Who Is The Best Starfleet Captain?

A few weeks ago, I finished watching all of the Star Trek series and movies. (Finally, after about 4 years!) Now that I’m done, I find myself wondering a lot how I would rank the series or captains from best to worst, favorite to least favorite.

When it comes to captains, there is a distinction between my favorites and the ones I’d most like to serve under as a regular crewmember. Picard, Sisko and Janeway are pretty well tied for my favorite based on personality and style, with Picard just barely edging ahead of the other two. I like Kirk and Archer just fine.

The captain I would most like to serve under is a completely different story, though. Some of our esteemed captains tend to get more crew members killed than the others do.

Some parameters are required for this list. I’m basing this solely on how recklessly or well they treat members of their crew, not other deaths they may end up causing through intervention or non-intervention in the affairs of other ships or peoples. I’m going to stick with the 5 live-action television series and leave the movies out.

Here is my ranked listing of which captains I would prefer to serve with.

5. Captain Jonathan Archer

Captain Archer

Archer seems like a nice guy. I would love to get a beer or talk about water polo with him. He has an adorable dog. I don’t want go anywhere near his ship, though. I spent of lot of my Enterprise watch yelling at the TV when he made terrible decisions.

I do acknowledge that since he is first human captain to encounter many of the planets and races in the quadrant he’s kind of making it up as he goes along, but he frequently ignores the advice of his resident Vulcan, T’Pol. Why have her there if you’re not going to listen to her? The Xindi attack wasn’t his fault, but he could have dealt with it better. He seems to get a lot of crewmembers and MACOs killed.

4. Captain James T. Kirk

Captain Kirk

Captain Kirk isn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting him to be based on the pop culture caricature of him as an incorrigible ladies man who can’t keep his shirt on. (Yeah, I watched Galaxy Quest before I watched Star Trek.) The fact is, though, that he gets a larger percentage of his crew killed than most of the other captains. His ship is the genesis of the term “red shirt,” after all. “And the Children Shall Lead” stood out in my mind. Two crewmembers are accidentally beamed into space and killed. Kirk barely reacts. Redshirts dying is just part of the daily routine on NCC-1701.

3. Captain Benjamin Sisko

Captain Sisko

Captain Sisko is tough to classify. I thought of leaving him off because his circumstances are so drastically different from those of the other captains. The Dominion War happens during his series, and you can argue that he both started and finished it. The percentage of people killed under his command is going to be higher purely because of the war. At some points he is in command of entire fleets.

I’m putting him solidly in the middle based on his style. He cares about his crew, and is equal parts tough and sensitive. He doesn’t sacrifice people for no reason. He will compromise his own honor to prevent more death. We see that in “In the Pale Moonlight.” I would be content with Benjamin Sisko as my commanding officer.

2. Captain Kathryn Janeway

Captain Janeway

I will acknowledge up front with Janeway that she is definitely responsible for the deaths of a lot of sentient beings outside of her own crew; Borg, Kazon, Hirogen, species 8472. We can argue that it was to protect her crew, the Federation, or species that were in danger. That can be either a good or a bad thing depending on your opinion.

I don’t hold the loss of crewmembers during “The Caretaker” against her, as there was no way she could have prevented it a god-like being from flinging her ship across the galaxy. But, in the long run, she got far fewer Starfleet personnel killed over the course of seven years than Kirk did in three. And, I’m not going to lie; I love that she grabs a phaser rifle and goes after invaders herself.

1. Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Captain Picard

I know. Wolf 359. Locutus of Borg. The damage he does when assimilated by the Borg is significant, but it isn’t his fault and he couldn’t be expected to stop it. Q is responsible for throwing the Enterprise-D into the Delta Quadrant and alerting the Borg to the Federation’s presence, not Picard. Overall, Picard loses a much smaller percentage of his crew. The numbers sound high, but his crew is 3 times larger than Kirk’s and nearly 10 times larger than Janeway’s.

Picard carefully weighs every decision he makes and almost never rushes into a situation on impulse. If he sends someone into danger, he has determined that there is a just cause for it. I feel like I would be much safer on the family-friendly, carpeted, well-armed Federation flagship than I would be on any of the others.

Which captains would you prefer to serve under?

