It’s a debate that has raged among Trekkies for decades. Who is the better captain of the Enterprise: James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard? “Weird Al” Yankovic even posed the question in “White and Nerdy,” his parody rap: “Only question I ever thought was hard / Was do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?” Kirk is the O.G. from The Original Series, while Picard was the cool, hip, new guy in The Next Generation. There’s a lot to discuss in this battle between sci-fi icons. Here are 5 Reasons Why Picard Is The Best Captain (And 5 Reasons Why It’s Kirk).
In many situations, Kirk relies on sheer luck alone. He sees danger, heads straight for it, and miraculously manages to come out alive due to a fortunate coincidence that happened to save him from being killed. Picard, meanwhile, is much more level-headed than that. When he’s faced with a potentially hazardous situation, he weighs up his options. He considers the pros and cons. Will the lives they can save outweigh the lives they have to risk? Picard has never found himself in a situation where he relies entirely on luck. He’ll sometimes catch a lucky break, but he also had a backup plan.
Because Kirk is basically a playboy who thinks with a different organ than his brain a lot of the time and has a reputation for being reckless, a lot of people assume that he’s brash and irresponsible and unintelligent. But he’s just smart enough to manipulate that and use their assumptions about him against them. Remember, he managed to beat Spock at 3D chess on a number of occasions, because Spock underestimated him and he knew it, and so he used that to his advantage. Kirk put that mental skill to work a number of times as the captain of the Enterprise.
Kirk remained pretty much the same roguish hotshot captain throughout the entire run of The Original Series. Picard, on the other hand, started out like that, but he grew as a person and matured as The Next Generation went on. By the end, he had become a better leader and a better person.
To be fair, The Original Series ran for just three seasons before it was canceled by CBS, while The Next Generation made it to seven seasons, so Picard was allowed more time to grow than Kirk. Either way, whether the writing or William Shatner’s acting is to blame, Kirk barely changed at all in 79 episodes.
Picard captained a Starfleet ship in the 24th century when they’d figured out interstellar travel and made a slick, slim-line, perfect starship. Kirk, on the other hand, was captaining a version of the Enterprise in the 23rd century that was essentially a prototype when interstellar travel was in its infancy. The Enterprise that had him at the helm was a piece of junk, and its journeys through the stars were more dangerous. The decisions Kirk had to make were among the first such decisions to be made, so his judgment calls had higher stakes and more danger. Picard had history on his side.
Kirk is famed throughout the universe for a number of reasons, but one thing he doesn’t have is a maneuver named after him. Picard, on the other hand, invented “the Picard Maneuver,” which has come in handy a bunch of times. Picard himself has called it “a ‘save our skins’ maneuver” that he invented purely out of desperation during a surprise attack. He went into high warp aimed directly at the attacking ship and, to their radars, for a brief moment, it looked as though the ship was in two places at once – they didn’t know where to fire. Kirk never invented a battle tactic like that. There’s no Kirk Maneuver.
Without Kirk, there would be no Picard. Not only from the behind-the-scenes point of view, that if it weren’t for The Original Series blazing the trail, there would be no Next Generation, and therefore never would’ve been a Picard – Kirk blazed the trail as a captain within the Star Trek universe, too. He and his crew were the first to do pretty much anything involving interstellar travel. They made mistakes and sacrifices, just so future generations could learn from them – and Picard is from one of those future generations.
Kirk was famously a hothead. He’s a typical “act before you think” kind of guy, and frankly, that’s the last thing you want in a captain. A captain needs to keep a level head as they lead their crew into certain doom. Every decision has to be properly considered and not taken lightly or made rashly based on fear or anger or anything else irrational. Picard fits this description much more than Kirk, and he also has much more control over his emotions than Kirk does. Picard simply has more of the qualities that make a truly great captain than Kirk does.
One important thing to note about Kirk is that he successfully beat the Kobayashi Maru test, which is a Starfleet Academy training exercise that is known famously among Trekkies for being “a no-win situation.” It involves a civilian ship in a simulation, fighting against the Klingons, stranded in the Neutral Zone.
No Starfleet ship can enter the Neutral Zone, so the test-taker has to decide whether they’re going to save the crew of the Kobayashi Maru or leave them to die. The simulation is designed so that the cadet fails every time. After beating it, Kirk managed to convince the Starfleet authorities that he displayed his creative thinking skills and got them to praise him for it.
A lot of uninitiated mainstreamers have difficulty figuring out the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, but frankly, the most obvious difference is in the name. Star Wars is about intergalactic conflicts and military strategy and political factions blowing the bejesus out of each other. But Star Trek isn’t as focused on the military aspect. There are sometimes intergalactic conflicts that arise, but the story is more about journeying to different planets and discovering new life forms and leading the charge in scientific discovery. Picard is the best captain for avoiding wars ever starting in the first place, because he’s a great negotiator.
Picard’s negotiation skills might be able to get him out of ever starting a war in the first place, but Kirk’s bold decision-making and confidence as a military leader mean that he can end wars. So, while Picard stops the wars from being started in the first place, when they do eventually strike, Kirk is the captain you want to have, because he’ll be able to end them. His decisive military action and his reckless behavior might not make him popular at Starfleet Headquarters, but they certainly make him the guy you want by your side in a war zone, guiding you through the intergalactic mayhem.