Captain James T. Kirk is one of the most famous characters in popular culture. He was famously portrayed by William Shatner, who helped make the role iconic, and it would last (pardon the pun) for generations. And in recent years, the series has been rebooted, and Chris Pine has helped an entirely new generation of fans fall in love with Kirk. The true hallmark of the character’s popularity is just how many people know who he is. Even people who have never seen a single episode of Star Trek can tell you his name, what he wears, what his personality is like, and so on. However, that leads to an interesting phenomenon. There are plenty of things that casual viewers think is true about Kirk that are just outright false. And even Trek fans can get confused as the portrayal of Kirk isn’t always consistent, with Chris Pine’s Kirk being portrayed very different at times than Shatner’s Kirk.
To go ahead and presumptively settle fan debate, this article is going to stick with only the primary Star Trek timeline. That means the Captain Kirk of The Original Series and the original movies. And while we may bring the Kelvinverse up in comparison, it’s only so we can talk about the original Captain Kirk. Still with us? Good. We’ve prepared a thorough guide to help you mythbust everything you’ve heard about James T. Kirk. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll never look at him the same way again. If you’re still with us, then keep scrolling to read 20 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Captain Kirk!
20 LADIES’ MAN
Perhaps the most persistent myth about James T. Kirk is that he was a super ladies’ man. People remember him like he was some randy sailor, with a green gal in every port. And it doesn’t help that the Kelvinverse movies helped reinforce this myth. For the original Kirk, though, it wasn’t really true.
We think you should go re-watch the old episodes and you’ll see most of Kirk’s flirting is him getting vital information or even being diplomatic (in his own Kirk-like way). He actually had very few personal relations with anyone, and he kept it professional with his crew. To top it off, when a probe showed the woman that he thought about the most, it was Uhura... someone he never flirted with in the Original Series.
19 BEAM ME UP?
Star Trek spawned a lot of famous lines. This is one of the ways it became such a mainstream sensation -- even people who never watched an episode feel like they can speak the lingo. By far, the most famous line in history is Kirk saying “beam me up, Scotty.” There’s just one problem -- Kirk never said that line!
Oh, Kirk said plenty of similar lines, including “Scotty, beam us up.” But the exact sequence of words that fans celebrate so much was never actually uttered by Captain Kirk. Just where did this phrase come from? Old school fans who were a little more passionate than they were accurate.
18 ACTION CAPTAIN
The other really persistent myth about James T. Kirk is that he was really fond of fisticuffs. The idea is that Kirk is the “punch first, ask questions later” Captain, and this stereotype is usually contrasted with Captain Picard, who comes across as very hesitant to reach for his phaser, preferring diplomacy instead.
Was Kirk more of an action-centric captain than Picard? Certainly. But he wasn’t some action hero who only cared about fighting. He famously held back in battles, like when he refused to stop the Gorn, and when he only destroyed the pursuing Romulan ship as a last resort. What can we say? Kirk balances beatdowns and diplomacy... a true Renaissance man!
17 RULE BREAKER
As a close cousin to the myth of Kirk as an action hero, there’s the myth of Kirk as a rule-breaker. This mostly comes from Wrath of Khan, when we get backstory about Kirk reprogramming a computer so he could beat the Kobayashi Maru (more on this later). For the most part, though, Kirk is a good rule follower.
He typically towed the line when superiors gave him orders, and he follows most of Starfleet’s rules to the letter. And the times he does disobey any rules, there are extenuating circumstances, like Spock’s life being in danger. Fans like to debate how strictly Kirk followed the Prime Directive, but that directive was barely defined until the very end of the second season!
16 SELFISH STARFLEET
Kirk’s whole gig was to be the Captain. In this sense, getting his way was really baked into his role. However, some fans interpret Kirk’s character as being very selfish. They basically think that he won’t hesitate to turn everything from a simple situation to a major mission into something that benefits him.
However, Kirk acts on behalf of others quite often. He speaks out against racism when crewmen think Spock may be aligned with Romulans. And when he does violate Starfleet orders (and thus risks his career), he does so often because entire planets are at stake. Heck, he helped spare his crew from a court martial, right after he risked his life to save the planet from an alien probe!
15 LOVES GREEN WOMEN?
As we said before, ideas about Star Trek in general and Kirk in particular run rampant in pop culture. Sometimes, these half-truths come from different episodes and get mashed together. For instance, people think Kirk is a ladies’ man, and they remember a green lady or two. Therefore, Kirk must really be into green women, right?
