Star Trek nerds don’t exactly have a reputation as fighters. In fact, if you mention a Trek fan and physicality, the average person on the street would assume that the Trekkie was on the receiving end of some old school bullying. But there are certain things that Trek fans know are worth fighting for, and perhaps the biggest thing to fight for (and fight over) is which Captain was the best. There are fans of every Trek captain, of course. Some think that Kirk will always be the best, while others enjoy dark horse candidates like Janeway, Archer, and even Lorca. For many modern fans, though, the debate comes down to two captains: Jean-Luc Picard and Benjamin Sisko. Each had very different roles, responsibilities, and personalities. However, each showed us exactly what a Starfleet captain was made of, especially when the chips were down.
So, which captain is best? Unfortunately, that remains a hard question to answer. For modern Trek fans, it’s a bit like having to pick your favorite kid. Which is to say that you definitely know which one is your favorite, but it’s not always easy explaining your answer to other people. And we’d hate to see you have to fight family or friends over this matter, even if it’s a great excuse to do those weird two-hand punches that Kirk and Riker loved. That’s why we’ll take the lead on this discussion and help finally put it to bed with these 10 reasons why Picard is still the best Trek captain, and 10 reasons why the title belongs to Captain Sisko.
20 PICARD: CLIMBING THE RANKS
One of the reasons fans love to argue about which Trek captain is best is that there are so many different criteria. Among those criteria are how quickly these characters attained the rank of “captain.” And in the case of Jean-Luc Picard, his story is pretty tough to beat!
Before serving on the Enterprise, Picard was on a ship named the Stargazer. He was the first officer, but “only” a lieutenant commander. When its captain, Jack Crusher, was lost in battle, Picard took command and saved the ship with an innovative warp maneuver. Starfleet ended up promoting him to Captain, meaning Picard jumped up two ranks -- he never even had to be a commander like William Riker!
19 SISKO: TAKING CARE OF Q
Early on, Deep Space Nine had a clear mission: they wanted to show us just how different Benjamin Sisko was from Jean-Luc Picard. In one memorable episode, Sisko encounters “Q”, the all-knowing and all-powerful nemesis of Captain Picard. And what does Sisko do? He punches him in the face.
Granted, Q was goading Sisko into some kind of reaction, but he admits he never predicted physical violence. And once the adventure with Q wrapped up, he never visited Deep Space Nine again. The message is clear: Sisko knew how to handle Q better than Picard ever did, which is one of the reasons some fans think he’s the best.
18 PICARD: MASTER DIPLOMAT
Speaking of captains being different, many were surprised at how much Picard differed from Captain Kirk. Fans remember Kirk as being all about action and adventure, while Picard was more about thoughtfulness and diplomacy (at least, until the movies came around), but this was actually one of Picard’s greatest strengths.
As a diplomat, Picard was uniquely qualified for everything from first contact scenarios to tense Romulan negotiations. And he was often able to save the day with his knowledge of law and diplomacy (what the Greatest Generation podcast calls “lawyer Picard”). And when he tangled with corrupt Federation officials, he knew exactly when and how to call them out, making him quite possibly the greatest captain.
17 SISKO: MOST RESPONSIBILITIES
Another criteria for which captain was greatest is the responsibilities that these captains held. It’s already an awesome responsibility to be in charge of over a thousand lives, as Captain Picard was with the Enterprise. However, Sisko had more responsibility than all the other Trek captains combined.
From the very beginning, Sisko had to manage a Starfleet crew, a Bajoran staff, and the role of religious leadership for an entire planet. And when the Dominion War started, he became an adjutant for Vice Admiral Ross. Sisko personally planned countless military operations with millions of lives at stake, and he often personally led hundreds of ships into major combat against staggering odds. Without him, the Dominion would control everything.
16 PICARD: BENDING THE RULES
When fans look back at Trek, Picard is sometimes remembered as being a stickler for the rules. However, the truth is more complex: while Picard had a better handle on Starfleet regulations and Federation law better than anyone, he wasn’t afraid to bend the rules when he had to.
This ranged from helping save Data’s pen pal and her planet from certain demise to defying Starfleet and helping destroy a Borg cube attacking Earth. At one point, Admiral Satie tells Picard he has even violated the Prime Directive on nine different occasions. So, what keeps him in command? Picard knows how to pick his battles, and when he bends the rules, he has a damn good reason for it.
