of what fans expect from their Star Trek leaders.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!