Despite what J.J. Abrams would have you believe, this is not the case. The most prominent Orion in Trek history actually appeared in the first pilot episode, and she was putting the moves on a different captain -- Pike, not Kirk. When Kirk finally did encounter a seductive green Orion woman, he resisted... and almost paid for it with his life!
14 CAREERIST CAPTAIN
Now, we switch gears to the other end of the myth spectrum. While some think of Kirk as a maverick and a rule-breaker, others think of him as a hardcore careerist. After all, he becomes a captain at a very young age, and his willingness to work with superiors that he clearly disdains makes it seem like he’s a man bucking for a promotion.
However, this is quite far from the truth. Once Kirk becomes an admiral, he’s willing to do anything to become a captain again. He’s eventually busted back down to the rank of Captain, in fact, after he steals a starship to save Spock’s life. Far from bucking for a promotion, Kirk practically begged for a demotion!
13 THAT THE SCREAM IS FOR REAL
For better or for worse, William Shatner became pretty famous for his overacting. That mostly started in the third season of Star Trek, and he cranked the dial up throughout the movies. This led to the infamous moment when, face vibrating in fury, Kirk screamed “KHAN!” Here’s the thing, though, Kirk was totally faking this moment.
Think about it. Kirk already had exchanged a secret code with Spock, and he knew they were being recorded. The purpose of that wild scream was to convince Khan that he had beaten Kirk, lulling the villain into a false sense of security while the Enterprise was repaired. This wasn’t Shatner being a bad actor... it was Kirk being a good one.
12 NOT HIS ONLY LOVE
Hands down, the most famous episode of Star Trek is "City on the Edge of Forever." In this episode, Kirk and Spock must let a woman named Edith Keeler pass away in order to save the future from being ruled by evil. However, Kirk falls in love with her first, leading many fans to think that she was the true love of Kirk’s life.
While Keeler was special, she wasn’t the only one in Kirk’s heart. There was obviously Carol Marcus, who became the mother to Kirk’s child David. And when Kirk is stuck in the Nexus (a kind of mystical realm where he can relive his happiest moments), he’s in love with a woman named Antonia.
11 NOT HIS ONLY BEST FRIEND
The relationship between Kirk and Spock is downright legendary. They become best friends, and part of the charm of the modern movies is seeing that relationship as it first develops. Some fans go so far as to think that Spock was Kirk’s first best friend... however, that’s not true.
Before Spock, there was Gary Mitchell. They met when he was a cadet at Starfleet Academy, taking a class from Kirk. They became close friends, and Mitchell helped set Kirk up with a blonde woman he nearly married (many fans assume this was Carol Marcus). Tragically, Kirk had to end Mitchell’s life when the latter gained god-like powers and went crazy.
10 HIS FATHER
Some of the myths about Kirk can be blamed squarely on the more recent movies. J.J. Abrams often played fast and loose with Kirk’s mythology, and that meant his origin as well. Because of the first Trek reboot movie, many fans think that Kirk’s father passed away when he was a child.
This was actually the point at which the timeline that we know diverges, as the Romulan named Nero comes from the future and attacks the U.S.S. Kelvin. Kirk’s father passes away saving his son and his wife, whereas in the Original Series, the father lived long enough to see Kirk graduate Starfleet Academy.
9 HE’S A CHEATER
A foundational aspect of Kirk’s character and history is the way he beats the Kobayashi Maru. This simulation was intended to be an unbeatable scenario and a test of cadets’ characters. Kirk ended up reprogramming the test so he could win, leading many to think that he cheated.
In reality, though, there was no rule against doing what Kirk did. This is why, in the original timeline, Kirk was not punished. Instead, he was given a commendation for “original thinking.” This is because in a test of character, he showed a willingness to think outside the box and create a solution... true Starfleet material.
8 HE HATES HIS SHIRT
William Shatner was a handsome man in the Original Series, and he definitely knew it! There are quite a few occasions where the character of Kirk ends up losing his shirt. This is lampooned in everything from topless Kirk action figures to funny scenes in Galaxy Quest. Fans understandably think that Kirk himself liked to do this, but that’s not entirely true.
