Star Trek: 15 Things You Didn't Know About Captain Kirk

Captain Kirk Star Trek TOS

While the rebooted Star Trek franchise has been experiencing one of the most hotly-debated cultural resurgences in recent memory, James T. Kirk, the beloved captain of the USS Enterprise, remains among the most iconic figures in the history of ever. And though critics have complained about casting choices and alternate reality retcons, there's just no debating the fact that the home-grown, red-white-and-blue-blooded boy from Iowa has secured a special place in millions of hearts around the globe.

This list won't delve into Kirk's reputation as a womanizer or speculate on how many intergalactic love affairs he may or may not have had; it was the seventies, man, so just chill out and let the Captain worry about docking his own damn ship.

Star Trek Beyond, the third installment in the sequel/prequel/reboot franchise, hits theaters on July 22nd. Here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About James Tiberius Kirk!

15 He's (Literally) the Face of the 1980s Slasher Movement

Captain Kirk Mask Michael Myers Mask
Original 1975 catalogue page for the “Star Trek” masks, courtesy The Blood-Curdling Blog of Monster Masks.

Fact: Kirk's milkshake brings all the space girls to the yard. Also Fact: Michael Myers, the stab-happy and silent antagonist of every Halloween film, sports a modified Captain Kirk mask during his bloody misadventures. Eagle-eyed fans noticed the similarities, leading to a decades-long debate. How dare they disgrace the likeness of ShatKirk, our beloved captain and fearless leader?

As it turns out, this urban legend was founded in truth; Rick Sternbach (The Motion Picture, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Nemesis), a long-time Star Trek illustrator/designer who also happened to work on Halloween IIconfirmed the rumor's validity via Facebook in 2014. Halloween director John Carpenter also chimed in, shedding light on the mask’s humble bargain-bin origins in a 2015 interview. The rubber face-masks, created by Don Post Studios using a life cast of William Shatner, were made available for purchase as part of a full Star Trek line in the mid '70s. Carpenter had to choose between ShatKirk and a creepy clown mask, obviously choosing the former because NO ONE WANTS TO MESS WITH CLOWNS.

14 He Puts the 'Star' in Starcher Trek

Starcher Trek Captain Kirk

There are only a handful of things in the entire galaxy that could make Captain Kirk more lovable. One of these things is -- and will always be -- giving his cartoon likeness the voice of Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and sending him off to space. A few years (and several beers) ago, a couple of hard-core Trek fans envisioned a world where Sterling Archer pilots the legendary USS Enterprise. To be completely honest, it's pure gold; the webisodes seamlessly blend visuals from The Animated Series (1973) with hilariously-absurd Archer audio clips. Seriously, you've gotta watch them.

Almost every major character from both series is present. Archer is the childish, foul-mouthed Captain Kirk. Lana (Aisha Tyler) is Uhura, fed up with Kirk's never-ending BS. Cyril (Chris Parnell) takes on the role of an incredibly-awkward Spock. Fans of Archer will be pleased to note that Ray (Adam Reed), Krieger (Lucky Yates), Pam (Amber Nash), and Malory (Jessica Walter) are all present as well, along with the, erm, fearsome Nomad Probe.

13 He’s More Inspirational Than Space Hero Buzz Aldrin

Col Buzz Aldrin

According to the 2010 Space Foundation survey, more humans are inspired by the fictitious adventures of Captain Kirk than they are by the real-life adventures of Col. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon -- a fact that shouldn’t surprise anyone, really. Given the choice between Captain Kirk or some guy who like actually went to infinity and beyond or whatever, you’re picking CAPTAIN JAMES TIBERIUS KIRK. Who would win in a fist fight? Kirk. Who has better hair? Totes Kirk. Who gets all the chicks? Kirk, duh.

The good captain ranked sixth on the list, tied with a Russian Cosmonaut named Yuri who apparently “made history” by being the “first person in space” back in 1961. Aldrin secured the ninth spot on the list, barely beating out the 11th ranked Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Considering the sheer volume of epic Trek characters, we’re fairly surprised that even one real person made the cut.

12 He Has an Arch-Nemesis IRL

Captain Kirk Death Star Trek

Although Captain Kirk is best known for decisive victories over countless intergalactic threats, he should be given a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the often-overlooked Wasp Wars. The Wasp Wars aren't currently accepted as part of Star Trek canon, but maybe they should be; poor Shatner had to fend off an entire hive of buzzing baddies while filming NBC's second pilot, taking several stingers to the face and eyelids in the name of good television.

