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A History of Jean-Luc Picard, Starfleet’s Finest Captain

Arguably the greatest Captain in the history of Starfleet, Sir Patrick Stewart’s signature character once again returns to prominence this week with the premiere of Star Trek: Picard. But when Star Trek: The Next Generation began, Picard was almost fifty years old and already considered a Starfleet legend.

But throughout the series, we learned more about his past, and who Jean-Luc Picard was before he took control of the Federation’s most famous ship. But if you need a little catch-up on the life and career of Starfleet’s finest as his new series commences, worry not, as we’ve got you covered.

The Picard family home in France, as seen on Star Trek: Picard.

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As we learn in the Season Four episode “Family,” Jean-Luc Picard grew up on his family vineyard in La Barre, France. He had one older brother named Robert, a jealous bully. And his father was a strict, old-fashioned man. He refused to allow modern technology in the house, so the Picard family had to do everything the old-fashioned way. But Jean-Luc had higher aspirations than tending to the family business or looking to the past. A valedictorian in school, he applied to Starfleet Academy at a very young age. And he got in on his second attempt, as explained in season one’s “Coming of Age.”

A young cadet Picard, as played by Tom Hardy in Star Trek: Nemesis

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While attending Starfleet Academy, Jean-Luc excelled in every aspect. He became a top student of archaeology under the revered Professor Galen. We learn in Season Six’s “The Chase” that Galen became a father figure to young Jean-Luc, and wanted him to abandon Starfleet in order to become an archaeologist like himself. But Picard chose Starfleet, causing a rift between the two for decades. While still a freshman at the Academy, Jean-Luc won the Starfleet decathlon, beating many upper classmen, as recalled by his old friend Admiral Hanson in Season Four’s “The Best of Both Worlds Part II.” Despite all his time spent studying (and romancing young women), he also made time to gain wisdom from the Academy’s old groundskeeper, a man named Boothby (in “The Game”).

Captain Picard relives the moment in his youth when rowdy aliens impaled him, nearly killing him. He recalled laughing at the sensation rather than feeling pain.

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Upon graduation, an incident nearly ended the cocky young man’s life, and changed him on a fundamental level. While stationed at a Starbase on the far side of the quadrant, a young ensign Picard picked a fight with some rugged aliens called Nausicaans. The entire fight was over who was cheating in a pool game at a bar, but nevertheless the huge aliens impaled Picard in the back, leaving him for dead. His heart was replaced with an artificial one. The incident made him realize life was not a game, and he became far more serious and disciplined. Picard recounts this story to young Wesley Crusher in the second season episode “Samaritan Snare,” and later shown in the fifth season’s “Tapestry.”

The USS Stargazer, Picard's first command as Captain.

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The now far more serious Picard quickly rose through the ranks of Starfleet, eventually earning a post on the exploratory starship Stargazer. While still a young man, Lt. Picard took command of the Stargazer when her Captain was killed in action. Awarded the field rank of Captain, Picard commanded this ship for some 22 years. There, he made first contact with dozens of species, becoming a Starfleet legend at a relatively young age.

He was also something of a ladies’ man during this time. On TNG, we encountered more than one woman from Picard’s past. But perhaps the reason he could never make it work with any of them was that he was secretly in love with the wife of his first officer and best friend, Commander Jack Crusher. He kept his feelings for Jack’s wife Beverly buried deep down. Even after Jack Crusher was killed on an away mission, his sense of loyalty to his friend prevented him from ever acting on his feelings for Beverly. We learn all of this in the seventh season episode “Attached.”

While Captain of the Stargazer, Picard brings home the body of his first officer Jack Crusher to his wife Beverly.

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Shortly after Jack Crusher’s death, Picard lost the Stargazer itself. The ship came into conflict with an unknown alien vessel, which left the Stargazer lifeless in space. This was all was revealed in the Season One episode “The Battle.” There, we also learn that Jean-Luc’s brilliant battle tactics saved most of his crew, and his spur-of-the-moment actions earn the label “the Picard Maneuver” from Starfleet cadets. Despite his bravery, Starfleet subjected him to a court martial, standard procedure after losing a Starship. The lawyer prosecuting the case, a woman named Phillipa Louvois, shared a brief romantic entanglement with Picard (“The Measure of a Man.”) At some point during this time, Picard meets and befriends the mysterious alien known as Guinan. She later serves him aboard the Enterprise, but the details about their first meeting remain vague. All we know is that they are very, very close.

Jean-Luc Picard, on the bridge of the Enterprise-D on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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Nine years later, Jean-Luc earns the brand new Federation flagship, the Enterprise. The Galaxy-class ship is the pride of the fleet, and his adventures on board her are chronicled on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His Chief Medical Officer is Beverly Crusher, the widow of his best friend. Although he at first is uncomfortable with this notion, due to their past, the two eventually become very close. The series shows how Picard and Beverly even had breakfast together every morning. Because of their long history, Beverly Crusher is the only one who can challenge the Captain once he’s made a decision.

During his time as Captain of the Enterprise-D, Picard makes first contact with the cybernetic hive species known as the Borg, and is eventually kidnapped and forced to become a part of their collective himself. As Locutus, he becomes the face of their attack on the Federation. This incident is profoundly disturbing to him, as the Borg extract knowledge from his brain as part of a plan to kill thousands of innocents. Echoes of his trauma at the Borg’s hands continue on for years.

Picard as Locutus of Borg, the Next Generation's third season finale The Best of Both Worlds s.

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Other notable moments during Picard’s command of the Enterprise-D include when he fought Starfleet over the sentience of android life forms in court (“The Measure of a Man”), he survived capture by the Cardassian Empire (“Chain of Command”), and when he became the arbiter of succession for the leader of the Klingon Empire (“Reunion.”) He also had another profoundly life-changing experience when contact with an alien probe allowed him to live out a full lifetime as someone else in the span of a few minutes (“The Inner Light.”)

After the Enterprise-D is destroyed in Star Trek: Generations during a mission where Picard met his predecessor Captain James Kirk, he is given command of a newly designed Sovereign class vessel, the Enterprise-E. During his time as Captain, he saved the Earth from a Borg invasion, and went back in time to allow for first contact to happen between humans and Vulcans (Star Trek: First Contact.) He saved the Earth once again from a Romulan plot to destroy it conceived by his own clone Shinzon, events that occurred in Star Trek: Nemesis.

Picard confronts his younger clone Shinzon, played by Tom Hardy, in Star Trek: Nemesis.

Paramount Pictures

But in the twenty years between Nemesis and this new series, the now-Admiral Jean-Luc Picard suffered a great personal defeat. After the Romulan sun goes supernova and destroys their home world (Star Trek 2009), he convinces Starfleet to build a rescue armada and save what is left of the Romulan people. But after a terrorist attack on Mars derails those plans, they abandon the Romulans. This enrages Picard, who feels that the Federation is derelict in its duty. He resigns his commission, and retreats to his family vineyard. This is where we find him when the events of Star Trek: Picard begin to unfold.

Although of his best years might be in the past, the now octogenarian Picard still has one very important mission left in him. But to see what his destiny is in this uncharted future, you’ll have to watch Star Trek: Picard, now streaming on CBS All Access.

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