If you look back at all the episodes where Kirk loses his shirt, it’s usually not his fault. Bad guys strip him, Gamesters rip it off, Mugatos tear it, and so on. And when it’s not outright battle, there are often other weird circumstances, like someone else being in Kirk’s body or his body being split into two different halves.
7 WILD PRIVATE LIFE?
Because of the different myths surrounding Kirk, many fans think he must have a crazy private life. The logic goes that as crazy as what we see on-screen is, then what we don’t see must be that much wilder. However, we’ve got a lot of evidence that Kirk’s private life is depressingly tame.
In an episode where his thoughts become reality, Kirk simply imagines a quiet day with an old flame. And in another episode, a probe forces Kirk to show the woman who is “foremost in his thoughts,” and all he sees is Uhura doing her job. Finally, can we talk about his Wrath of Khan birthday party where he only had one friend over and alternated drinking and trying on new glasses?
Let’s be clear -- Star Trek: The Final Frontier is a pretty terrible movie. It involves Spock’s crazy brother forcing the crew to track down God. Kirk promptly pisses “God” off by asking too many questions, which has made many people think Kirk is either non-religious or selfish. After all, who talks smack to God?
However, the thing on that planet was clearly not God. It was simply one of those powerful alien beings that the crew encounters every other week. Kirk knew he wasn’t the real deal, and Kirk would know because he had previously deal with the actual Apollo of Greek legend, so he wasn’t going to take gruff from any false idols.
5 CRUEL TO KHAN
Part of what made Wrath of Khan so good was that Kirk and Khan had a prior relationship. And Khan’s family ended up passing away on the planet Kirk dumped him on, so many fans thought that the villain had a pretty legitimate beef with Kirk. In reality, Kirk was very kind to Khan.
In the episode “Space Seed,” Khan and his cronies try to take over the Enterprise. Instead of sending them to rot in a Federation prison, Kirk sends them to a decent (if not great) planet where they can make new lives for themselves. The planet didn’t become hellish until it was knocked far out of its orbit -- hardly Kirk’s fault.
4 KLINGON HATER
Many people have ideas about Kirk that are primarily formed by the movies. And because of The Undiscovered Country, many people think Kirk has always hated Klingons. This mostly stems from a line of dialogue about how he could never trust them since they terminated his son.
However, they didn’t end his son until The Search for Spock. Before that, Kirk had a very basic adversarial relationship -- he didn’t “hate” the Klingons any more than he hated Romulans. The idea that he has had decades of simmering hatred was created whole cloth for the films and only drew from the films instead of any series history.
3 MAKES HIS OWN FATE
Again, the whole Kobayashi Maru thing is such a defining aspect of Kirk’s character that fans get very interesting ideas about him. One of those ideas is that Kirk makes his own fate: just as he reprogrammed the simulation to win, he must see the world as an opportunity to create his own destiny... right?
In reality, Kirk is a surprisingly big believer in destiny. He seems to accept Spock’s reasoning that commanding a starship is Kirk’s “first, best destiny.” Furthermore, he knew that “God” wouldn’t kill him because he claims he has always known he would pass away alone. For a guy who traveled through time a lot, Kirk is a big believer in predestination!
2 TELEVISION HISTORY
Sometimes, it’s tough to see where Kirk ends and William Shatner begins. Collectively, they are credited with some really historic moments, such as the first interracial kiss on television. Unfortunately for their reputation and geek record books everywhere, Trek did not actually earn this honor.
A few months before that episode, though, Nancy Sinatra was kissed by Sammy Davis, Jr. on the show Movin’ With Nancy. And Sinatra had something in common with Shatner -- each had to outsmart nervous network executives to get these scenes on TV, with Shatner ruining the alternative takes and Sinatra shooting her scene at the end of the day, when it was too late to order re-shoots!
1 DIDN’T LOVE HIS SON?
We only get to know Kirk’s son in two movies. He is introduced in Wrath of Khan, and then he's gone in Search for Spock. And in that second movie, he is serving on a Starfleet science vessel far, far away. Some fans think this means Kirk didn’t care for his son that much, as the two wasted no time getting far apart once more.
In reality, Kirk’s love is very deep. He has a visceral reaction when his son is executed, and he later comes close to risking diplomatic ties with the Klingons because he still wasn’t over it. If anything, Kirk’s “distance” is more like respect: he understood that David, like himself, would rather be exploring space instead of kicking back on Earth.