Star Trek’s Orions: The Mysterious Pirates Of The Galaxy Explained

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

Osyrra, the Orion Pirate in Star Trek: Discovery

In many ways, Star Trek’s most influential aliens are not the Klingons or the Romulans but the Orions: since the first pilot for this Paramount franchise premiered, Trek has mostly portrayed these aliens as either sexy temptresses or fierce pirates. Of course, the onscreen Orion culture has changed so much in recent decades that even the most hardcore Trek fans may not know these aliens’ deal. Since being green or figuring out these olive aliens is not easy, we decided to write the definitive guide to Star Trek’s Orions.

The Original Appearance Of The Orions

The original pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Cage,” gave us our first glimpse of the Orions…sort of. We say “sort of” because instead of audiences being introduced to an actual alien character, we were introduced to Vina, an injured humanoid whom the natives of Talos IV (very powerful telepaths) made look like an Orion-dancing girl to try to win the affections of Captain Pike. In the early years of the fandom, this helped cement the aliens’ reputation as slaves who were often sold to be the sexual playthings of others…a problematic reputation that the franchise would later rectify.

An Orion in Star Trek: The Original Series, “Whom Gods Destroy”

In Star Trek: The Original Series, we only get one more Orion appearance after “The Cage” (and after footage from “The Cage” was reused for “The Menagerie”). In the rather forgettable episode “Whom Gods Destroy,” we meet an actual female Orion, much like Vina appeared to be: a green femme fatale who was fully prepared to seduce and kill Captain Kirk to suit her own needs. Interestingly, we weren’t introduced to male Orions until the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “The Pirates of Orion,” in which they were portrayed (shockingly enough) as vicious pirates.

How Orions Changed Over The Decades

For decades, the Star Trek fandom considered Orion culture to be made up of ruthless male pirates and sexy women who were as deadly as they were beautiful. All of this changed in the Enterprise episode “Borderland,” which gave us our first live-action look at Orion males while also introducing the idea that Orion society is a matriarchy. This gentle retcon also established that most of the seemingly enslaved Orions in the galaxy were using their pheromones as a way of manipulating other species and basically gaining control over their would-be owners without the owners even knowing it. 

The revelation that Star Trek’s Orion women actually ruled their society and were not simply helpless sexual slaves was a relatively progressive retcon, but fans were still left with a binary: the Orion men were still nasty pirates, and Orion women were still mostly known for their sexual powers and prowess. This led to stereotypes perpetuated in the franchise’s very universe, and we see in the Lower Decks episode “Crisis Point” that Orion ensign Tendi gets very annoyed at being stereotyped as a slave pirate in a holodeck program. 

Lower Decks Includes An Orion Crewmember

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The Orion, Ensign Tendi, in Lower Decks

Of course, in typical Lower Decks fashion, we later discover Tendi was once a pirate known as the Mistress of the Winter Constellations, so the stereotype wasn’t that far off. However, it was only when Star Trek: Discovery jumped us 930 years into Starfleet’s far-flung future that we saw the heights (and the depths) that the Orions were capable of reaching.

After the events of the Burn (a galaxy-wide event that rendered most dilithium inert), Starfleet and the Federation were hobbled. In the midst of this chaos, the Orions formed the powerful and feared Emerald Chain crime syndicate, and they posed a significant threat to both the Federation they were in conflict with as well as the rest of the galaxy. They were led by the fearless Orion woman Osyraa, but after she was killed in a battle with the Discovery’s crew, the Emerald Chain offered the Federation armistice and emancipated their slaves.

The final season of Star Trek: Discovery may give us a better glimpse of what the Orions are like under new leadership. But even if we don’t see the Emerald Chain again anytime soon, this race has established itself as one of the most popular, prominent, and powerful in franchise history. In the meantime, we’ll be tuning in to Lower Decks each week to check out the further adventures of best girl Tendi, the Orion heart and soul of the entire show.