“I’m James T. Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise!’’ he announces in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Bold, smart and king of the fistfights, Kirk has all the qualities of a great leader.
William Shatner turned to his experience as a Shakespearean actor when he was originally developing his lead character of Kirk in the 60′s series. Basing his leadership qualities on Horatio Hornblower and Alexander the Great, Shatner also wanted Kirk to have a humorous side but when the situation called for he ‘’would snap to and become the warrior.’’
A lot of examples come to mind that illustrate Kirk’s ability to get out of a tight spot, be it ‘’the prefix code’’ in Wrath of Khan or lying to Balok about Corbomite in “The Corbomite Maneuver” In these situations he is always controlled and focused, there is no mistake, Kirk is in charge!
Below are ten examples that highlight Kirk doing what he does best and why he makes such an awesome captain.
Example: STAR TREK: SPACE SEED
Kirk discovers the true identity of the mystery man he was forced to awaken from the cryogenic sleep he found him in. Identified as Khan Noonian Singh, he is a genetically engineered dictator from the 20th Century. Kirk needs to find out what Khan’s plans are and goes to his quarters to interrogate him.
The fact that Khan has not been too forthcoming when previously questioned, Kirk needs to be a bit smarter and use Khan’s ego against him.
By only revealing to Khan that they now know his name and that he is genetically engineered, Kirk lets Khan’s ego take over and revile his true intentions with the line ‘‘yes, it appears we will do well in your century, Captain!’’
Kirk then abruptly ends the conversation which throws Khan to ask ‘’Have you any other questions?’’ to which Kirk replies ‘’Thank you, they’ve all been answered’’ because he now knows that Khan is
In the process, Khan realises the game is up and the time is right to take over the Enterprise.
Kirk employs the same trick in Star Trek II when he has to make Khan follow him into the Mutara Nebula. Khan is reluctant because the nebula will interfere with his shields and sensors. So Kirk, over the intercom tells him that he ‘’laughing at his superior intellect’’ which knocks Khan’s ego, raises his temper to boiling point and he follows the Enterprise in.
Example: STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER
From Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, a film berated by most but unfairly in my opinion (something which I will expand upon in a different article.)
In this scene, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok finally get to meet the entity Sybok believes is ‘’God.’’ ‘’God’’ manifests himself in front of them and asks if their starship will carry him through the great barrier and allow him access to the galaxy beyond. Sybok tells him yes and that it will be his ‘’chariot’’
While everyone is standing mesmerised, Kirk is skeptical. After all, he’s faced more than his fair share of energy-based aliens who have wanted him to believe that they are all powerful, so why would this one be any different.
Kirk asks him ‘’what does god need with a starship?’’ which is a fair enough question. If he is god and he created everything, why can’t he pass through his own ‘’great barrier?’’ This provokes ‘’god’’ into showing that he is just another malevolent alien that wants control of the Enterprise.
Star Trek V gets labelled as the film where Star Trek does religion and the crew find god, but the opposite is true. They do go on a quest (be it against their will) to find the being that Sybok believes is God, but through rational thought Kirk exposes the ‘’God’’ creature as nothing more than a fraud. I love it when Kirk asks ‘’what does god need with a starship?’’ and ‘’don’t you know, aren’t you God?’ ’Kirk is questioning him rather than taking everything he’s being told at face value.
At the end of the film, Kirk tells Spock and McCoy that maybe god isn’t out there but in the human heart and that we are in control of our own destinies. We don’t need to be looking for an external god figure to provide us with answers; we have the power to do that ourselves.
Example: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
This is one of my favourites. Kirk is trying to convince the Admiral to allow him to take the Enterprise back to the planet Genesis so that he can recover Spock’s body and help Dr McCoy in the process (who has gone space crazy since Spock implanted his Katra/living spirit inside his head before he died).
The Admiral is unwilling to listen and instead tells Kirk to let it go and not let this issue ruin his career. But Kirk isn’t listening.
When Kirk is asking the Admiral for permission to go, he knows he has to go no matter what the Admiral decides. Kirk is really giving Starfleet a chance to do it by the book. His friends need him and destroying his career or the threat of a court martial isn’t an issue. He has to help them. Like Kirk said, he ‘’had to try’’ and but ultimately he’s going anyway.