Michelle Toven lives in northern Minnesota, where she does normal things by day and nerdy things by weekend and night. Her interests range from Star Trek, to history, archaeology, languages, fantasy and sci-fi, politics, and cats.

You can follow Michelle on Twitter @mtoven.

4 Comments Join the Conversation →


  • DavidDesjardins

    Respect Michelle, for even writing this. I strongly recommend fire retardant clothes for the next several days. For the most part I agree, but would rank Sisko higher 😉 Personal choice, but anyone who punches Q and gets away with it, should be at least #2 😉

  • One thing you have to take into account is that the captains were all leading their crews during very different circumstances. The 23rd-century galaxy that Kirk faced was very different from the 24th-century environment that Picard faced. Each of them was an excellent captain for the conditions of their time; Kirk’s style would have been less successful in the 24th century, and Picard’s would have been less successful in the 23rd.

    As for Archer, I can only conclude that he comes from an alternate universe where science fiction doesn’t exist, since I’ve clearly thought more about space exploration than he has. I know the writers wanted to convey the fact that he and his crew were new to the whole enterprise of exploring space, but they could have done that without making Archer a freaking idiot. Really bad writing there!

  • Mark L

    Kirk is the standard by which all other Trek captains are judged. This should really be a ranking the others ranked 2-5 🙂

  • Zak Ember

    Ok, I love Star Trek. I grew up with the original series in syndication, and I was a kid who collected Honey Nut Cheerios box tops during a Star Trek: The Next Generation promotional to get a Ryker action figure. And I must have watched the Reading Rainbow episode where Levar Burton toured the sets of TNG a hundred times. I caught DS9’s pilot while moving from Pennsylvania to Arizona… wouldn’t miss it for the world. And I was super stoked when UPN launced and announced Voyager as a flagship show. The only series I didn’t catch (due to Star Trek fatigue) was Enterprise.

    That all being said, I have to rank Ben Sisko as the best captain. He’s number one with a bullet and the others don’t even come close. Don’t get me wrong… if the universe is in trouble and someone needs a fighter’, Kirk is your man. Picard is the diplomat’s diplomat, who has a nearly unshakeable faith in humanity, (almost to the point of a weakness, since it’s what insulted Q and led to the first confrontation with the Borg.) Janeway was the only character I didn’t like, (due to the writing, not a whit because of her actress, Kate Mulgrew, who I thought brought the role to life.) And I even like Scott Bakula as a Captain… something akin to the characters from, “The Right Stuff”.

    But Sisko… well, unlike the other captains, I felt he had unbelievable depth. He was a father, and continued to be so through the whole series. He was a builder, not an explorer. He had deeper passions, stronger relationships, and wasn’t afraid of long term relationships.

    However… it was the spiritual side that I thought won him over for me. I thought this was pure genius on the part of the writers. Making a guy who had no faith become the Emissary for a foreign people?! How crazy was that? But as the series progressed, Ben found himself loving Bajor, even planning to eventually retire from the Federation and live out his days with his family there. Like a biblical figure, he isn’t perfect, but over the course of the series, embraces a relationship with this spiritual guide until at the end, he sacrifices himself willingly for the Bajorans. No other Star Trek show even came close to attempting any blatant religious themes, but I thought this show was lifted up by it.

    He was so… human. More so than the other captains, who were merely archetypes for the writers to play with. Kirk never really changes, and neither does Picard, Janeway, or Archer. But Sisko changes A LOT. Even the first episode deals with him learning to move past his wife’s death and the anger he felt toward Picard. In short, he learned to move on.

    And lastly… Ben Sisko was a the primary figure in keeping the Alpha Quadrant intact during the Dominion War. Every other series was so episodic that it could never tackle such an epic tale, but DS9 went for it, and the character of Ben Sisko greatly benefits from it. Tackling hard issues of war, victory, loss, personal sacrifice, dishonor, and whether the ends justify the means… “In the Pale Moonlight” might be one of the finest episodes of any show I’ve seen in the Trek universe.

    So as much as I love the other Captains, (with Ronny Cox’s Captain Jellico always having a very special place in my heart), I gotta weigh in and say the most well rounded, 3 dimensional, growing, changing, and most real of all the captains was without a doubt Ben Sisko.