Strangely enough, Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) also had to contend with disgruntled creatures while filming his original pilot. Nesting in the studio rafters, several pigeons apparently took exception to Hunter's voice. Whenever the actor would deliver his lines, said pigeons would coo loudly and render the take useless. No match for human ingenuity, the birds were eventually lured outside with tasty breadcrumbs. It's oddly fitting that Shatner would face opposition from Mother Nature on the set of his Star Trek debut, though we're certain he would choose pigeons over wasps if given the choice.

11 His Lips Destroy Societal Norms

Captain Kirk First Kiss

Star Trek has proven time and time again to be one of the most inspirational and iconic science fiction properties on the planet, though many fans are unaware of how many social barriers the franchise has broken down as well. In 1968, Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) shared the first interracial kiss in American television history. The Smooch Heard ‘Round the World was originally intended to feature Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in Kirk’s place, but Shatner called an audible when he heard about the historical moment.

NBC was so wary of potential backlash that they filmed alternate scenes without the kiss. Studio heads ultimately decided to let it ride after an outpouring of (almost) positive feedback. Nichols received countless letters regarding the scene, the best of which read:

I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it.

Thanks for the support, pal.

10 Matt Damon Almost Played Captain Kirk

Jason Bourne Matt Damon

But not the one you’re thinking of! Before the casting and production of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot in 2009, rumors tagged Matt Damon as a potential fit for the role of Captain James Kirk. Those rumors proved to be false, thank goodness, and Chris Pine has been in command of the Enterprise ever since. However, Abrams has since confirmed that he and Damon discussed another role for the Bourne star.

Abrams wanted Damon to play Kirk’s father, George, the man responsible for saving 800 lives during his 12-minute tenure as Captain of the USS Kelvin. After Damon declined, Abrams looked to Mark Wahlberg for the same role. Wahlberg turned down the offer after he was unable to understand the script, claiming that he tried to read through it but simply couldn’t follow Abrams’ work. Fate worked its magic and delivered a gem: Chris Hemsworth landed the role, crushed it, and went on to become the World’s Prettiest Superhero, Thor.

9 The O.G. Kirk Has Never Watched Star Trek

William Shatner as Captain Kirk

Yeah, you read that right. ShatKirk has never seen one single episode, never watched a single film in the entire Trek universe. Most fans have heard this one by now, but our list would be incomplete without mentioning it. In an interview with his daughter, Lisbeth, Shatner revealed that he has never indulged in any piece of the franchise that launched his career:

I never watched Star Trek…. I have not even seen any of the Star Trek movies. I don’t watch myself. When I direct and have to look at filmed scenes of myself, I suck.

While it’s not uncommon for actors to avoid watching their own work, Shatner seems to have achieved a new level of avoidance. In the same interview, Good Ol’ Bill also revealed that he hasn’t kept a single piece of Star Trek memorabilia for himself. Not one skin-tight space-suit, not one phaser – hell, not even a few dozen pairs of Spock ears. Do you think Shatner even knows that his character received one of Hollywood's lamest deaths? Someone should tell him.

8 Jesus (Almost) Wasn't His Homeboy

Star Trek Kirk Vs Jesus

Who (or what) is the absolute last person (or thing) you'd expect to see Captain Kirk square off against? Mother Teresa? A cuddly Koala? Margaret Thatcher? The Kool-Aid guy? How about Jesus? Oh, yeah. Jesus. That's definitely the one.

Strangely enough, the original script for Star Trek: The Motion Picture contained that exact match-up. According to Michael Jan Friedman, the individual previously tasked with creating a novel around the unused bout, the movie was set to culminate in a rather questionable title fight:

It was disjointed — scenes didn’t work together, didn’t build toward anything meaningful. Kirk, Spock and McCoy didn’t seem anything like themselves. There was some mildly erotic, midlife-crisis stuff in there that didn’t serve any real purpose. In the climactic scene, Kirk had a fistfight with an alien who had assumed the image of Jesus Christ. So Kirk was slugging it out on the bridge. With Jesus.

What's even better is the fact that Shatner would later enthusiastically adapt the same bizarre premise for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Whenever you find yourself getting pissed about CumberKahn, just remember that Kirk could have been face-punching Jesus.

