Gene Roddenberry Never Understood The Greatest Star Trek Character

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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Despite the hit-or-miss quality of his solo series, many fans consider Captain Picard to be the best Star Trek character. Because of that, it would be reasonable to assume that nobody knew this character better than Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, the man who first wrote him. However, future Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr revealed how little Roddenberry understood his own creation by describing how the Trek guru always saw Picard as a John Wayne figure.

The Pleasure Planet Risa

This information comes courtesy of a 2015 interview with Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr about their experiences with Star Trek. Behr described an early episode idea he had where the captain would go on a holiday on Risa, the planet now known to franchise fans as an uninhibited paradise most characters (but not that sourpuss Worf) love. Behr’s original idea, however, was that the planet would have a very robust holodeck where Picard could enjoy his vacation by living out a fantasy without consequences.

Contemplating Mortality

Incidentally, it was Gene Roddenberry that transformed Risa into a horny paradise, but the fact that it was initially a more boring planet isn’t why he hated this Picard episode idea. Instead, he objected to the holodeck fantasy where the captain got promoted to admiral, had to give command of the Enterprise to Riker, and dealt with the realities of getting older. As written, Picard would have realized his greatest fear was getting older and having to send younger men on adventures instead of always leading the charge himself.

Picard Fears Nothing

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In other words, many decades before Star Trek: Picard touched on the subject, Behr wanted a story that explored how Patrick Stewart’s character would react to the scary prospect of aging. According to Behr, though, Gene Roddenberry despised this idea, telling the writer that “Picard fears nothing ” and that “If it’s time for him to grow old, to become an admiral, he becomes an admiral…he would not think about that, AT ALL.”

Picard Is John Wayne

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Apparently deciding to sum things up for Behr, Gene Roddenberry exclaimed, “Picard is John Wayne!” At this point, the writer tried to point out that some of Wayne’s best films had his characters dealing with complex feelings which as anger, bitterness, and guilt. To this, Roddenberry replied in the negative, telling Behr that “John Wayne is a hero, Picard is a hero, we are not doing this episode.” 

Patrick Stewart, Action Hero

Despite Gene Roddenberry’s anger toward Behr, things ended up working out for everyone, including Picard. The Starfleet captain eventually got to visit a very different kind of Risa in the episode “Captain’s Holiday,” and although Behr left The Next Generation, he returned to write for Deep Space Nine before taking over as showrunner. In case you were wondering, Patrick Stewart eventually got to channel his inner John Wayne in TNG episodes like “Starship Mine” and movies like First Contact.

Picard Is Loved Because He’s Intellectual

The irony of this (which I have written about before) is that the more Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Picard came to fruition, the more fans hated it. Neither Roddenberry nor Stewart may have appreciated it, but the fandom deeply enjoyed Picard as a more thoughtful character, one likelier to use diplomacy to solve a problem than fisticuffs. This not only made him more distinct from Captain Kirk, but it gave depth and pathos to his performance that screaming while firing a Tommy gun never would.

One Missed Opportunity

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Knowing that Gene Roddenberry always wanted Picard to be a John Wayne character, I am left with a lingering question: why didn’t Patrick Stewart get a chance to join the holodeck shenanigans in “A Fistful of Datas,” the Western-themed episode of The Next Generation? It would have given him a chance to have some fun with the character and show off his true grit. If that had happened, maybe the strange idea of making Picard into a cowboy could have ridden off into the sunset where it belonged.

Source: TrekCore

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