Star Trek: What We Know About James T. Kirk Before He Became Captain Of The Enterprise

Paul Wesley in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds just dropped the mic with its latest casting when it revealed that The Vampire Diaries' Paul Wesley will join the series in Season 2 as James T. Kirk. Known more commonly as Captain Kirk (and made iconic by modern space traveler and actor William Shatner) when he helmed the Enterprise in the original Star Trek, he's coming to the upcoming Star Trek series, and that’s cause for excitement. It’s even more exciting when considering that this is presumably before Kirk served as Captain of the Enterprise, because Anson Mount is playing his predecessor, Captain Pike. 

The possibility (and likelihood) of seeing a pre-Enterprise Kirk join the cast of characters already involved is exciting, as there isn’t a ton we’ve seen of the iconic captain’s years before Starfleet. However, we do know a few things from the original series that are worth mentioning that could possibly come up when Paul Wesley makes his debut as James T. Kirk. Perhaps some of these moments will directly come into play during his run on the show, however long that may be.

The Star Trek Crew in Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Kirk Witnessed Atrocities Committed On Tarsus IV At A Young Age

While James T. Kirk was born on Earth, he spent some time elsewhere in his youth, Including Tarsus IV. That was especially important for Kirk’s development, as he witnessed a food shortage in his colony and the atrocious way one Governor Kodos hoped to solve it. Kodos, a eugenics sympathizer, decided to kill half of the “least desirable” 8,000 colonists to solve the problem. Kirk recalled in Star Trek’s “Conscience of the King” that supply ships were close and that those people needn’t have died had Kodos known.

Kirk was one of nine survivors of that incident, and I can’t imagine that’s something that didn’t stick with him for the rest of his life. Of course, it’s a coin toss if it’ll come up in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, as Kirk isn’t the star of the show, and there will only be so many moments where he can recall the past. I’d like to see that traumatizing memory play out in live-action, though, and how it shaped Kirk into the person he became.

William Shatner in Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount+)

He Became The First Cadet To Defeat The Kobayashi Maru

James T. Kirk defeating the Kobayashi Maru is, perhaps, about the most-cited fact I see fans make about the Star Trek captain from his pre-Enterprise days. The Kobayashi Maru, as Star Trek: Discovery and even Prodigy recently reminded fans, is an impossible test to beat by design. The true meaning of the test is to teach cadets that they’ll face no-win scenarios in their careers and must make the best possible choice given the situation. Kirk defeating the test is sometimes cited as an example of his excellence as a captain. 

We’re not here to debate that, but rather to explain how he beat the Kobayashi Maru. Kirk didn’t somehow outmaneuver the no-win scenario as some might assume. He revealed in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan that he just secretly reprogrammed the test so he could win. That’s an important distinction to make, though it’s worth noting that it’s still impressive Kirk became the first to find a way to win.

Captain Kirk in Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Kirk Served Upon The USS Republic And Reported A Friend

Kirk didn’t just step out of Starfleet straight into command of the Enterprise. The future Captain had a few postings before he got to where he was on Star Trek, and one of his first was on the USS Republic. Kirk was still an ensign and joined alongside a former instructor and friend at Starfleet Academy, Lieutenant Benjamin Finney. Unfortunately, the tenure was notable for unfortunate reasons Kirk spoke about later, as he was forced to report a friend and halt his progress to promotion. 

This is all revealed in the Star Trek episode “Court Marshall,” when Kirk is accused of killing Finney. Kirk revealed that when he served with Finney on the Republic, he nearly caused a catastrophe that would’ve destroyed the ship had Kirk not intervened. Kirk reported Finney, which ultimately sent Finney to the bottom of the promotion list, and Kirk surpassed him. The two ran into each other again, and Kirk didn’t kill him, so I’m unsure of whether or not this specific story will be recounted given the follow-up in the original series.

Captain Kirk on Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Kirk Taught At The Academy

Many people celebrate Kirk for his time in command, but there isn’t a lot of celebration for his stint teaching at Starfleet Academy. Kirk taught at the academy while he was a lieutenant in rank, as mentioned in Star Trek’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of details on this period of Kirk’s life, outside of a few romances. 

With that being said, Kirk’s time teaching at Starfleet Academy feels like uncharted territory for a series like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to flesh out. If Captain Pike is still in charge of the Enterprise in Season 2, then this is definitely a part of Kirk's life that can not only be addressed, but further fleshed out for the lore.

William Shatner in Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Kirk Almost Got Married, And Had Other Romances

This is likely no surprise to Star Trek fans, but James T. Kirk had a handful of romances during his time at Starfleet Academy. Kirk revealed he nearly married an unnamed blonde lab technician in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” We also know he had a romance with Janice Lester, a passionate lover he made mention of in “Turnabout Intruder.” 

James T. Kirk’s role in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is unknown, though one has to wonder if love is in the air for Kirk and any of the characters. It’s not like Kirk to not be known as a lover of ladies in Trek canon, so I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get close with at least one or two during his stint. 

Captain Kirk on Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Kirk Served Aboard The USS Farragut

Kirk also served aboard the USS Farragut before joining the Enterprise, which came along with its fair share of commendations. It also featured a pretty big event which resulted in Kirk surviving an incident that killed his captain, as well as 200 other crew members. 

Kirk faced off against a dikironium cloud creature (which might be present in the trailer for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds), and as mentioned above, the encounter with it was a deadly undertaking. Kirk blamed himself for the incident (as mentioned in Star Trek’s “Obsession"), but the general consensus was that he did the best he could. I’d imagine the encounter haunted him all the same, and we might see that if it happens fairly close to his time on Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres on Paramount+ on Thursday, May 5th. Pick up a Paramount+ subscription to stream it, as well as all of the other upcoming Star Trek shows arriving in 2022 and beyond.  

Mick Joest
Content Producer

I like good television but also reality television. His day largely consists of balancing his workload between reporting on the latest and greatest news in Star Trek and other sci-fi, as well as 90 Day Fiancé, WWE, Big Brother, and more.