7 Chris Pine Blew Away the Competition

Chris Pine

Finding a suitable replacement for ShatKirk in J.J. Abrams’ revamped Star Trek universe couldn’t have been easy. Imagine how many hopefuls were just blatantly impersonating Ol’ Bill, how many times casting directors had to hear, “BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY!” In an interview with ComicBookMovie, April Webster (the brain behind the rebooted Star Trek cast) claimed that Chris Pine was a bit of a godsend:

Chris was a lifesaver, because we really wanted someone who could give us the cockiness but still be likable. If you look at the old episodes of Shatner and that character, he was always snarky, but there was also something enormously appealing about him. There was this sort of evil smile on his face whenever he'd see a beautiful woman. We were looking for a quality for each person and then something of a resemblance, but definitely a quality.

Pine, only 27 at the time, boasted a relatively modest resume prior to landing the captain’s chair aboard the USS Enterprise. Though he had roles in Smokin’ Aces and Just My Luck (yeesh), Pine didn’t hit his stride until Webster gave him the green-light for Trek’s 2009 reboot. He’s managed to keep Kirk’s playful demeanor intact while also lending the captain some much-needed edge, and unless Beyond has a universe-shattering death in store for us (or it bombs at the box office), Pine will probably stick around for a few more adventures.

6 His Future Birthplace is Already Marked

Birthplace of Captain Kirk

If Kirk was born in our hometown, we’d be damn proud too! Gene Roddenberry’s The Making of Star Trek (1968) notes that James Tiberius Kirk was born in a small, unnamed Iowa town. Riverside city councilman Steve Miller -- a devoted Trekker (or Trekkie if you prefer) -- felt that Riverside was the perfect fit for Star Trek’s beloved hero. At the very next council meeting (March 25th 1985), Miller suggested that Riverside should declare itself as the official birthplace of Kirk. The motion was passed unanimously.

The city wasted no time in solidifying its position, modifying the official slogan from “Where the Best Begins” to “Where the Trek Begins.” The town festival was changed from River Fest to Trek Fest, and Miller planted a flag behind the local barbershop to denote the spot of Kirk’s future birth. Residents constructed the engraved monument a few years later, adding a bench and shuttlecraft-shaped donation box to help with maintenance costs.

Riverside’s claim became official Trek cannon with the release of Abrams’ reboot in May 2009. Some sticklers claim that the monument’s March 22nd, 2228 date is inaccurate, as The Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future notes Kirk’s birth as March 22nd, 2223. It’s a debate that may rage on for all eternity; the book was published in 1993, several years after Riverside’s monument went up, and we highly doubt that either side will ever back down.

5 You Can Call Him Captain Meme-O

Captain Kirk KHAN Meme

The Trek franchise has inspired countless memes. Seriously, just Google it and see what comes up. Spock holding a cat, telling us to, “Live Long and Prospuurrrrr?” Check. The legendary Picard face-palm? Check.  Trek Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself? TRIPLE CHECK. Best of all, though, is Captain Kirk’s “KHAN!” meme. The iconic screenshot – which is taken from a intensely pivotal Wrath of Khan scene – will probably float around the fringes of the interwebs for the rest of time. Here’s the full exchange from the movie. Don’t forget, there’s no noise in space sooooooo...

Kirk: Khan, you bloodsucker. You’re gonna have to do your own dirty work now, do you hear me? DO YOU?

Khan: Kirk… Kirk, you’re still alive, my old friend.

Kirk: Still, old, friend. You’ve managed to kill just about everyone else, but, like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.

Khan: Perhaps I no longer need to try, Admiral.

Kirk: Khan… Khan, you’ve got Genesis, but you don’t have me. You were going to kill me, Khan. You’re gonna have to come down here. You’re gonna HAVE TO COME DOWN HERE.

Khan: I’ve done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her: marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet, buried alive. Buried alive.


Around 2004, internet trolls and/or fans decided that it was time for Kirk to steal back the pop-culture spotlight and started superimposing his screaming face onto basically everything. You're the man now, Kirk!

4 You've Been Quoting Him Wrong For Years

Captain Kirk Bar Fight

Prepare yourself for this mind-boggling fact: Kirk never once said, "Beam me up, Scotty!" *Worlds shatter, brains melt* You’ve been misquoting the beloved Captain all this time, haven't you?! And you call yourself a FAN!

While Kirk (in all his forms) has given similar commands throughout franchise history, he never actually said it on-screen the way that most fans claim to remember. The closest line would have to be one of the following: “Beam us up, Scotty!” from a 1969 episode of The Original Series (and later, two episodes of The Animated Series), or “Scotty, beam me up!” during 1986’s The Voyage Home.

