Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: How The Enterprise Got Its Worst Captain

Star Trek Generations introduced the worst Captain of the Starship Enterprise, Captain John Harriman (Alan Ruck), but Trekkers never learned how he got his command. Harriman's lone canonical appearance was in the prologue of the seventh Star Trek movie, which was the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation's leap to the big screen in 1994. But Trekkers were surprised to see the U.S.S. Enterprise-B launched and to meet the starship's hapless new commander at the start of Star Trek Generations.

In the prologue of Star Trek Generations set in 2293, 78 years before the film's TNG-centric main story, Captain Harriman welcomed Star Trek: The Original Series' heroes Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), and Pavel Chekov to the brand-new Excelsior-class Enterprise-B's maiden voyage, which was a media event. But both Harriman and his starship were totally unprepared to encounter the energy ribbon called the Nexus, which endangered an El-Aurian freighter. After Harriman failed to come up with a workable rescue plan, he asked Kirk to step in. The original Enterprise's Captain and his crewmates led the Enterprise-B to rescue the El-Aurians, but Kirk was seemingly killed in the process. (He was pulled into the Nexus until he reappeared later in the film.) But as far as the galaxy knew for the next eight decades, Captain Kirk was dead and the tragedy happened on Captain Harriman's watch.

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Captain Harriman's ineptitude was especially jarring because, between TOS and TNG, fans had spent years and even decades watching the two greatest Captains of the Enterprise, Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) lead their respective crews to overcome numerous crises. Indeed, the two Captains meeting in Star Trek Generations was the historic centerpiece event of the film, which ended with Kirk's canonical death. Trekkers didn't expect to meet a third Enterprise Captain at the onset of the movie, but instead of another dynamic leader, John Harriman turned out to be the opposite of the legendary commanders who both preceded and succeeded him. However, it was never explained in Star Trek Generations how or why John Harriman somehow succeeded Kirk.

In a 2018 interview with AV Club, Alan Ruck explained the backstory for Captain Harriman that Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman gave him when Ruck was cast:

Although fans were never told his backstory in the film, in John Harriman's defense, the Enterprise-B's Captain did seem like he was trying his best during the crisis. But he was woefully inexperienced and his Enterprise wasn't up to specs because the maiden voyage was planned to merely be a ceremonial trip around the solar system for the benefit of the reporters aboard. Harriman was also crushed when Kirk was lost, although what happened next to him and his career was never canonically revealed in the Star Trek movie. While there are Star Trek novels and comics that do flesh out Harriman's story, those are considered apocryphal.

Meanwhile, Berman's explanation that Harriman's family "bought" him the Enterprise-B's Captain's chair is fascinating because it also doesn't make sense. By the 23rd-century, humanity had abandoned money and the pursuit of material wealth. So how did the Harrimans "buy" John the prestigious posting of Captain of the Enterprise, and to be Kirk's successor no less? Berman's rationale opens up myriad questions about whether Starfleet Captaincies can be "bought", and by what means. However, since Berman's backstory for Harriman never made it on screen, it's also technically not Star Trek canon, so it's likely Captain Harriman will permanently remain a bizarre outlier in the proud lineage of the Captains of the Enterprise.

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