The Secret Reason Wesley Crusher Is So Cringe

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

While Star Trek fans constantly argue over topics like who the best Captain in Starfleet is, a few topics bring almost the entire fandom together. For example, if you ask most fans who the most annoying character is, they’ll answer “Wesley Crusher.”

The precocious boy genius seemed to save the day in every other episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation season one. Collectively, the fandom has always wondered why this character is so cringeworthy, and there’s a very simple answer to that. Franchise creator Gene Roddenberry admitted that he actually based this character on himself.

Wesley Crusher Is Based On Gene Roddenberry

gene roddenberry

The first hint that Wesley Crusher was going to be based on Gene Roddenberry was the character’s name. In the show bible intended to help writers all get on the same page, it is revealed that the character’s name “Wesley” is the same as Gene Roddenberry’s middle name. Just as Eugene Wesley Roddenberry chose to go by “Gene,” Wesley Crusher was often simply referred to as “Wes.”Eventually, Roddenberry made the subtext into text: in the book The Next Generation Companion, the creator revealed that “I identify probably more so with Wesley because he is me at seventeen.” This was more aspirational than literal, however, with Roddenberry clarifying that Wesley Crusher “is the things I dreamed of being and doing.”

Wesley Was Supposed To Be A Girl

star trek

Interestingly, Star Trek: The Next Generation producer Robert Justman wanted to turn Wesley Crusher into a female “Leslie Crusher” and do something unconventional for ‘80s sci-fi: explore the difficulties of being an adolescent girl whose IQ is off the charts. Roddenberry initially agreed to that change but later made the solo decision to make Crusher a boy again.

Later, at one of the first Star Trek conventions after the show came out, Crusher actor Wil Wheaton claims Roddenberry responded to a fan’s hate for the character by telling the fan to “shut up” and saying “I love Wesley and I made Wesley out of me and it’s my show!”

Gene Roddenberry Is To Blame For Wesley’s Cringe

It’s admirable that Gene Roddenberry stuck up for the character and actor like this, and in a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with the creator basing a character on himself. But it casts much of the character’s cringier actions in a new light, like in “The Naked Now.”

Here, Wesley Crusher (who is effectively drunk thanks to a strange virus) singlehandedly takes control of the entire ship. Fans often wondered how the heck a teenager could outsmart the entire crew like that, and the depressing answer seems to be that he’s Gene Roddenberry’s embarrassing self-insert character.

Building Up Roddenberry’s Favorite Character

Only three episodes later, a godlike alien being called The Travelers confirms to Captain Picard that Wesley Crusher is such an amazing, Mozart-like genius that he catches The Traveler’s attention. This storyline would later pay off to mixed results later in The Next Generation as well as Picard, but Gene Roddenberry (who died before that payoff) had no way of knowing that.

On the face of it, this is a case of a showrunner basing a character on himself and then adding five pages of script notes to an episode that definitively confirmed the self-insert character was one of the most gifted prodigies in the entire universe. 

Wesley Crusher Saved

star trek wil wheaton

Over the years, later writers would make Wesley Crusher into more of a fully developed character and less of a fanfiction OC brought to life. But those early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation are notoriously rough to watch, and the increasingly cringe antics of Wesley Crusher are a big part of why that is.

Had he been developed into more of an actual character and less of Gene Roddenberry’s idealized dream version of himself, then fans might have never turned “shut up, Wesley” into the franchise’s most famous meme.