What did Captain James T. Kirk get up to before the beginning of Star Trek's original series? The pointy-eared Spock might've stolen many of the headlines, but it was William Shatner's James Tiberius Kirk who enjoyed top billing when Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, with the swashbuckling captain acting as the focal point of the entire show. A maverick in every sense of the word but a bastion of justice and morality nonetheless, Kirk is often characterized by a constant readiness to leap into action and a habit of romancing any glamorous female guest star within a 100-meter radius.
Kirk's time as both captain of the Enterprise on TV and as a Starfleet admiral in the movies yielded many memorable moments, including his clash with the Gorn, his traditional Vulcan duel against Spock, the duo's tearful goodbye between a pane of glass and his controversial death in Star Trek: Generations. However, Kirk had already lived a rich and eventful life even before stepping foot on the bridge of the Enterprise.
This backstory is mostly hinted at sporadically, usually when a character from Kirk's past comes back to haunt him, but the early history of Shatner's character is almost as interesting as his escapades in space. Several brushes with death, clashes with former friends and a string of failed romances seemed to set Kirk up for a life of constant danger and it's clear to see how these events might inform Kirk's on-screen persona. Exploring family, lovers and his early career in Starfleet, here's Captain Kirk's pre-Enterprise history in the Prime continuity.
Kirk's Youth And Family Life
Kirk was born in rural Iowa in 2233 to parents who only really became significant to the Star Trek story with J. J. Abrams' 2009 reboot movie. Prior to this, the name of his father had only become canon thanks to a 1986 novel about his very first mission. However, Kirk's brother, George Jr., did appear in the original series. Known to his sibling as Sam, George Jr. was found dead by Kirk and the Enterprise crew in season 1's "Operation - Annihilate!" having been killed by parasitic creatures on the Deneva colony. Fortunately, Kirk does manage to help save Sam's son, and his own nephew, Peter from the same fate.
By his teenage years, Kirk has moved from Earth to the human colony on Tarsus 4, where he witnessed a desperate leader lose his mind and betray his people for the first, but certainly not the last, time. Here, a young James Kirk witnessed Governor Kodos commit a massacre of thousands of colonists as a perceived solution to a food crisis, not knowing that supplies were arriving imminently. This moment is explored in season 1's "The Conscience of the King" and is an incident that understandably stays with Kirk well into adulthood. While on an Enterprise mission, Kirk encounters a man claiming to be Kodos and ensures this particular ghost is put to bed.
Kirk's Pre-Enterprise Starfleet Career
The future Enterprise captain finally joined Starfleet in 2252, inspired by an unseen character called Mallory, and proved a model student of the organization's academy. Somewhat surprisingly given the character's confident and brash personality later in life, Kirk was bullied by an older student named Finnegan, who manifested into the trippy "Shore Leave" episode. Despite his troubles, Kirk was also a book-smart quick learner and earned a prize for his participation in a peace mission at Axanar and, as revealed in both The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek (2009), Kirk infamously found a way to beat the unbeatable Kobayashi Maru training program by rewriting the computer simulation.
As an ensign, James Kirk was assigned to the USS Republic. The only real incident of note revealed regarding this period is that, never a man to shirk duty, Kirk recorded a mistake made by one of his closest friends on the ship's official log. This incident is revealed in the "Court Martial" episode.
After becoming a Lieutenant in his twenties, Kirk enjoyed a short stint as an academy instructor before being posted to the USS Farragut under Captain Garrovick. While serving on the ship, Kirk helped make contact with a newly encountered race on the planet Neural but was mainly assigned to the Farragut's phaser stations. Unfortunately, the ship and most of its crew were destroyed by a gaseous creature that could drain a human's hemoglobin on Tycho IV, and Kirk blamed himself for this incident, since he hesitated to fire at the monster before being knocked out. Kirk is later vindicated, discovering that the attack would've been futile anyway and finding another way to destroy it.
Finally, Kirk was given his own ship to command, the famous Enterprise, in 2265 at the age of 32, taking over from the highly respected Christopher Pike.
Kirk's Romantic Relationships
Kirk was notoriously popular with the ladies during his time in the academy and while rising through the ranks at Starfleet and became involved with several women. These include an unnamed lab assistant introduced to Kirk by Gary Mitchell (a woman Kirk supposedly nearly marries) and Ruth, an academy-era love interest that fell by the wayside after Kirk first ventured into space.
Perhaps the most notable of these early dalliances was with Janice Lester. The pair spent a year together, but Janice had lofty Starfleet ambitions that clashed with the sexist culture of the time. Believing her gender hindered her career, Janice's relationship with Kirk became strained and ultimately caused the dissolution of the duo's relationship.
By far the biggest event in Kirk's pre-Enterprise life, however, was his relationship with Carol Marcus and the birth of his son, David, who would eventually feature in The Wrath of Khan. Kirk and Marcus' relationship came to an end once again because of diverging career paths, but Carol made a point of keeping her son away from his father. This wasn't so much because of any wrongdoing on Kirk's part, but more out of a belief that her world and his were entirely incompatible and that Kirk's galactic jet-setting wasn't conducive to raising a child. While David did know of Kirk, the two had no contact until the Khan incident, where they bonded somewhat after an initially frosty introduction. Like his father, David was brave and quick-to-action, but having grown up following in his mother's footsteps as a scientist, wasn't a natural fighter and was killed by Klingons in The Search For Spock, sparking a personal vendetta within the Star Trek Admiral.