It’s been almost half a century since the first appearance of James Tiberius Kirk, the first Star Trek captain and (in my humble opinion) still the finest onscreen expression of the franchise’s brash utopian idealism. Played memorably across the decades by William Shatner, Kirk aged onscreen from a bold risk-taking Captain to an older, faintly melancholic Admiral. Along the way, he had a series of intergalactic adventures that boggle the mind — even moreso today, when we’ve become adjusted to a more grounded form of science-fiction adventure.
“Kirk meets Lincoln and has a fistfight with Genghis Khan, in one episode! In another episode, he’s on a planet of the Nazis! On another episode, he meets the Greek God Apollo!” That’s David A. Goodman, a TV writer with a long Trek history as both fan and creator. The longtime Family Guy producer worked on Star Trek: Enterprise and, more importantly, wrote “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” the Futurama episode that lavishly parodied the original Trek series with meticulous shirt-ripping detail.
Goodman’s encyclopedic knowledge of Trek led him to write the faux-historic Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years. His new project shifts from macro to (relatively) micro. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk is a first-person perspective on Captain Kirk’s life, with the legendary starship commander narrating his own life story. (The foreword is “written” by Dr. McCoy.)
Of course, attempting to wrangle all the far-flung bits of Trek lore into a genuine chronological retelling of Kirk’s life wasn’t easy. (That’s not to mention the rebooted Trek series with Chris Pine as Kirk — an “alternate universe” that Autobiography sidesteps.) “I was in a box created by other writers,” Goodman laughs. “In at least two of the movies, you find out he got promoted to admiral, and the arc is him finding his way back to being a captain.” In narrative context, it doesn’t make much sense. But, as Goodman points out, “In the context of life, it’s like: ‘Boy, this guy keeps doing the same thing over again.’ We get in ruts. We do the same stupid things over and over again.”
When it came to writing the book, Goodman focused on a few key moments from Kirk’s onscreen life as entryways into Kirk’s psychology:
‘The City on the Edge of Forever’
“A very famous episode, where he goes back to the 1930s and falls in love with Edith Keeler. He has to let her die in order to let history be saved — a wonderful hero’s story. But you start thinking about that realistically, that would be really traumatic! That lasts a long time. That might be what keeps him from getting seriously involved with a woman ever again.”
‘The Ultimate Computer,’ ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before,’ and ‘Shore Leave’
“There’s a scene where a commodore refers to Kirk as ‘Captain Dunsail’ [pronounced ‘dunsel’ and explained as a Starfleet Academy insult]. It said something to me about how Roddenberry or the writers viewed the Academy life: They were kind of bullies. They were hazing lowerclassmen. That was something that, on examining, I had to face the truth of it. Kirk, too, as you examine him and his past, every description of him as a young man in the original series was that he was a nerd. Gary Mitchell, his best friend from the Academy, says he was ‘stack of books with legs.’ He had this bully, Finnegan, who gave him a hard time all the way through school. Kirk, as a character, is a nerd’s wish fulfillment: He used to be a nerd, and now he’s getting laid, kicking ass, flying the fastest spaceship. He’s a different person now than he was then.”
‘The Omega Glory’
“Kirk literally reads the preamble to the United States Constitution. It’s not a favorite episode among the fans, but that whole scene connects Kirk to our era. He had this reverence for America. Here’s this guy in the future, and the American government — which no longer exists in Kirk’s future! — is still this great important thing.”
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
“We found out that he had this son, David. If you do the math, as many other geeks besides myself have done, that kid was alive when Kirk was captain of the Enterprise during the original series. So that means Kirk is an absent father. In Star Trek 2, it’s clear the mom didn’t want him around. And as fans, we like the fact that he’s married to the ship. But when you think about him as a human being, that’s kind of tragic: How does a guy choose his career over home life?”
The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David Goodman is available now. If you want to tell me why Kirk isn’t the best captain, you’re wrong, but you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll respond in next week’s edition of the Geekly Mailbag.