Star Trek is one of the most beloved and long-running sci-fi franchises in the universe. Having first aired on our TV screens back in 1966, it’s spawned thirteen movies and five spin-off series (yeah, we’re counting the animated one). And later this month, Gene Roddenberry’s creation will return to TV in the form of the new CBS series, Discovery.
As Trek competes only with Star Wars in terms of its impression on pop culture, most people on the street would recognize the name Spock and the shape of the USS Enterprise. But it also has an ardent fan following; the kind of fans who can list every ship in Starfleet, recount the complete history (well, future history) of the 23rd and 24th centuries, and tell you exactly how many redshirts the Enterprise goes through.
If that describes you, you’ll enjoy the memes we’ve assembled from across the web, which find fun in the questionable safety regulations of Starfleet, some of the stranger tie-in merchandise, and the varied facial expressions of Jean-Luc Picard.
And if some of the references fly over your head like a Klingon Bird of Prey towards its target, no need to worry, as we’ll explain all the more obscure gags for you – Star Trek is all about equal opportunity, after all.
16 Off And On Again
It wouldn’t be space sci-fi without a bit of technobabble, would it? Star Trek has always incorporated up to the minute scientific thought into its stories, often breaking new ground and getting viewers interested in real science.
Other times, however, it’s been difficult to shake the feeling that it’s making it all up as it goes along, and that perhaps the likes of Chief Engineer Geordi Laforge aren’t as clever as they make themselves out to be. This dialogue, from The Next Generation episode Contagion, is the solution to the episode’s main problem of a dangerous computer virus wreaking havoc with the Enterprise’s systems.
Strip the tech speak down to what it really means, however, and Geordi’s solution is basically, as Roy from The IT Crowd would advise, to turn the Enterprise off and on again.
15 Poor Redshirts
You’ve got to feel sorry for any Enterprise crew member assigned a red shirt to wear. Throughout the course of The Original Series, these mostly nameless lackeys were vaporized, struck by lighting, turned into mineral cubes, beamed into space... the list goes on.
You can see why the writers did this – having someone killed adds threat to an episode, and none of the main cast could be offed without major controversy. Still, the deaths of redshirts became so endless that it unsurprisingly became one of Trek’s most mocked features.
Here’s an interesting twist on that fact, though – one study by Matthew Barsalou counted that, while 24 crewmen in red die across TOS compared to only 9 in yellow and 7 in blue, this is because a much higher proportion of the total crew wear red, so in fact, yellow-wearers have a lower survival rate than those in red!
14 No Seatbelts
If you’d auditioned to play a bridge officer in Star Trek, there’s one thing that the casting directors would have been looking out for – the ability to dramatically throw yourself off a chair.
One of Trek’s sillier recurring tropes, it seems to be at least once per episode of The Original Series that the Enterprise is shot at, falls into a wormhole, or partially explodes, causing the crew to go flying.
By the time of The Next Generation, Starfleet still hadn’t invented the seatbelt. Though we never see it happen on screen, we can only imagine how many redshirts ended up with fractured limbs or grievous head wounds. Next time you get in a car, please don’t take inspiration from Kirk and co. – buckle up!
13 Starfleet Headgear
Ah, merchandise. There are some really cool collector’s items out there for sure, and we’re not going to make fun of anyone who collects the action figures or has a model Enterprise hanging from their ceiling.
But while such items are well worthy of having the Star Trek title printed on the packaging, every franchise comes with shameless cash-ins that have little to do with the actual characters on screen. The peak of naff Trek merch has to be this ‘Space Fun Helmet’; not even having ‘SPOCK’ printed on it in big bold capitals could make it convincingly seem like Starfleet issue gear.
So we doff our (space fun) hats to whoever had the genius idea of Photoshopping it onto actual shots of Spock, both the Nimoy and Quinto incarnations. Does it actually suit Spock, or does it look completely ridiculous? We’ll let you decide.
12 No Pants For Uhura
Two design choices that have been in flux throughout the history of Star Trek, all in one meme.
