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James Tiberius "Jim" Kirk is a fictional character in the Star Trek media franchise. First portrayed by William Shatner as the principal lead character in the original Star Trek series, Shatner also appears as Kirk in the animated Star Trek series and in the first seven Star Trek movies. Chris Pine portrayed the character in the 2009 Star Trek film, with Jimmy Bennett playing Kirk as a child. Other actors have portrayed the character in fan-created media, and the character has been the subject of multiple spoofs and satires. Kirk also appears in numerous books, comics, and video games. Kirk has been called "the quintessential officer, a man among men and a hero for the ages".


James T. Kirk was born and raised in Riverside, Iowamarker in the year 2228. Diane Carey's novel Best Destiny identifies Kirk's parents as George and Winona Kirk. Best Destiny and Carey's Final Frontier novel describe George Kirk's adventures aboard the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Robert April. Although born on Earth, Kirk for a time lived on Tarsus IV, where he was one of nine surviving witnesses to the massacre of 4,000 colonists by Kodos the Executioner (Arnold Moss). James Kirk's brother, Sam, and his sister-in-law are introduced and killed in "Operation: Annihilate!", leaving behind three children.

At Starfleet Academy, Kirk became the first student to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test, garnering a commendation for original thinking by reprogramming the computer to make the "no-win scenario" winnable. Kirk was granted a field commission as an ensign and posted to advanced training aboard the USS Republic. He then was promoted to lieutenant junior grade and returned to Starfleet Academy as a student instructor. Students could either "think or sink" in his class, and Kirk himself was "a stack of books with legs". Upon graduating in the top five percent, Kirk was promoted to lieutenant and served aboard the USS Farragut. While assigned to the Farragut, Kirk commanded his first planetary survey and survived a deadly attack that killed a large portion of the Farragut s crew. He received his first command, the equivalent of a destroyer-class spaceship, while still quite young.

Kirk became Starfleet's youngest captain when he received command of the USS Enterprise for a five-year mission, three years of which are depicted in the original Star Trek series. Kirk's most significant relationships in the television series are with first officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and chief medical officer Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence's The Myth of the American Superhero describes Kirk as "a hard-driving leader who pushes himself and his crew beyond human limits". Terry J. Erdman and Paula M. Block, in their Star Trek 101 primer, note that while "cunning, courageous and confident", Kirk also has a "tendency to ignore Starfleet regulations when he feels the end justifies the means". Although Kirk throughout the series becomes romantically involved with various women, when confronted with a choice between a woman and the Enterprise, "his ship always won".

J. M. Dillard's novel The Lost Years describes Kirk's promotion to rear admiral and unfulfilling duties as a diplomatic troubleshooter after the Enterprise s five-year mission. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk is chief of Starfleet operations, and he takes command of the Enterprise from Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins). Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's novelization of The Motion Picture depicts Kirk married to a Starfleet officer killed during a transporter accident. At the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk takes command of the Enterprise from Captain Spock to pursue his enemy from "Space Seed", Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán). The movie introduces Kirk's son, David Marcus (Merritt Butrick). Spock, who notes that "commanding a starship is [Kirk's] first, best destiny", dies at the end of Star Trek II; in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk leads his surviving officers in a successful mission to rescue Spock from a planet on which he is reborn. Although Kirk is demoted to captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for disobeying Starfleet orders in the pursuit, he also receives command of a new USS Enterprise. The ship is ordered decommissioned at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

In Star Trek Generations, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) finds Kirk alive in the timeless Nexus, despite the fact that history recorded his death during the Enterprise-B's maiden voyage. Picard convinces Kirk to return to Picard's present to help stop the villain Soran (Malcolm McDowell) from destroying a planet's sun. Kirk agrees; the two leave the Nexus and stop Soran. However, Kirk is mortally wounded; and as he dies, Picard assures Kirk that he helped to "make a difference". Picard buries Kirk on Veridian III.

Shatner and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens wrote a series of novels that depict Kirk's resurrection by the Borg and his ongoing adventures after the events of Generations.

Alternate timeline

The 2009 Star Trek film introduces an "alternate" timeline that reveals different origins for Kirk, the formation of his friendship with Spock, and how they came to serve together on the Enterprise. The point of divergence between the original and the alternate Star Trek timelines occurs on the day of Kirk's birth.

