Note: I wrote this prior to the announcement of Captain Kirk coming to a Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It seems a little more necessary now for me to post this.
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Captain (eventually admiral, then back to captain) James Tiberius Kirk. Born March 22, 2233 in Riverside, Iowa. The general perception of him in popular culture is a hormone driven horndog that shoots first and asks questions never but that is as far from the truth as one can get. At least before the JJ Abrams reboot. Kirk was a thoughtful leader that cared about those under his command.
Kirk in part was driven by the mistakes of his past. Much of what Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was in the series was fueled by guilt. Why do I say that? For example in the episode “Obsession” that references his time as a lieutenant on the USS Farragut where space cloud entity sucked hemoglobin from people (until I wrote that I never realized it was a space vampire) his actions in that episode to stop it were driven by not being able to stop it many years earlier. A connection can be made between those events in Captain Kirk’s past to the way he handled the Enterprise in general. He didn’t fight with reckless abandon but having learned from that he was a thoughtful tactician who worked within the rules. Admittedly in the episode he became blinded by guilt at one point, but the incident was an important part of his character.
You may laugh but it was stated on several occasions that because of his distance from Federation territory he was given a great deal of latitude in which to work. Kirk kept the Prime Directive and other Federation rules in mind. He certainly bent them but never broke them. He destroyed an evil military computer but that was just to restore the natural order. He destroyed another computer (in fact he destroyed a lot of computers) to restore the natural order of a civilization because it was unnatural for the stagnation to occur when ruled by a machine.
While he may have been guided by his feelings, Kirk’s feelings were tempered by his intellect. He saw a wrong and his strong moral compass caused him to become outraged and he had to do something, but he didn’t just go in and shoot things up. He thought them through. He cared about his friends and his crew.
This was best exemplified in his relationship with Spock. He was broken by the death of his friend and risked everything to get him back. Heck, Kirk’s bond with the crew got them to take the same risk.
Kirk was a charming lady’s man and certainly put the moves on any female he came across. He was successful because he was intelligent. Nobody likes an idiot. A pretty face will only get you so far. Substance will get you further. As an instructor at Starfleet Academy, it was said you could “think or sink” in his class with Kirk being described as “a stack of books with legs.” Intelligence made him a charmer.
Kirk was an out of the box thinker. He was a curious and inquisitive mind that was not easily fooled. His most Kirk moment-the scene which exemplified the character-came paradoxically in the weakest TOS film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier where he asks, “What does God need with a starship?” That is quintessential Kirk. It was a perfect example of his inquisitive nature and his mind.
And when the movies came around Kirk realized he was leaving that which he was best born to do behind and that was command a starship. He even realized he had missed out on something probably far greater than being a starship captain and that was being a father. Mortality was staring him in the face and any footnote and any legacy he would leave to the galaxy at large would be entries in historical texts and not having raised a child or being a part of that child’s life.
By the time of the TNG film Generations, Kirk was a man that looked back on his life and regretted the choices that he made. He had focused more on career than on life. He had toyed with the idea of children and marriage but had never really made the time. He was married to his career and his ship and all the things he felt that really mattered. He was a man without purpose who was not even doing the thing he was born to do.
Kirk kept giving up his first, best destiny. Like so many people today he had did not have a work/life balance. He was all work with little life. He was human.
My point is Captain Kirk was not this hormone driven frat boy given to random shooting or using his fists as popular culture what have you believe. He was a thoughtful and complex character. He was mortal. Captain Kirk was a normal person who rose to the occasion to do what needed to be done because it was the right thing to do. Kirk was a hero to look up to as flawed as he was. He strove to do better. He tried for the higher ideals even if he did not always achieve them.
There is a reason the version created by Shatner has resonated and lasted through the years. And that was because he was an individual that stepped up to do what needed to be done. He had a strong sense of right and wrong as well as duty and loyalty to his friends. He tried to be the best he could be and expected that of others around him. He was someone we would either want by her side or to be like. And that is why the characters lasted so long.