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Strange New Worlds’ new Captain Kirk could solve a huge Star Trek mystery

Paul Wesley will become the third actor to play James T. Kirk in Star Trek, but when does this happen in Kirk’s timeline?

Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Risk is his business. In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the role of James T. Kirk will now be played by... Paul Wesley. The veteran actor most famous for The Vampire Diaries will officially appear in some capacity as Kirk in Season 2 of Strange New Worlds. Here’s why this new Kirk isn’t a digitally de-aged William Shatner (or regular-aged Chris Pine), where this might happen in the timeline, and what it could reveal about Kirk’s past.

Why was Captain Kirk recast in Strange New Worlds?

If you’re confused as to why there’s a new person playing James T. Kirk in Strange New Worlds, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. We don’t know that Paul Wesley’s Kirk is actually a Captain, yet. (The press release doesn’t mention his rank.)
  2. Strange New Worlds takes place in the Prime Timeline — not the Kelvin Timeline of Chris Pine’s movies — which is why the actor isn’t Pine.
  3. This kind of recasting has happened before, very recently. Celia Rose Gooding is playing Uhura in Strange New Worlds (played by Nichelle Nichols in TOS and Zoe Saldana in the Kelvin films.) Plus, Ethan Peck and Anson Mount have been playing Captain Pike and Spock, respectively, since 2019 in Discovery Season 2. In both cases, though played by Jeffrey Hunter and Leonard Nimoy in TOS, those roles were also recast for the Kelvin films too; where Pike was played by Bruce Greenwood, and Spock by Zachary Quinto. So, Paul Wesley playing Kirk follows this same pattern.

Kirk and the Star Trek timeline

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in the TOS episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the earliest canonical appearance of the Prime Timeline Kirk...until Strange New Worlds Season 2!CBS/Paramount

Another important detail here is that Paul Welsey’s new Jim Kirk won’t appear in Strange New Worlds Season 1, which premieres in 2022. This casting announcement is for Season 2. So where does that put this Kirk in the timeline?

This is a very tricky question. For one thing, we don’t know exactly when Strange New Worlds happens, yet. The best guess is that it’s 2258 or 2259, which would be immediately following the events of Discovery Season 2. But because The Original Series doesn’t begin until 2265, there’s a decent amount of wiggle-room. And, because Strange New Worlds is billed as a return to episodic Trek, we’re not even sure how much time will pass during Season 1.

Canon tells us that Kirk takes command of the USS Enterprise in 2265, sometime just before the events of “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” And from the TOS episode “The Menagerie,” we also know that Kirk briefly meets Captain Pike at some point in his career when Pike is “promoted to Fleet Captain.”

In roughly 2257 (or maybe 2258) Kirk was serving on the USS Farragut when the ship was attacked by an alien vampire cloud, which killed two hundred people, including Captain Garrovick. Between that incident and taking command of the Enterprise, we actually don’t know what Kirk was doing. On top of that, canon doesn’t make it clear if Kirk had a previous captaincy before taking over the USS Enterprise from Pike. The 1968 book The Making of Star Trek suggests Kirk did command a “destroyer” before the Enterprise, but that’s never really been taken too seriously.

So, where will Paul Wesley’s new Kirk fall into that timeline? The new promotional photo from Paramount+ suggests that Kirk has captain’s stripes, but as we won’t see him until Strange New Worlds Season 2, it’s tough to say what his story will really be.

Because despite being the first beloved Star Trek captain ever, we actually know very little about Kirk’s pre-TOS career. But that’s all about to change and get, a little bit stranger.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 hits Paramount+ on May 5, 2022.