Although the movie treats specific details from Star Trek as mutable, "characterizations remain the same". In the movie, George and Winona Kirk name their son James Tiberius after his maternal and paternal grandfathers, respectively. He is born on a shuttle escaping the starship USS Kelvin, on which his father is killed. The character begins as "a reckless, bar-fighting rebel" who eventually reaches "maturity". According to Pine, the character is "a 25-year-old [who acts like a] 15-year-old" and who is "angry at the world". Kirk and Spock clash at Starfleet Academy, but, over the course of the movie, Kirk focuses his "passion and obstinance and the spectrum of emotions" and becomes captain of the Enterprise.


Jeffrey Hunter portrayed Captain Christopher Pike, commanding officer of the USS Enterprise, in the rejected Star Trek television pilot, "The Cage". In developing the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", series creator Gene Roddenberry changed the captain's name to James T. Kirk after rejecting other options like Hannibal, Timber, Flagg, and Raintree. The name was inspired by Captain James Cook, whose journal entry "ambition leads me ... farther than any other man has been before me" inspired the second pilot's title. The character is in part based on C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower hero, and NBC wanted the show to emphasize the captain's "rugged individualism". Jack Lord was Desilu Productions' original choice to play Kirk, but his demand for fifty-percent ownership of the show led to him not being hired.

William Shatner tried to imbue the character with "awe and wonder" absent from "The Cage". He also drew upon his experiences as a Shakespearean actor to invigorate the character, whose dialogue at times is laden with jargon. Not only did he take inspiration from Roddenberry's suggestion of Hornblower, but Shatner also based Kirk on Alexander the Great – "the athlete and the intellectual of his time", whom Shatner portrayed for an unsold television pilot two years earlier – and himself because "the fatigue factor [after weeks of daily filming] is such that you try to be as honest about yourself as possible". A comedy veteran, Shatner suggested making the show's characters as comfortable working in space as they would at sea, and having Kirk be a humorous "good-pal-the-captain, who in time of need would snap to and become the warrior". Changing the character to be "a man with very human emotions" also allowed for the development of the Spock character. Shatner wrote that "Kirk was a man who marveled and greatly appreciated the endless surprises presented to him by the universe ... He didn't take things for granted and, more than anything else, respected life in every one of its weird weekly adventure forms".

When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Shatner assumed it would be the end of his association with the show; however, Shatner went on to voice Kirk in the animated Star Trek, the first seven Star Trek movies, and several games. Wrath of Khan director and writer Nicholas Meyer, who had never seen an episode of Star Trek before he was assigned to direct, focused on the "Hornblower in outer space" atmosphere, unaware it was an influence on the show. Meyer also emphasized parallels to Sherlock Holmes in that both characters waste away in the absence of their stimuli: new cases for Holmes, and starship adventures in Kirk's.

Meyer's The Wrath of Khan script focuses on Kirk's age, with McCoy giving Kirk a pair of glasses as a birthday present. The script states that Kirk is 49, but Shatner was unsure about being specific about Kirk's age because he was hesitant about portraying a middle-aged version of himself. Shatner changed his mind when producer Harve Bennett convinced Shatner that he could age gracefully like Spencer Tracy.Kobayashi Maru scenario, which Kirk had cheated his way through, forces Kirk to confront death and to grow as a character.

Both Shatner and test audiences were dissatisfied that Kirk was fatally shot in the back in the original ending of Generations; an addendum inserted while Shatner's Star Trek Movie Memories memoir was being printed expresses his enthusiasm at being called back to film a rewritten ending. Despite the rewrite, Generations co-writer Ronald D. Moore said Kirk's death, intended to "resonate throughout the Star Trek franchise", failed to "pay off the themes [of death and mortality] in the way we wanted".

Star Trek screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci always focused their story on Kirk and Spock. Kurtzman said casting someone whose portrayal of Kirk would show that the character "is being honored and protected" was "tricky", but that the "spirit of Kirk is very much alive and well" in Pine's depiction. Pine recalled having difficulty with his audition, which required him "to bark Trek jargon'", but his charisma impressed director J. J. Abrams. Pine's chemistry with Zachary Quinto, playing Spock, led Abrams to offer Pine the role. Jimmy Bennett portrayed Kirk in scenes depicting the character's childhood. The writers turned to material such as Best Destiny for inspiration as to Kirk's childhood.

