Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation is widely regarded as the best captain of the franchise, and there are plenty of excellent reasons why.
Fans celebrate “Captain Picard Day” on June 16, recognized as the equivalence to Stardate 47457.1 as mentioned in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Pegasus.” However, the day was more than a reason to sit back in a couch and enjoying a cup of earl grey tea or glass of French wine while binge-watching the show and sharing Picard memes. It’s about celebrating one of the franchise’s most iconic captains, who led the Enterprise-D on a multitude of adventures in space for seven seasons.
In 2012, Picard was named best Star Trek captain by fans on StarTrek.com, although James Kirk (Original Series) and Kathryn Janeway (Voyager) gave him strong competition in certain categories. Every captain has his or her fans, but Picard usually leaves the greatest impression.
Much of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s popularity can be attributed to the performance of English-born actor Sir Patrick Stewart. Not only did Stewart work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but his father was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the British Army in World War II who assisted with the Allied retreat from Dunkirk. The mix of theatrical performance and real-life influences helped shape Picard into an unforgettable character.
Picard is set to return later this year in his own self-titled series, which takes place 20 years after The Next Generation, around the year 2399. But no matter where or when the new series takes place, Picard will likely still embody the traits that made him such a great Starfleet captain. Namely being courageous, confident, intelligent, tough, and inspiring.
Courage is a given quality for any Starfleet captain, especially when your mission is to enter the final frontier and boldly go where no one has gone before.
However, Picard rose up the ranks by proving his skill under pressure. Before captaining the Enterprise, he was the first officer aboard the Stargazer, a lieutenant commander serving under Captain Jack Crusher. When the Stargazer was nearly destroyed in a surprise attack, Picard saved the ship by inventing a warp maneuver, practically out of desperation.
The now famous “Picard Maneuver” involved racing directly toward an enemy at high warp, briefly making it look like the ship was in two places at once to their sensors. The enemies didn’t know which one to fire at.
This improvised move led Starfleet promoting Picard up two ranks to Captain, which some might consider ironic considering how Picard started at Starfleet.
Although Jean-Luc Picard would end up becoming one of the best known and respected captains in the Star Trek universe, he actually failed his entry exam into Starfleet Academy. This didn’t deter him from trying again, this time succeeding and ultimately excelling. His history stands in strong contrast to captains such as Kirk, who got into the academy and then cheated on the Kobayashi Maru exam because he didn’t accept the idea of no-win scenarios.
Many may look back on Picard’s career and see him as a strong stickler for the rules. Although it’s true that he rarely broke the Prime Directive (don’t interfere with the development of a pre-warp civilization), Picard wasn’t afraid to bend the rules every once in a while. He wasn’t as brazen about it as Kirk, who sometimes treated Starfleet’s core principle as a well-meaning suggestion, but he wasn’t as die-hard about it as Janeway either.
In one episode, Admiral Satie informs Picard that he violated the Prime Directive nine different times. However, these were usually situations that demanded it. They included rescuing planets from certain destruction and destroying a Borg cube that was attacking Earth.
It’s his practical decision making, and knowing when to justifiably bend the rules, that kept him from being demoted as Kirk was at points of his career.
Captain Kirk is usually regarded as a man of action. He jumped into situations, doing whatever he felt was right, and fixed whatever he broke later. In contrast, Picard is seen as a thoughtful diplomat who prefers preventing wars to fighting them.
Picard knew a great deal of Starfleet laws and regulations, which made him a fantastic lawyer when he defended Data’s rights as a sentient, living being in the episode “A Measure of a Man.” Beyond that, he was a true renaissance man, showing interest and deep knowledge of alien cultures and civilizations. This included everything from Klingon opera, to Vulcan traditions, and Bajoran history.
He was also multilingual and picked up additional languages as the show progressed.
Perhaps most importantly, he respected foreign ways even when he didn’t agree with them. This is one of the reasons he was such an effective diplomat and why so many came to respect him.
But don’t take Picard’s preference for diplomacy as a sign of weakness. When it comes down to it, he has endured more than what many other Starfleet captains have in their whole careers.
In one episode, Picard is captured by Cardassians who torture him to extract information. Despite being subjected to sensory deprivation, sensory bombardment, physical pain, and more, he never breaks.
However, his worst experience is when he was assimilated by the Borg and helped them destroy dozens of Starfleet ships. Not only did he survive the traumatic experience and returned to Starfleet, but he was able to use his inside knowledge of the Borg to save Earth from being assimilated.
All of these qualities contribute to what makes Picard a great captain, but what makes him a truly inspiring one is the respect he earns from others, regardless of the universe or timeline.
Despite all his knowledge and confidence, he isn’t afraid to ask for advice from others. He grows based on what he learns and even changes his position on certain subjects. Most importantly, he uses his words to bring others to action.
For instance, in the series finale “All Good Things,” Picard is thrown across three different timelines. He manages to convince his friends to help him even when they barely know him or outright think he’s losing his mind. Doing so proved humanity’s worth to the omnipotent Q, saving the species from eradication via time anomaly.
That’s the stuff of a great captain.