15 SISKO: BREAKING THE RULES
Earlier, we praised Picard for his ability to know when he had to bend the rules. Captain Sisko has a different quality, though -- he knows when to break the rules and he’s willing to cross some pretty major lines if it means saving the lives of the people he is sworn to protect.
The best example of this is when he cooperated with Cardassian spy Garak to fool the Romulans into joining the Dominion War. When the con didn’t work, Garak blew up the Romulans’ ship to frame the Dominion, and Sisko covered it up. The Romulans joined, saving potentially millions of lives... but Sisko had to live with being a party to a huge crime.
14 PICARD: SAVING ALL LIFE, EVERYWHERE
Star Trek: The Next Generation had a remarkable series finale in the episode “All Good Things.” In fact, many fans ruefully look back and wish the plot of that finale could have been used as one of the movies for that franchise, and a big part of what made the episode so good is that we see Picard at his best.
He finds himself bounding between three different time periods thanks to Q. With a little help and a lot of deduction, he finds that each time period has a temporal anomaly that is getting bigger as it extends into the past. Picard stops it and effectively saves all life in the universe... a pretty difficult accomplishment for anyone to top.
13 SISKO: SAVING KIRK
While Picard and Sisko don’t have a lot of similarities, there is one surprising quality that they each have in common. Each of them had a run-in with Captain Kirk. However, Sisko’s run-in went a little better: he managed to save Kirk’s life, while Picard couldn't stop him from passing away.
In the tongue-in-cheek episode “Trials and Tribblelations,” Sisko and crew are throne back into Kirk’s time by a rogue Klingon seeking revenge. The Klingon wants to blow Kirk up with a tribble bomb (no, really), but Sisko manages to stop him while still preserving the timeline. In this way, Kirk’s greatest exploits are all thanks to Sisko keeping him alive.
12 PICARD: SURVIVING ASSIMILATION
Picard has had a pretty rough life. He’s survived his best friend’s passing, a near-end experience of his own, being taken by the Cardassians, and so on. But perhaps his very worst experience was when he was assimilated by the Borg and helped destroy dozens of Starfleet ships.
This was a very traumatizing event for Picard. However, it’s a testament to his strength and character that he was able to survive the experience. Not only did he return from assimilation (which is incredibly rare), but he later used his insight into the Borg to help save planet Earth, first from outright attack and then from being assimilated in the past.
11 SISKO: BECAME A GOD
When Star Trek: The Next Generation was ending, everyone knew it wasn’t truly the end. Movies were right around the corner, and as good as the series finale was, it couldn’t shake the status quo up too much without disrupting plans for the film franchise. Deep Space Nine had no movies coming, though, so the series finale really swung for the fences.
In the finale, Sisko nearly gives his life to save The Prophets, the mysterious “wormhole aliens” that protect Bajor. At the last minute, Sisko is rescued by the Prophets and becomes one of them. In this way, he ends the series as a non-linear, god-like being who will live forever. No other captain can say that.
10 PICARD: AWESOME ROLE MODEL
Out of all the Trek captains, Picard is the greatest role model. Not just to fans (though they have been quoting Picard’s wisdom for decades), but to the characters in the show, and that includes the audience that was least likely to actually like Picard -- children.
Early on in the show, Picard expresses that he is uncomfortable with children and doesn’t want to be around them. Various circumstances force him to work with children, though, and they eventually honor him by having an annual “Captain Picard Day.” No other captain has a special holiday in his honor, so this is a really major mark in Picard’s favor.
9 SISKO: EXPERT TACTICIAN
As cool as Picard is, we don’t really get to see his tactical skills. We are told about cool ideas he comes up with (like the "Picard Maneuver"), and we see a pretty ruthless Picard in an alternate universe when he mans the tactical station. Ultimately, though, Sisko is the most tactical of the Captains.
We see Sisko’s tactical versatility on many occasions, with him commanding weapons on the station (and on the Defiant as well) and when leading forces in the Dominion War. He’s good enough as a warrior that he helps lead the Terrans to victory in the mirror universe despite being significantly outgunned and outnumbered. If you need someone to bring the noise and shoot straight, Sisko’s your man.
8 PICARD: THE MOST EXPERIENCE
It’s a little hokey, but one thing that’s true of any Trek captain is that they are only as good as their experience. Their experiences help them grow, adapt, and ultimately evolve. And by this metric, Jean-Luc Picard has more experience than any of his peers.
In addition to his long life of Starfleet service, Picard also has a lifetime of memories from an alien probe that made him live out someone else’s entire life. And he has memories from hopping around a variety of alternate timelines that only he remembers. He even has the horrific memories of being assimilated by the Borg. If being a captain is all about the journey, no one has more miles on them than Picard.