In preparing to play Kirk, Pine decided to embrace the character's key traits – "charming, funny, leader of men" – rather than try to fit the "predigested image" of Shatner's portrayal. Pine specifically did not try to mirror Shatner's cadence, believing that doing so would become "an impersonation". Pine said he wanted his portrayal of Kirk to most resemble Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones or Han Solo characters, highlighting their humor and "accidental hero" traits.

A misunderstanding arose during the film's production about whether Shatner would make a cameo appearance. According to Abrams, the production team considered ways to resurrect Shatner's deceased Kirk character, but could not devise a way that was not "lame". However, Abrams believed Shatner misinterpreted language about trying to get "him" into the movie as a reference to Shatner, and not his character; Shatner released a YouTube video expressing disappointment at not being approached for a cameo. Although Shatner questioned the wisdom of not including him in the film, he predicted the movie would be "wonderful" and that he was "kidding" Abrams about not offering him a cameo.


According to Shatner, early Star Trek reviews called his performance "wooden", with most of the show's acting praise and media interest going to Nimoy. However, Shatner's mannerisms when portraying Kirk have become "instantly recognizable" and Shatner won a Saturn Award for Best Actor in 1982 for The Wrath of Khan. The Guardian called Pine's performance of Kirk an "unqualified success", and The Boston Globe said Pine is "a fine, brash boy Kirk"., which called Pine "a jewel", described his performance as "channel[ing]" Shatner without being an impersonation. described Shatner's depiction of Kirk as an "expansive, randy, faintly ridiculous, and yet supremely capable leader of men, Falstaffian in his love of life and largeness of spirit". The Myth of the American Superhero refers to Kirk as a "superhuman redeemer" who "like a true superhero ... regularly escapes after risking battle with monsters or enemy spaceships". Although some episodes question Kirk's position as a hero, Star Trek "never left the viewer in doubt for long". Others have commented that Kirk's exaggerated "strength, intelligence, charm, and adventurousness" make him unrealistic. Kirk is described as able to find ways "through unanticipated problems to reach [his] goals" and his leadership style is most "appropriate in a tight, geographically identical team with a culture of strong leadership." Although Roddenberry conceived the character as being "in a very real sense ... 'married' " to the Enterprise, Kirk has been noted for "his sexual exploits with gorgeous females of every size, shape and type"; he has been called "promiscuous" and labeled a "womanizer". The Last Lecture deliverer Randy Pausch believed he became a better teacher, colleague, and husband because he watched Kirk run the Enterprise; Pausch wrote that "for ambitious boys with a scientific bent, there could be no greater role model than James T. Kirk".

Cultural impact

town of Riverside, Iowamarker, petitioned Roddenberry and Paramount Pictures in 1985 for permission to "adopt" Kirk as their town's "Future Son". Paramount wanted $40,000 for a license to reproduce a bust of Kirk, but the city instead set a plaque and built a replica of the Enterprise (named the "USS Riverside"), and the Riverside Area Community Club holds an annual "Trek Fest" in anticipation of Kirk's birthday.

Kirk has been the target of spoofs in a wide range of television programs in many countries, including The Carol Burnett Show and KI.KA's Bernd das Brot. John Belushi's impression of Kirk for Saturday Night Live, which he described as his favorite role, was "dead-on". Jim Carrey has been praised for his satire of the character in a 1992 episode of In Living Color. Comedian Kevin Pollack is well-known for his impressions of Shatner as Kirk.

Kirk has been merchandised in a variety of ways, including collectible busts, action figures, mugs, t-shirts, and Christmas tree ornaments. A Kirk Halloween mask was altered and used as the mask worn by the character Michael Myers in the Halloween film franchise. In 2002, Kirk’s captain chair from the original Star Trek was auctioned for $304,750.

Fan productions

The Star Trek: Phase II fan production portrays the further voyages of the original Enterprise crew. The series' creators feel that "Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest should be treated as 'classic' characters like Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings or even Hamlet, Othello or Romeo. Many actors have and can play the roles, each offering a different interpretation of said character".

James Cawley has portrayed Kirk in the Phase II series since it began in 2004. Wired observes that while Cawley's depiction "lacks Shatner's vulnerability", the actor has enough swagger "to be passable in the role of Captain Kirk". Cawley's portrayal was well-known enough at Paramount that a group of Star Trek: Enterprise writers called for Cawley's attention at a science fiction convention by shouting "Hey, Kirk!" at him while Shatner sat nearby.


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