Example: STAR TREK: Mirror Mirror
Kirk, Bones, Mr Scott and Uhura have accidentally been transported into a parallel universe where the Federation is a dictatorial empire that rules with force. Kirk walks onto the bridge and is informed by Uhura that if the Halkans don’t hand over the dilithium crystals, he is under orders to destroy them. Kirk obviously doesn’t want to do this and is in a very difficult situation because he also doesn’t want to give himself away as not being the indigenous Kirk of this universe.
Kirk’s easy way out is if Mr Scott successfully sabotages the ships phasers. Unfortunately, Scotty is denied access by security to the ships phaser room and has to inform the captain that the phasers are fine. So Kirk has to think quickly the only real option he has is to buy himself more time.
Kirk orders that phasers be put onto stand-by and tells the Halkan Council that they have 12 hours to comply. Spock advises him that this is unusual and ‘’unprecedented.’’ Kirk gives him an extended look that implies that he knows Spock is his biggest threat and that he cant be easily fooled.
Spock tells Kirk that his conduct must be reported, to which Kirk replies ‘‘you’re at liberty to do so’’ knowing that he has managed to buy a little time. On show is Kirk’s ability to stay calm, think quickly and make the right decisions even when under intense pressure.
NOT AFRAID TO GET HIS HANDS DIRTY
Example: STAR TREK: BY ANY OTHER NAME
Not much needs to be said about this. Kirk is trying to make Rojan (Warren Stevens) jealous by kissing Kelinda (Barbara Bouchet) and it works.
Kirk gives Rojan the perfect slap to provoke him further. It does the trick and leads to an awesome fight between Kirk and Rojan.
Kirk has never had a problem looking after himself. Having a large number of moves in your arsenal to call upon helps and Kirk has many including the hip toss, drop kick and karate chop.
Rest assured, if diplomacy fails, Kirk is more than capable to negotiate with his fists.
TWO STEPS AHEAD
Example: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Imagine being trapped inside a ‘’giant rock in space’’ while you’re ship has been severely damaged by a surprise attack. That would be enough to ruin anyone’s day, but not if you’re James T Kirk.
Realising that Khan must be monitoring communications, Spock informs Kirk that the Enterprise has no power to beam them back and it will take at least 2 days to repair. So Kirk & Co. take the time to relax in the Genesis cave where Kirk tells Savik and David about how he beat the Kobayashi Maru test.
The Kobayashi Maru test is designed to assess the character of Starfleet cadets who are hoping to be captain by making them face an unwinnable scenario. Kirk reprogrammed the test before he took it and beat it for which he got a commendation for original thinking.
Kirk then flicks his communicator and shows everyone that he’s beat the no win scenario again because the Enterprise is ready to beam them aboard. When Spock said that it would take two days to conduct repairs, he really meant two hours. Kirk then takes a bite of an apple and tells everyone ‘’I don’t like to loose’’.
Shatner plays this scene with just the right amount of smugness and self-satisfaction which rather than being annoying, comes across smooth and controlled. You can imagine he showed a similar amount of ingenuity and wit when he beat the Kobayashi Maru test.
In Star Trek (2009) you see Pine-Kirk take the Kobayashi Maru test and rather than coming across as a potential future captain, Pine plays him as a cocky jock whose over the top gloating makes him totally unlikeable. Hes acting brash and not taking the test seriously at all. You can’t understand why Starfleet would think hes in anyway ready to take the test. Also, hes made it so obvious that hes done something to the test, Im astounded that Pine-Kirk looks so shocked when he’s caught and has to defend his actions.
Kirk taking the Kobayashi Maru test has been fabled as a defining moment in the Kirk character but thanks to JJ Abrams, it’s been reduced to nothing more than a throwaway scene that does nothing to enhance the Kirk character.
The writers did have Pine-Kirk eating an apple, which I thought was a nice homage to Kirk eating an apple in Wrath of Khan in an otherwise tacky scene. But JJ Abrams dismissed that idea on the DVD commentary.
TURNS DEATH INTO A FIGHTING CHANCE TO LIVE
Example: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
We all know when it comes to the true loves in Kirk’s life; they can be categorized into three compartments – Women, his friends & The Enterprise.
So when the Enterprise is disabled and his son murdered by the Klingons in Star Trek III, Kirk realises his only option is to dupe the Klingons into boarding the ship and blowing it up. So McCoy and Sulu rush to the transporter room while Kirk, Mr Scott and Chekov enter the destruct sequence.