7 SISKO: INTERDIMENSIONAL HERO
No one can deny Picard is a big hero in his own time and place. However, if we’re comparing captains, it’s worth noting that Sisko has managed to transcend that status. He’s a captain in multiple time periods and even multiple dimensions of reality.
Sisko has had some time-traveling adventures to both the 21st and 23rd centuries, and he showed bravery and cleverness each time. And as we mentioned earlier, he’s also effectively a war hero in the mirror universe, constantly triumphing over stronger foes. Throw in his becoming a Prophet in the final episode, and you’ve got someone who is now a hero across all of time and space.
6 PICARD: KNOWS WHEN TO CHANGE HIS MIND
There are many differences between TV show Picard and movie Picard, and we’ll be honest: most of them are bad. But one of them that fans like to rail on actually exhibits a strength of Picard’s -- his ability to change his mind. We see this most clearly in the movie Star Trek: Insurrection.
On the show, Picard had shown little sympathy for some Native Americans that were being forced to move due to a treaty with the Cardassians. In Insurrection, he faces a similar dilemma when an evil admiral wants to move a small planetary population to exploit their “fountain of youth” planet. Picard now realizes this is wrong, and he risks his entire career (and life) to help save them.
5 SISKO: FINDING THE BALANCE
As we said earlier, Sisko often had a lot on his plate. Some may argue that every Starfleet officer has a busy life from time to time. However, Sisko had a burden like none other. Due to events beyond his control, he basically became "Space Jesus" to an entire planet, all while maintaining his Starfleet duties.
And Sisko walked this line perfectly. He didn’t end up going power-mad or crazy, like any of the crazy Starfleet admirals would when given a taste of power. But he also didn’t phone his religious duties in, either, choosing to take a serious part in Bajoran culture. Sisko was ultimately an amazing captain because, as Thanos would say, he was “perfectly balanced.”
4 PICARD: THE ULTIMATE INSPIRATION
Before, we mentioned the idea that Captain Picard was a good role model, especially to the children on his ship. However, part of what makes him the best captain is that he goes beyond being a role model and is an amazing inspiration, and this seems to hold true in any universe or timeline.
When Picard is jumping through three different time periods, he manages to convince his friends and crew to help with the problem each time. Even when they barely know him or think he’s literally crazy, he inspires them to action. And when caught in an interdimensional Nexus, Picard even convinces Kirk to join his fight. Whatever the problem, Picard can talk anyone into solving it.
3 SISKO: BROUGHT PEACE TO THE GALAXY
In many ways, the Dominion War was the scariest thing to ever happen to the Federation. Millions of lives were lost, and the fate of entire quadrants hung in the balance. Ultimately, a coalition of Starfleet, Romulans, Klingons, and last-minute Cardassians helped defeat them, but it’s all because of Sisko.
He helped spearhead many of the major military operations, including the one that got Deep Space Nine back. And Sisko mining the wormhole helped to delay the arrival of additional Dominion Forces, preventing an early victory. And when the coalition broke through the line and forced the Founders to surrender, Sisko was front and center, leading the battle and saving the galaxy.
2 PICARD: LIFE ON THE LINE
As we said, Picard sometimes had the reputation for playing it safe. This was mostly due to his tendency to let Commander Riker go on most of the away missions and shoulder much of the risk on various alien planets. However, Picard was always ready to risk his life if the mission called for it.
We see him take an alien arrow to help prove to some primitives that he’s not a god. And he stayed behind on the ship to save Data from the Borg Queen, risking his end (or worse, assimilation). He even rammed his own ship into his clone son’s ship to help save countless lives. That’s Picard, though -- always willing to lay it all on the line.
1 SISKO: BEST. MANAGER. EVER.
We obviously agree that Picard was a great captain, but it’s worth noting that he had a lot of help. As the captain of the Enterprise, he was quite literally surrounded by the best and brightest minds in Starfleet. Sisko, meanwhile, had a much greater challenge ahead of him.
Sisko had Starfleet officers, of course, but they were a mixed bag at first with an inexperienced doctor, a glorified transporter tech, and an old friend in a new body part of his crew. And he also had to work with a scheming Ferengi criminal, an antisocial shapeshifter, a Bajoran terrorist, and a Cardassian spy. Sisko turned this motley crew into a crack team that helped save the planet, the quadrant, and even the galaxy. Benjamin Sisko: best manager ever.