When the Klingons first appeared in The Original Series, they looked... at best silly, at worst racist. They were basically guys in bronze make-up with ‘oriental’-style facial fuzz. The movie series gave them a more alien redesign, an iconic look which continued through the subsequent TV shows and was adapted for the reboot films.
Another part of TOS which has since become dated is the female uniforms, basically miniskirt dresses – very trendy for the time, but not exactly practical. During the course of The Next Generation, these were replaced by trousered outfits, though in this case, the new movies went right back to the ‘60s, which can’t have helped Zoe Saldana’s Uhura run away from all the explosions J. J. Abrams threw at her.
11 Spock’s Confection
Mister Spock may be a great first officer, but he’s not the easiest guy to be friends with, and a large part of that is his distinctly ‘logical’ manner of speaking – no contractions, no slang, no humor.
The strangeness of this speech is only made clear by trying to apply it to well known lyrics, as shown here. If you’re looking to fill a few idle minutes, try translating any other song into ‘Spockspeak’, though it’s likely that the result will be too wordy to fit the original tune.
Despite this lengthiness, Spock’s approach to language was part of what made him such a great character; it was later adapted for The Next Generation’s Data, and even developed, as Data tried to understand human idioms and humor, and incorporate them into his speech.
10 Darmok And Jalad
Here’s one that will be immediately obvious to anyone who’s seen a certain Next Generation episode and will make no sense at all to anyone else.
Season 5’s "Darmok", generally regarded as one of the best TNG episodes, sees Picard trapped on a planet with an alien from a race new to the Federation. But they struggle to communicate, as this species’ language is built around references to their mythology, and the guy won’t stop recalling the tale of “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” in order to express... well, that’s what Picard has to work out.
It’s an odd episode, but one with interesting things to say about how the languages of different races could work. But would it have been any different if instead of Patrick Stewart, Picard had been played by Winnie the Pooh? Cuter, perhaps.
9 Technological Predictions
Not all of the futuristic predictions in Star Trek have come to pass – it seems unlikely we’ll ever have transporters, and we were thankfully spared the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s.
But this visionary franchise has in fact predicted several technological developments accurately. Picard used something very similar to an iPad to read up on mission reports (and probably watch the occasional cat video on slower days), while this hi-tech visor as seen in Deep Space Nine isn’t too far from Google Glass. Plus, there are many other Trek gadgets with real life parallels either right now or in the foreseeable future, from the replicator to the universal translator.
Next Generation and real life have very different views on what constitutes an ‘android’ phone, though... but there’s still three centuries for that to change.
8 I Am A Physician
Doctor McCoy never really enjoyed sticking to his assigned area, often wandering onto the bridge to hang out with Kirk or beaming down onto a planet in order to share in the crew’s latest adventure, presumably using the excuse that someone usually ends up needing first aid.
But he had his limits, and would use the catchphrase “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a... [whatever]” when asked to do something he couldn’t be bothered with. Things McCoy claimed not to be included a physicist, a mechanic, a coal miner, and best of all, an escalator (he didn’t want to carry someone up a hill).
This take on Kirk and McCoy reimagines the pair in a medieval setting, yet with the physician as tetchy as ever – of course he would be!
7 That Famous Facepalm
Ah, the Picard facepalm meme, from probably the most famous shot of anyone with their face in their hands on the Internet.
Here’s a quiz for real Trek fans, however – which episode is it from, and what’s Picard reacting to? We’ll tell you the answer below, but first let’s consider the options; there’s a lot that could have sent the captain into such despair. Perhaps Riker’s trying to sleep with the latest important delegate to be given a lift on the Enterprise? Or is Data attempting humor? Maybe the warp core’s about to explode yet again?
In fact, this is from Season 3 episode "Deja Q", and Picard is irritated because his recurring nemesis Q has shown up on the Enterprise. He just can’t stand the idea of spending another episode with the mischievous immortal.
6 Randy Riker
The Next Generation’s Riker had a thing for the ladies, sleeping with most of the female crew of the Enterprise at one point or another and spending vacations on the no-inhibitions planet of Risa.
