The 5 Greatest Captains in Outer Space

 

Space…the final frontier. Only a brave few have had the courage, the fortitude, and the SAG cards to lead a crew into the far reaches of the universe. We here at The Andrew Blog decided to salute the five finest on-screen captains to ever command a space-faring vessel. There were only two simple rules: 1. The characters had to be in charge of their ships, whether they formally held the title of captain or not. 2. Only one captain per franchise; one of the biggest problems on spaceships is overcrowding. With those grand limits in place, we present to you the five best captains that the galaxy has to offer.

 


 

Captain Hammer would have a field day with this pose.

5. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds

Space has been used as an analog for many things: oceans, deserts, and strange, far off lands. But in Firefly, space became the old west, and Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds was the top cowboy. What makes Mal such an interesting character is that he’s difficult to pigeonhole into any particular archetype. He’s part pragmatist, part intellectual, part scrapper. Above all else, what characterizes Mal is that he’s a man just doing his best to scrape by.

That’s part of what makes him such an interesting captain. He has no grand goal to achieve by leading the crew of the Serenity. There’s no primary aim of exploration or vital mission to find a home. Mal’s only end is to hold his motley crew together and make it one more day, maybe enjoying a little peace and quiet along the way. He balances an underlying faith in humanity, a learned distrust of political institutions, and a risk-taking attitude that gave us one of the most entertaining and complex protagonists to ever break out of orbit.

 

 

I'm not sure what I expected doing an image search for Leela, but there are some lovesick puppies out there.

4. Turanga Leela

Part of what earned Leela a spot on this list is the fact that she has three big impediments to the successful completion of any mission: Fry, Bender, and a complete lack of depth perception. Add in the fact that nearly every new mission that Professor Farnsworth comes up with is deadlier than the last, and Leela has quite a few hurdles in her way. Despite all that, she’s survived stings from killer space bees, thwompings from burly Amazonians, imprisonment, enslavement, and the most deadly torture of all – a night with Zapp Brannigan.

What’s more, she’s done it all with style, spunk, and determination. Leela is often the only thing keeping the rag-tag group of Planet Express employees from falling apart at the seams. Notwithstanding Futurama’s outlandish core, Leela has shown a great deal of character depth. Her reunion with her parents, her ever-present activism, and her perpetually budding relationship with Fry have given the show more mileage than that of your average rough-and-tumble head of a ship. Put it all together, and you have the makings of a first-rate character and a first-rate captain.

 

 

"Just drop the pizzas, take your tip from the end table, and nobody gets hurt."

3. Han Solo

He’s a loveable rogue; he’s a scruffy nerf herder; he shot first, and he knows. As captain of the legendary Millennium Falcon, Han Solo is the coolest man in space. Sure, he went from being a reluctant ferryman, to the unlikely hero, to a military leader, to a damsel in distress, to a….friend of the Ewoks. But through it all, he brought fancy flying, quick shooting, and a bevy of sarcastic quips.

What makes Han such a great captain? Maybe it’s that more than anyone else in Star Wars, he seems to be enjoying this adventure. Even when the lasers are flying or his ship is dodging through an asteroid field, Han just offers a smart remark and rolls with the punches. Or maybe it’s that very first turn he takes in A New Hope. Initially, Han only helps Luke and company for the promised financial reward. He starts out as a smuggler-for-hire who couldn’t care less about The Empire or the Rebel Alliance as long as they don’t get in his way. In the end, even after he receives his money, Han puts his life on the line for his friends, and finds a loyalty even he didn’t seem to know he had. It’s hard not to root for a flawed character who comes through in the end, and it makes Han Solo the best captain to ever sail the stars a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

 

 

Fun Fact: Adama's face was a special effect from Industrial Light & Magic constructed from a combination of balsa, spruce, and hickory.

2. William “Husker” Adama

William Adama was not always right. He did not always strike the right balance between a military and civilian leadership. He did not always prevent personal relationships from clouding his judgement. He did not always find himself immune from weaker moments and regrets. But he never shied away from a tough decision. He never took the easy way out. He never gave up on his crew or the people he swore to protect, even in the toughest of times and the most hopeless of situations. He was a soldier, a leader, and a man.

That may be the greatest achievement of Edward James Olmos in his portrayal of the protagonist in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. He played a captain who always carried the dignity of his uniform, but also showed his humanity in the face of his herculean task. He was reasoned and practical, but also open-minded and caring. He loved his ship; he loved his crew, and he fulfilled his duty to both, as a leader, a father, an admiral, and a friend. Adama certainly made mistakes during his command, but that’s part of what made him great. He owned them, learned from them, used them to teach his crew and help those close to him. It can be easy to lose the realism in the world of science fiction, but Adama always felt real, and it’s why he’s the greatest captain to ever guide humanity home.

