Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Picard Finally Gave Us The Riker TNG's Movies Never Did

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Picard season 1, episode 7.

Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) has joined Star Trek: Picard, and Trekkers were treated to the best version of the Starfleet hero since Star Trek: The Next Generation went off the air. In fact, the older Riker that Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) turned to in his time of need was infinitely better than the way the First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D and E was portrayed in the four TNG movies. The highly-anticipated appearances of Riker and his wife, Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), took place in Star Trek: Picard episode 7, "Nepenthe," and it was a thrill to see Riker prove his status as Picard's Number One once again.

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As the First Officer of the Enterprise-D, Commander Riker was a core member of TNG. A brash, confident ladies' man (cut from the cloth of Willam Shatner's Captain Kirk), Will was a necessary contrast to the stoic and philosophical Captain Picard. Riker was happy to be the second-in-command of the United Federation of Planets' flagship - a little too happy, since he turned down a promotion and a ship of his own many times to remain aboard the Enterprise. However, Riker was also extremely bright, personable, and talented; TNG gave Will plenty of moments that showcased what a fine Captain he would turn out to be, such as when Number One took command of the Enterprise-D and led the successful rescue of Picard when he was assimilated by the Borg in TNG's classic "The Best of Both Worlds" two-parter. Yet despite proving his mettle numerous times, Riker essentially stood still on the Enterprise and remained Picard's Number One for a total of 15 years, which includes all of the TNG movies, where Riker's importance was severely downplayed.

In the final Next Generation film, Star Trek: Nemesis, Will and Deanna got married, and at the end they both moved onto Captain Riker's new ship, the U.S.S. Titan. However, Riker and Troi later appeared in the controversial series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, where they played younger versions of themselves from the TNG season 7 episode, "The Pegasus." After that last glimpse of Riker in his TNG prime, it was tough to feel like the bearded Commander really achieved his full potential, especially after the way Riker was portrayed in the TNG films. Happily, Riker's appearance in Star Trek: Picard settled doubts that he turned out as great as fans hoped he would, especially in contrast to his mentor Jean-Luc Picard.

The Problem With Riker In The TNG Movies

Despite the fact that he was the Enterprise's First Officer, Riker found himself heading up the B-stories of the TNG movies while the main thrust of each film revolved around Captain Picard. The movies' status quo essentially reversed the dynamic of the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation where, as Captain, Picard would remain aboard the Enterprise while the younger Number One would head up the away missions. Instead, Riker was usually the one left minding the store in the movies while Picard spearheaded the action and fought the villains. In each movie, Riker was reduced from one of the main characters to a supporting one.

The first TNG movie, Star Trek Generations, placed Riker in an ignoble position as he was in command of the Enterprise-D when the starship crashed on Veridian III and was destroyed while Picard and Kirk (William Shatner) were tussling with the evil Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell). In Star Trek: First Contact Riker played an important role; without him, the crucial launch of the Phoenix that led to Zephram Cochrane's (James Cromwell) world-changing first contact with the Vulcans wouldn't have happened. Still, Riker's success was the B-story while Picard battled the Borg aboard the Enterprise-E in the film's A-plot. Riker had far less to do in Star Trek Insurrection (his primary actions in the film were to shave his beard and re-ignite his romance with Troi). Star Trek: Nemesis continued to struggle to find something for Number One to do, and Riker ended up in a slugfest with the Reman Viceroy (Ron Perlman) while Picard battled his clone Shinzon (Tom Hardy) and Commander Data (Brent Spiner) sacrificed his life to save the Enterprise.

Why Riker Was Shortchanged In The TNG Movies

As the Captain and the star of the Next Generation films, Patrick Stewart's Picard was, logically, the main character of each film. However, unlike the well-balanced structure of TNG, which had 7 seasons consisting of 26 episodes to explore each character, the movies opted to mimic the dynamic of the Star Trek films starring The Original Series' cast. Therefore the TNG movies created a core triumvirate consisting of Picard, Data, and Worf (Michael Dorn) as the most important characters, just as the TOS films revolved around the trio of Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. McCoy (DeForrest Kelley). While this made sense, in that Picard's backup was his android and Klingon officers, this left Riker, Picard's Number One, in the background.

In addition, Jonathan Frakes stepped behind the camera and directed Star Trek: First Contact, which was the biggest hit critically and financially of the TNG movies, and its follow-up, Star Trek Insurrection. With the responsibility of helming two major feature films as his top concern, Frakes naturally let Riker be de-emphasized for those films (although Riker's role in First Contact was pivotal to the overall Star Trek saga and it was arguably Frakes's best performance in all of the TNG films). But Star Trek: Nemesis' Picard-centric plot involving his clone Shinzon, coupled with Data's death, which was a blatant rehash of Spock's sacrifice in Star Trek: II: The Wrath of Khan, left little room for Riker. Besides Number One was clearly set up to exit with Troi so he could take over his own ship. Sadly, Trekkers know next to nothing so far of Riker and Troi's voyages commanding the U.S.S. Titan.

Star Trek: Picard's Riker Was The Best Since TNG

Thankfully, the Will Riker whom Jean-Luc turned to in Star Trek: Picard was the same hero Trekkers loved from TNG. Now retired from Starfleet (but still on active reserve), Will and Deanna made their new home on the planet Nepenthe. When Picard showed up with Data's daughter Soji (Isa Briones), they found Riker and Troi more than willing to help their old friend. What's more, Riker not only reassured his former commanding officer that whatever his problem was, they can handle it. Will also created a warm, inviting refuge for Picard. Riker was always personable and fun-loving in his off-hours, and the older Will was no different, happily preparing fresh pizza in his wood-fired oven while effortlessly being a rock that Picard could rely upon.

Riker's wit and perceptive nature were also in full effect; although Will was annoyed that Picard was withholding vital information as if ignorance was all it took to ward danger away, Riker accurately deduced that Soji is an android like Data and that Picard was hiding her from the Romulan Tal Shiar. Most of all, it was heartwarming to see Riker as the head of his own family, including his daughter Kestra (Lulu Wilson), despite the fact that the Troi-Rikers suffered a tragedy: the death of their son Thaddeus. In fact, Riker's being such a loving parent made what Picard said when he was turned into a 12-year-old in the TNG episode "Rascals" come true: Riker really is the Number One Dad.

While it's not clear if the Troi-Rikers will return in Star Trek: Picard, this long-awaited reunion with the Enterprise's first couple was worth the wait - especially seeing Riker's potential fulfilled as a Starfleet Officer, a hero, and, more importantly, as a husband and father. Contrasted to Picard, who is alone and still unsettled in his twilight years, seeing Riker and Troi happy together after all this time was truly rewarding. Amazingly, in just one episode, Star Trek: Picard outdid all of the TNG movies and gave Trekkers the best version of Riker we've seen in decades.

Star Trek: Picard streams Thursdays on CBS All-Access and Fridays internationally on Amazon Prime Video.