Captain Kirk was also known for his multitude of girlfriends, but whereas he generally came across as a charmer, with Riker, it could get more than a little creepy. It’s telling that the first time he was alone in the Holodeck, he tried to create his ideal woman. Later, in the Season 3 episode "A Matter of Perspective", he’s accused of sexual assault, and it doesn’t feel impossible that he’d be guilty.
Basically, if you were a woman assigned to the Enterprise, you’d want to be cautious around its first officer. These meme gags fit perfectly with his creepy, mischievous grin.
5 Waking Up
From the mind of the great optimist Gene Roddenberry, the Star Trek universe is a utopian one. Humanity lives in harmony, has overcome the technological barriers to exploring space, and has discovered enough spacious planets for everyone to live a comfortable and happy life. Sure, there may be external threats to the Federation, but the good people of Starfleet generally find a way to keep the peace.
Real life, however, isn’t always so smooth. We live in a world rocked by conflicts and intolerance, with the constant fear that war could be around the corner, and when crises do emerge, the people in charge of dealing with them aren’t always half as competent as Jean-Luc Picard. Waking up and looking at the news does indeed feel like asking to know what the latest damage to the constantly under-fire ship is.
Data is a very logical problem solver, able to comprehend the facts of a situation without letting emotions cloud his judgement – just like Sherlock Holmes. Geordi LaForge is his best friend, as well as a much more grounded figure, able to see the human side of any situation – just like Doctor Watson.
Their partnership works well, whether that’s working together to save the Enterprise from the latest crisis, literally taking on the roles of Holmes and Watson on the Holodeck, or, in the case of the episode "Elementary, Dear Data", both at the same time.
Though it’s no classic detective story, that episode’s enough to make us want more of Data and LaForge as Holmes and Watson; perhaps if Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman aren’t available for the next season of Sherlock, Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton could take over.
3 Starship For Ants
Whereas Captain Picard would happily quote Shakespeare to show off his intellect at any opportunity given, Kirk preferred to rely on looking handsome and left all the heavy thinking to Spock.
Indeed, with regular habits including violating the prime directive, flying the Enterprise into dangerous areas of space without fully thinking over the consequences, and letting clearly suspicious newcomers have access to all the ship’s schematics, Kirk may not have been the smartest officer in Starfleet.
On the other hand, he was never quite as much of a clueless diva as Derek Zoolander... but it’s still a fun comparison to make. Here he is not quite comprehending the ‘James T. Kirk Starship For Ensigns Who Can’t Fly Good (and who wanna learn to do other stuff good too)’.
2 Trek Goes Interstellar
Though it uses an image from Next Generation episode "The Royale", this is more a reference to a whole host of films than it is to Star Trek.
It’s an ongoing gag among film fans that Matt Damon seems to always get himself into situations where he needs an expensive rescue, whether that be in the chaos of World War II (Saving Private Ryan), alone on Mars (The Martian), or alone on a much farther away planet (Interstellar).
Given that two of those involve him being stuck in space, it’s not impossible to imagine a similar story in which it’s the Enterprise that ends up coming to Damon’s rescue. Hey, it’s a good idea for the next movie, and would certainly be better than Star Trek Beyond.
1 WTF Picard
Poor Picard has to put up with a lot, from the constant screw-ups of his crew to his ship falling apart, not to mention all the hostile alien races and the residual trauma from being converted by the Borg.
You can’t blame him for getting annoyed sometimes – when he’s not facepalming, he’s getting properly f-ed off. This is another image that’s been turned into countless memes, reimaging it as Picard wound up because of a whole range of situations.
However, the actual circumstances of the scene this is from, in the episode "Ménage à Troi", are quite different: Picard makes this expression as he recites a Shakespearean sonnet, in order to trick a Ferengi officer into handing over ‘possession’ of his captive, Lwaxana Troi. And if that doesn’t make sense... well, yeah, it is the kind of situation you’d react to with ‘WTF’.
Do you have any other brilliant Trek memes hidden up your sleeve? Link to em in the comments!