 

 

The face that launched a thousand memes.

1. Jean Luc Picard

Jean Luc Picard is everything that a captain should be. He’s a strategist, a diplomat, an explorer, and a man of action. He knew exactly when to use the olive branch of diplomacy and when to simply power up the phaser bank. He knew when to solicit the advice of his senior officers and when to take charge and give orders. He knew when to proceed with caution and carefully consider the situation and when to forge ahead and take a few risks. In the final analysis, Picard fought, negotiated, explored, taught, and above all else led his way to the top of this list.

There are two things that particularly distinguish Captain Picard. First and foremost, his capacity for lateral thinking. Adversaries and interlopers constantly threw him into uncharted and unknown problems and situations. Whether it was Q, the Romulans, or the ever-popular malfunctioning holodeck, Picard showed an innate ability to think outside of the box and reach the right solution. Second, Patrick Stewart imbued the character with an unrelenting gravity in all his words and actions. Each captain in the annals of Star Trek put his own spin on the captain’s chair, but it was Stewart with his classical training who shined in episodes like “Family” and “Chain of Command” and elevated the role into something more. The viewers felt the weight, the significance, and the emotion in each moment Captain Picard was on screen. It’s what makes Jean Luc Picard the best individual to ever boldly go where no one has gone before, and the greatest captain in outer space.

 

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4 Responses to The 5 Greatest Captains in Outer Space

  1. Robert Scott says:

    Interesting that Patrick Stewart with his acting ability firmly anchored in the works of Shakespeare would head a cast in an American TV drama and become legendary for the role. It must almost be a first for an American television series. I don’t watch much American TV as generally the English accents are rather rough on the ears and at times quite annoying .

    • Andrew Bloom says:

      There was an interview Stewart did (with William Shatner no less) where he described how he finally figured out the role of Picard when he treated it like Shakespeare, as the same sort of morality fables and character connections. It’s a really interesting tack to take for sci-fi, and I think it’s a big part of what made his performance so memorable.

  2. Thomas Webb says:

    I know I’m quite late to the debate, but here’s my take on it. The majority of debates I’ve read online were having to do with which captain could win a space battle pitted against another and along those lines. Hands down it would go to the captain who had the most advanced weapons technology at their disposal as long as they weren’t inept or afraid of using using that technology. Just coming down to technology a Picard vs. Adama fight would be Picard hands down. However when I think of a captain I think in terms of leadership and that’s where the debate could get lively. I’m going to focus only on Picard vs. Adama as they have the largest number of people under their command vs. the others mentioned in this post. Picard was also an accomplished diplomat as many episodes proved. He had mettle to his character when in one episode he was captured and tortured, but he never broke. However while in the TNG universe Picard faced any number of challenges successfully he never faced a day to day fight for survival for himself and his command. It’s not to say he couldn’t have done it well, but the simple fact is he never had too in his universe. The BSG universe didn’t have the technology that the TNG had. Adama didn’t have matter replicators to provide food and water. During to course of the BSG series he dealt with having to provide food, water, medicine, fuel for not just his ship but a fleet of civilian vessels. BSG used bullets and even nukes. At the beginning of the series he had to find a weapons depot to provide munitions to his ship. During the course of the series he dealt with public unrest, a strike, politics, the black market, dissension in the ranks, outright rebellion and mutiny and on top of it all his civilization had been wiped out and he was be hunted by an enemy hell bent on finishing the job by killing off any humans left. While there was a civilian president, she was ill and dying and in many instances he was the de facto leader of what was left of the human race. In one episode he was at a crossroads where he was ready to commit mutiny against a superior officer that he felt could be a threat to the fleet and in another he actually jailed the president because he believed she was off her rocker and leading some in his command a stray. It seemed like their were many situation where he was walking a tightrope. Some might have termed him a military strongman for some of his actions and others may have thought he was a hero, but he was most definitely a skilled and decisive leader when the situations presented themselves. How would have Picard have handled those situations. I’d like to think he would have done well, but we will never know, so my lean is towards Adama in the BSG universe.

    • Andrew Bloom says:

      One of the things that makes these characters so hard to compare is that their situations are all so different. How would Adama handle being in command of The Enterprise? How well would Picard do trying to escape a Cylon assault? Would Han Solo and Malcom Reynolds immediately become kindred spirits or each other’s worst enemies?

      I don’t know, but narrowing down just to leadership, I’d probably still take Picard. He and Adama faced different challenges — with Adama it was staying one step ahead of the assault and with Picard it was facing whatever new obstacle was in his path this week. I think that fact showed a malleability in Picard’s thinking that would serve him well no matter what his situation was that gives him the edge, but I love Adama and I think he’d acquit himself well in almost any situation too. It’s a close call, but I think a lot of it comes down to Picard being a sentimental favorite for yours truly. Thanks for the comment!

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