The debate over Kirk’s imagined catchphrase has raged for decades, though official reviews of scripts and footage alike have (hopefully) put the conversation to bed indefinitely. Shatner would later use the line in the audio adaptation of his 1995 book, Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden. There’s always a chance that the line gets planted in Star Trek Beyond or the Bryan Fuller CBS revival, right? Hopefully, the resident Trek Trolls aren’t feeling too sassy that day, otherwise the nod may find itself lambasted across the web.

3 James T. Kirk Wasn't Intended to be the Franchise Hero

Jeff Hunter as Christopher Pike

Sorry, Shatner! Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry originally intended for the pilot and all subsequent episodes to catalog the adventures of USS Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike, not James Kirk.  (Actually if we’re being totally honest, Roddenberry pitched the franchise with another protagonist, Captain Robert M. April, making Kirk option number three.) Jeffrey Hunter portrayed Captain Pike for NBC’s first pilot (“The Cage”), though he (allegedly) elected to leave after its lukewarm reception. Rather than sticking around to film the show’s second pilot – which NBC demanded – Hunter officially resigned from the show, forcing Roddenberry to pick a new lead on short notice.

Enter: a young Billy Shatner, a classically-trained stud-muffin with dreamy eyes and some sweet pecs. With the fate of the franchise resting on his performance, Shatner brought Captain James Tiberius Kirk to life in Trek’s second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” He would retain his role throughout 79 episodes of The Original Series and seven feature films, returning in cameos as needed for Trek’s later generation shows and movies (but not the latest films, because life isn't fair).

2 He Isn't "Technically" a Cheater

Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the Kobayashi Maru

If your only experience in the Star Trek universe comes from the J.J. Abrams films, you probably think Captain Kirk is an arrogant brat and a big-time cheater. You remember the scene: prior to his third bout with the infamously unbeatable Kobayashi Maru, Kirk (Chris Pine) hacks the test and creates a nifty loophole. He cruises through the scenario, destroying each Klingon vessel and rescuing the Maru crew with little resistance. It’s important to note that Kirk’s actions in the Abramsverse reboot are literally the definition of cheating. He acted dishonestly to create an unfair advantage for himself, forcing Klingon shields to fail without warning.

However, many long-time fans of the franchise are quick to point out that the spirit of Kirk’s original manipulation was very, very different. In Wrath of Khan, Kirk reveals that he changed the conditions of the unbeatable test: he didn’t ramp up his photon torpedoes or disable enemy shields, he simply leveled the playing field. In the 1989 novel The Kobayashi Maru (Julia Ecklar), readers learn that Kirk wrote a sense of recognition and respect into the simulation’s Klingon commanders. At hearing the Captain’s good name, they offered assistance in the rescue mission instead of attacking. It’s genius, really. And technically, it’s not cheating.

1 Spock Might Have Been More Than Just His BFF

Kirk and Spock Star Trek

We’re not here to discuss this possibility based on the duo’s eye-contact or hand-holds. We’re not counting shoulder-pats or back-rubs or overly long embraces. That’s all nonsense. There is only one simple fact that supports the idea of Spork – or Spirk – being a thing: in Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, First Officer Spock uses a very specific Vulcan word to describe his connection to Kirk. It’s important to note that Roddenberry invented the word specifically for the novel, as it hadn’t appeared anywhere else in the Trek universe. The word, “t’hy’la,” translates to “friends, brothers, lovers,” and is actually a fantastic way to describe the Kirk / Spock Bromance.

But why would Roddenberry choose to attach that final part in the definition, if not to imply that there was some sort of romantic love between the two? Why not leave it at friends or brothers, maybe even companions? Roddenberry didn’t want fans divided over the exchange, adding a now-infamous footnote (Google it) from Kirk’s perspective that largely dismisses any notion of romantic involvement. It seems a bit too casual, and a bit too wordy for what should have been a relatively simple answer (like this: "no."). The two were never shown (canonically, at least) to have any official Ship Status, though check out this tidbit from Shatner’s authorized biography:

Roddenberry: "Yes, there's certainly some of that, certainly with love overtones. Deep love. The only difference being, the Greek ideal... we never suggested in the series... physical love between the two. But it's the... we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century." (He looks thoughtful.) "That's very interesting. I never thought of that before."

~ * SPIRK / SPORK 4 LYFE * ~


Know of any other obscure Kirk factoids that fans need to know about? Sound off in the comments!

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