From the airing of the original Star Trek series in 1966, through its revitalization with Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, and through to the Star Trek reboot films by J.J. Abrams in the last several years, audiences have reveled in the sense of adventure and the wonders of exploration the franchise brings. Star Trek fans have followed where the crew of the USS Enterprise will boldly go for generations, celebrating in its triumphs, and sharing in the sorrow of its losses.
While Star Trek represents the very best of humanity, part of that journey through the stars involves coping with grief. The franchise has introduced us to some of the most memorable characters in film and television history and then taken them from us. Sometimes, our favorite characters get lingering and dramatic death scenes, while others get killed off in an abrupt and crude fashion. Whatever way they pass, whatever their rank or designation, and whether they were Starfleet material or not, they are mourned just the same. Here are the 10 most heartbreaking deaths in the Star Trek franchise, ranked.
10 EDITH KEELER
In one of the most emotional episodes of the franchise, Kirk and Spock go on a rescue mission back in time to Earth in the ‘30s, where Doc McCoy is stuck suffering from a cordrazine overdose. While they’re trying to locate him, Kirk meets Edith Keeler, a social activist for the disenfranchised.
In her timeline, she’ll become famous, but her pacifist politics will dissuade President Roosevelt from entering WWII, allowing Hitler to build the atomic bomb and control the world. Her death will prevent this from happening, and so Kirk must decide whether or not to save the woman he’s grown to love or risk creating a timeline where the Federation will never exist by letting her live.
A fan favorite, K’Ehleyr came into Star Trek: The Next Generation with all the ferocity of a wounded targ. Despite only being in two episodes in the entire series, the half-human, half-Klingon woman left a lasting impression. She was strong, confident, and knew what she wanted. An old flame of Worf’s, they rekindled their romance in one episode and concluded it the next.
In the second episode, K’ehleyr returned to the Enterprise to reveal the fruits of their union: a young boy named Alexander. When she was wrongfully killed by Worf’s rival Duras, he grabbed his father’s bat’leth and claimed his right of vengeance in honor of the only woman who challenged his blind acceptance of their traditions.
8 GEORGE KIRK
We don’t get much time to spend with George Kirk. He appears in the first few minutes of J. J. Abram’s Star Trek, and then as quickly as he’s there, he’s gone. But the gripping performance by a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth left a lasting impression on audiences, and the tragic heroism of his character left a lasting impression on young James Kirk.
George Kirk has mere moments to hear the first cries of his newborn son, born in an escape shuttle in the midst of a violent altercation with a Romulan warship. He tells his wife he loves her and gives his son his famous namesake before sacrificing himself for his crew and his family by sending the USS Kelvin hurtling towards the Romulans.
7 TRIP TUCKER
Enterprise doesn’t get a lot of love when juxtaposed against other, better Star Trek series, but one of the characters captured the magic of the franchise with his bravery, boldness, and thirst for adventure: Trip Tucker. The show itself had to be trudged through, but Trip reminded viewers of Star Trek’s sense of wonder with every away mission.
Trip was not a callow, wide-eyed boy wonder. He was the epitome of a pre-Starfleet officer who couldn’t wait to go to a new planet, meet new people, and discover new ways of life. He represented all that Star Trek would be. Trip dies valiantly saving his captain and his ship, leaving a hole in us we didn’t realize we would have.
6 TASHA YAR
To a lot of Star Trek fans, Tasha Yar wasn’t appreciated enough. As chief of security prior to Worf when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, she had a no-nonsense style that also didn’t preclude her revealing her sexy or fun-loving side. She was a complex character and unfortunately fell victim to a lot of the silly storytelling that plagued the first season even prior to her death.
Yar had survived a rough upbringing, avoiding rape and violence just to get to Starfleet and a brighter future. After she died, she left a holographic goodbye message to her friends. It remains an emotional moment in the early days of the series and an appropriate send-off for one of the franchise's most revolutionary female characters.
5 JADZIA DAX
Though there were a lot of beloved characters on Deep Space Nine whose passings were difficult to watch, none seemed to garner the same emotional response as Jadzia Dax’s demise. Not only was it hard to watch a fan favorite being killed, but it was also the cavalier manner in which it was done that doubled the pain.
It wasn’t out of the ordinary that the villainous Gul Dukat would attack her, but he dropped her like a sack of zilm’kach without a proper fight. He stepped over her as though she was so much dirt under his boots, and despite Dr. Bashir’s fervent attempts to save her, he could only save the Dax symbiont, which he would transfer into another, far less compelling host.
In Star Trek: Nemesis, Captain Picard and the Enterprise crew are forced to contend with a rogue faction of militarized Romulans called the Remans, led by a Picard clone named Shinzon, which threatens to destroy the entire Romulan Empire. When Picard decides to take on his clone (presented as a young version of himself) alone and impales him on a metal strut, you can see how visibly shaken the captain is.
Data is the only crewmember who could follow him to the clone’s nearly destroyed vessel, which houses a weapon of mass destruction onboard. He uses his final moments to beam his captain back to the Enterprise and destroy the weapon, which in turn blows up the ship with him still on it.
3 DAVID MARCUS
The Wrath of Khan was wrought with many emotionally gripping scenes and character arcs, many of which coalesced in the progression of David Marcus’s relationship with his father, James T. Kirk. Though he initially hated his father, he grew to respect him over the course of the film, and by the time Star Trek III came around, their bond seemed indefatigable.
But in true Kirk family fashion, David’s fate is sealed in a moment of glory and tragedy when his landing party is captured by Klingons and he sacrifices himself to save a member of his crew. His death may have seemed brutal and unnecessarily wasteful to fans, but it added depth and complexity to Kirk’s character, who never fully recovered from the loss.
2 JAMES T. KIRK
Star Trek: Generations saw two of the most beloved captains in the Star Trek franchise team up to avert catastrophe: James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard. When a megalomaniac survivor from an energy-field disaster almost wipes out an entire planet, it’s James T. Kirk’s trademark selfless heroism that prevents it, and the torch is passed to the next “generation,” however unwilling fans were to see it.
A younger version of Kirk dies again in Star Trek: Into Darkness, in a fitting nod to Spock’s fate in The Wrath of Khan, with Chris Pine bringing an emotional sincerity and vulnerability to the moment that is on par with William Shatner’s from the Generations timeline.
The most heartbreaking death in all of Star Trek belongs to Spock, who, despite showing very little emotion himself over the years, managed to tug at the tear ducts of fans around the world with his selfless actions. No sacrifice was as great as the one in The Wrath of Khan when he gave his life to save his captain and his ship by exposing himself to lethal levels of radiation.
No matter how many times you watch the film, seeing their hands pressed against either side of the glass as Kirk tearfully says goodbye to his friend and Spock tells him, for the last time, “Live long and prosper” is one of the most gut-wrenching moments in it or any other film. Spock died representing everything great about the franchise: adventure, friendship, and acceptance.