We all know that Captain James T. Kirk died (rather ignominiously, IMHO, but that’s another post) in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, the seventh in the original film series of the TREK franchise. But William Shatner, the actor who played him in The Original Series and most of those films, just turned 90 years old this week (on March 22). That’s right, count the years, 90.
Even he can’t quite believe it. “It’s a bit embarrassing,” he said in an interview on Fox News. “Who wants to be 90? I don’t want to be 90, but I’m 90!”
Not that his age has slowed him down any. He has a new movie out, SENIOR MOMENT, about a former NASA test pilot who loses his driver’s license after drag racing around town, and, forced onto public transportation, meets a new love. The film is packed with star power—Christopher Lloyd, Jean Smart, Esai Morales—and a certain kind of corny charm, judging by the trailer. It debuts today both in theaters and on demand.
You have to admire a guy who just won’t give up what he loves no matter what the calendar says. Now that James Brown has passed on, Shatner is surely the hardest working man in show business. Or at least the most visible one.
I’ve been a fan of the actor since before I even knew who Shatner was. He attracted my attention when I was a mere youngster (and had the bejeesus scared out of me) in that famous episode of The Twilight Zone in which he battles the gremlin on the plane’s wing that only he can see, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” He was in an earlier Zone episode, “Nick of Time,” about a fortune-telling bobblehead in a small-town diner that almost traps a newlywed couple in a web of fear. When I look back at the most memorable episodes of one of my favorite series, that one stands out, too.
But then Shatner donned the uniform of Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and I was hooked. There are times when the casting of actor with character just matches perfectly, and this was so clearly one of those times. We know it, because the first pilot of Star Trek, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jim Kirk, demonstrates just how badly the character could have been portrayed—as a wooden, by-the-book flyboy straight out of the Hollywood mold.
But Kirk as Shatner plays him is smart, quick-thinking, intuitive, action-oriented but not impulsive. He is compassionate to those in need and loyal to his friends and crew. He seeks the opinions of his senior officers, but makes his own decisions, often synthesizing the disparate notions of the logical Spock and the emotional McCoy into a reasonable solution to the problem at hand.
|William Shatner as James T. Kirk: in command.|
And Kirk is human. So human. Passionate. Full of doubt. Willing to take risks and break rules. Sometimes wrong. And given the chance to attain a Paradise of peace and serenity without challenges, he passes, every time. As he tells the renegade Vulcan Sybok in STAR TREK V: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, “I need my pain!”
Kirk is a complex character that draws on deep reserves of light and dark within himself to command his ship. The classic episode “The Enemy Within,” in which a transporter malfunction splits him into his “dominating” half and his “compassionate” half provides the perfect example. Neither half can command without the other. “Meek” Kirk hates his darker self but must embrace him to become fully integrated again and save the ship.
In fact, I believe the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation needed three characters to replace Kirk—the cerebral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart); his action-oriented Number One, Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes); and the intuitive Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). I recently watched the first season of Picard, the Paramount+ series about that captain’s post-Enterprise adventures and found it only mildly entertaining. I love Patrick Stewart as a person and an actor, but Picard just doesn’t do it for me as a captain. He thinks too much.
A few posts back, my fellow blogger K.M. Fawcett challenged us to name our favorite starship captains. As for other Starfleet captains, I enjoyed watching Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), but had no particular emotional attachment to her or her crew. I couldn’t get into other older iterations of TREK, for various reasons, so their captains are lost to history. Now, Christopher Pike (as played by Anson Mount in Star Trek: Discovery) has some real potential. He has the presence (and the looks—wowza!), and the powers-that-be have hinted that a series may be in store for him and Ethan Peck as Spock in a prequel to the five-year mission of Kirk’s Enterprise. I’d definitely watch that!
I love Mal Reynolds of the Serenity and James Holden of the Rocinante, but their ships and crews are small and independent. You can’t really compare them to Kirk, who acts on behalf of the Federation and whose actions have galactic scope. (Well, Holden’s affect the solar system, but, too often in the wrong direction because the boy doesn’t think!)
Han Solo, too, is an indie operator. He doesn’t command a crew. (Chewie is a partner.) I doubt that anyone would ever follow him, even if he deigned to lead them.
No, Kirk is my captain. He has always been my captain—my first hero in the TREK fanzines I wrote and the model (at least a little) for Sam Murphy, the space pirate captain of the Shadowhawk, hero of Fools Rush In, Interstellar Rescue Series Book 3.
So, happy birthday, Bill, and thanks for giving us this character for the ages.