Credit to Shatner’s acting, he conveys sadness, grief, anger and loss perfectly throughout this scene. His son is dead and now he has to pull the plug on his terminally ill ship. Even as Mr Scott and Chekov are taken aback when they realise that hes about to blow up the ship, Kirk stares at the screen totally focused on what he has to do.
Accompanied by a stirring James Horner soundtrack, The Enterprise blowing up is one of the most memorable scenes in Star Trek, which ends with McCoy reassuring Kirk that he ‘’done what he always does, turn death into a fighting chance to live’’
NOT AFRAID TO BE UNPOPULAR
Example: STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE
A deadly cloud (as usual) is heading towards Earth and (as usual) the only ship that stands in its way is the Enterprise. But there is a problem, the Enterprise is still being refitted and Kirk, now an admiral, is no longer in the captain’s chair.
Kirk, as well as having a personal desire to be back captaining the Enterprise, knows that experience is key in combating the alien.
He meets with Captain Decker in Engineering and sacks him from the captain role and temporarily reduces his rank to commander. Decker, obviously upset, tries to guilt trip Kirk but Kirk orders Decker to report to the bridge while at the same time reminding him of his new rank.
It may come across as a shitty thing to do but the bigger problem is the threat from the approaching alien, and Decker’s feelings are of no consequence to the emerging situation.
Kirk knows that it’s his experience that’s needed to defeat the alien and he has to be in charge, even if he’s not up to scratch with the new Enterprise. The crew can operate the tool but he has to control it.
McCoy psychoanalyzes him later in the film and tells him that he is in the wrong and all this has all been about him being captain of the Enterprise again. But as the film unfolds, Kirk is proved right when his skill and experience brings a happy ending to the story.
Example: STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
The Klingons have run into trouble and can no longer afford to remain in a state of constant conflict with the federation. Starfleet has two options; either take this opportunity to crush the empire once and for all or to open up negotiations and bring an end to the mistrust.
When Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal wrote the story for Star Trek VI, they were mirroring the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in turn lead to the end of the Cold War. In the same way the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant triggered peace between the USSR and America, the explosion on the Klingon mining moon at the beginning of the film does the same between the Federation and Klingons.
Starfleet decide to send Kirk and the Enterprise to escort the Klingons to the peace conference. Kirk doesn’t want to go because he hates the Klingons since one of them killed his son in Star Trek III. But it’s pointed out to him that by Kirk going, it sends a message that the Federation is serious about peace. Even with Kirk’s history with the Klingons, he is now escorting them to peace talks on earth,
‘’Only Nixon could go to China’’
Later when the Enterprise meets up with the Klingon delegation, Kirk puts his feelings to one side and invites the Klingons to dinner onboard the Enterprise. When they beam aboard, he meats General Chang who tells Kirk that he’s always wanted to meet him. Kirk replies that he doesn’t ‘’know how to take that’’ to which one of the Klingon aids interjects that its with ‘’Sincere admiration.’’ Chang then states ‘‘from one warrior to another’’ implying that he would rather be kicking Kirk’s ass in battle than having dinner with him.
Kirk doesn’t rise to it. Instead Kirk says ‘’Right!’’ and gives Chang a look that tells him exactly what he thinks of him and what he would do to him if they met in different circumstances.
Example: STAR TREK: THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE
Kirk is stuck on the USS Constellation, which has been heavily damaged by a planet munching machine weapon. The Enterprise is now under the command of Commodore Decker who is grief stricken after loosing all his crew.
Decker decides the best course of action is to fight the machine but it’s a repeat of the same decision he took that led his crew to their deaths and his ship crippled.
When Kirk finally gets through to the Enterprise and finds out that its Decker who is responsible for taking the Enterprise into combat with the machine, he is quick to tell him what he thinks off him and orders Spock to take command. When Decker quotes regulations, Kirk responds with ‘’Blast regulations.’’ He isn’t going to blindly follow regulations if it means he might loose his ship.
Previously Spock and McCoy bickered about regulations when Decker took command. Spock told McCoy that Starfleet regulations allowed Decker to take control and there was nothing they could do about it. But Kirk, showed he knows what needs to be done and that no regulation is going to stop him by ordering Spock to take command and gave Decker a proverbial slap over the intercom at the same time.
Being a good Captain means your crew has to have complete confidence in you. You show them that they can trust you by making the right decisions even in difficult situations. Kirk does this and that is why Spock tells him that ‘’commanding a starship is [his] first best destiny, anything else is a waste of material.’’