Star Trek‘s original USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) is still the most well-known starship in the franchise with a long, fascinating history. The Enterprise was first introduced in Star Trek: The Original Series under the command of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), and has become almost synonymous with Star Trek thanks to its continued importance in various projects. During TOS, the Enterprise was practically another main character, and other Star Trek projects have continued to add to its history and appearances over the years.
There have been many different versions of the Enterprise in Star Trek, even as recently as Star Trek: Picard which introduced several new Enterprises including the USS Enterprise-G and Enterprise-F. Before the advent of the ship’s lettered versions, however, the original Enterprise went through almost as many reincarnations of itself, with a variety of updates, refits, and most importantly, crew changes. With three distinguished captains, several major upgrades, and a dramatic on-screen destruction that is still somewhat controversial, the Enterprise’s history is extensive.
The USS Enterprise Before Strange New Worlds
Perhaps one of the most under-explored areas of the Enterprise’s history is its creation, launch, and first captaincy under Captain Robert April. While no Star Trek project has ever depicted any of these events in detail, hints about the Enterprise’s early years in service have been dropped in various shows. Most of the hard facts about the ship’s beginnings were shown in an on-screen display during the premiere episode of Star Trek: Discovery season 2, which confirmed that the Enterprise was launched on April 11th, 2245, and served its first five-year mission with Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) as first officer and Robert April as Captain.
Captain April is still something of a mystery in Star Trek. Until Discovery, his actual existence was in dispute due to the fact that he was first introduced in Star Trek: The Animated Series (voiced by James Doohan). TAS has a questionable place in Star Trek canon, but Discovery season 2 confirmed that April was the Enterprise’s first Captain, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds fully introduced Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes) in live-action. Besides the basic facts, however, any specific mission the Enterprise went on under April’s command have yet to be explored.
The USS Enterprise In Strange New Worlds
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is one of the first projects to explore Captain Pike’s command of the Enterprise after reintroducing him in Star Trek: Discovery season 2. Although Star Trek: The Original Series established Pike as the Enterprise’s Captain before Kirk, Strange New Worlds has expanded on the backstory for him and his crew that was only hinted at in TOS. This has included a new look at characters like Pike and his First Officer, Commander Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), as well as expanded backstories for more well-established Star Trek characters like Spock (Ethan Peck) and Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding).
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds does not depict Captain Pike’s very first years on the Enterprise, leaving out about 10 years of the ship’s history in the process, but the show still explores an era of Star Trek that was largely ignored before Star Trek: Discovery. Strange New Worlds’ first season showed many of the crew’s adventures during their third five-year mission, fulfilling the mission parameters to seek out alien life and aid Starfleet in scientific exploration. With the series still ongoing, even more of the Enterprise’s history is sure to be explored in later seasons.
The USS Enterprise In Star Trek: The Original Series
Star Trek: The Original Series is the show that the USS Enterprise is most closely associated with, despite it taking place well into the ship’s lifespan in the Star Trek timeline. TOS not only launched the entire franchise but also introduced audiences to the Enterprise for the first time, exploring the ship and its adventures under Captain Kirk and his crew. The Enterprise’s unique design distinguished TOS from other sci-fi series, contributing to the overall popularity of the show and ensuring that many core design elements were included in future Star Trek ships, such as warp nacelles, a saucer section, and a deflector dish.
Captain Kirk is remembered as the greatest Captain of the original Enterprise, distinguishing himself from his predecessors significantly. Like Pike and April, Kirk’s five-year mission was exploratory in nature, but many of the scientific discoveries and first contacts that took place under his command were more historic than those made by the previous Captains. Under Kirk, the Enterprise also participated in several important battles, mainly against the Klingons and the Romulans who would go on to be main franchise antagonists for decades to come. Although the Enterprise had been in service for 20 years by the time Kirk took command, he and his crew arguably made the biggest impact on its legacy.
The USS Enterprise Refit In Star Trek: TOS Movies
After Star Trek: The Original Series was canceled, it was some time before a series of movies were greenlit starring the cast of the show. When they were, however, the first film featured a completely new and improved USS Enterprise. Star Trek: The Motion Picture introduced audiences to the refitted Enterprise, which underwent a drastic transition into a Constitution II-class ship after an 18-month-long overhaul of all its systems. Practically, this allowed TMP to show off its new and improved special effects department and gave a reason for the use of new Enterprise sets for the film. In canon, the Enterprise’s refit only made sense given how long the ship had been in service.
During the refit, which took place mostly off-screen, all the ship’s systems were upgraded and the design of the inside was radically changed. Significant system upgrades included a new warp core, improved nacelles, an upgraded deflector dish and torpedo banks, and a completely new and improved bridge. Although Star Trek: The Motion Picture showed some hiccups with the new systems, they allowed the Enterprise to remain in service for the next several years, during which the now-Admiral Kirk and crew used the ship to participate in battles against some significant threats, including the one the ultimately led to the Enterprise’s destruction.
Why The USS Enterprise Was Destroyed In Star Trek III
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock saw the Enterprise destroyed as part of a calculated move by Admiral Kirk while fighting the film’s Klingon antagonists. The Klingons had outmaneuvered Kirk and disabled the Enterprise, but Kirk ensured that he had the final word by setting the self-destruct sequence and beaming his crew down to the Genesis planet while the Klingons beamed onboard. Although Kirk expressed regret while he and the crew watched the Enterprise incinerate in the planet’s atmosphere, Dr. McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) reminded Kirk that destroying the ship was the only way he could have kept them all alive.
While the Enterprise’s destruction in Star Trek III was a last resort in canon, the real-world reasons for it are harder to pin down. Executive Producer Harve Bennet justified Kirk’s decision by stating that Kirk used the Enterprise’s destruction as a calculated military tactic against the Klingons. Bennet also had some desire to move the crew to the USS Excelsior, before information about the Enterprise’s destruction was leaked to the public and caused an outcry. The leak has been attributed to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who was unhappy with Bennet’s idea. The outrage caused the USS Enterprise-A to be created for the remaining Star Trek films.