Strange New Worlds surprised fans by including Samuel Kirk.
When I heard Captain Pike inquire about “Lieutenant Kirk” in the premiere episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, I thought the newest Star Trek series had pulled a fast one. I assumed it would be introducing Paul Wesley as the Enterprise’s future captain earlier than announced.
Judging from what I’ve seen on social media, I wasn’t the only viewer surprised when Dan Jeannotte (pictured above) entered the bridge in the episode’s closing moments playing Samuel Kirk, a life sciences officer assigned to work under Spock’s supervision.
Although some viewers new to Star Trek (welcome aboard!) don’t seem to know it, Samuel Kirk isn’t a new character in the franchise. Samuel Kirk is Captain James T. Kirk’s brother.
I was already enjoying the Strange New Worlds premiere, but Samuel’s entrance especially warmed the nerdier cockles of my heart. Including Samuel Kirk in the cast of characters is a cut so deep, not even Star Trek has always remembered to make it.
Samuel Kirk in The Original Series and the Star Trek movies
Samuel Kirk was first mentioned in the original series episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” Dialogue establishes George Samuel Kirk—only Kirk calls him “Sam”—as a researcher (specialty unspecified) who hoped to be transferred to “Earth Colony Two,” and who saw Kirk off “on this mission,” together with his wife and three sons.
George Samuel Kirk actually appeared onscreen first in “Operation: Annihilate!”—as a corpse. And the actor who played him? None other than William Shatner, per the Memory Alpha wiki. Shatner wore gray in his hair and a gray mustache for the brief scene in which Captain Kirk finds his brother dead on Deneva. In that episode, we also meet Sam’s widow, Aurelan, and one of their sons, Peter. (No sight or mention of those other two sons, but strictly speaking, this episode doesn’t contradict the other. Maybe they’re older and were living elsewhere.)
Near the end of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Kirk tells Spock, “I lost a brother once.” As a relatively new and rather dogmatic Trek fan in 1989, I was amazed the film was going to mention Sam.
But it didn’t. Kirk adds, “I was lucky—I got him back.” The whole exchange was a reference to Spock’s recent death and resurrection. At the time, I felt mighty indignant on the late Sam Kirk’s behalf. I’m not bothered by it (much) anymore, and was gratified to read, years later, that author Jeanne Kalogridis, writing as J.M. Dillard, acknowledged Sam at this point in her Star Trek V novelization.
Sam Kirk does appear in Star Trek (2009)—kind of. The young boy a joyriding Jim Kirk drives past in Iowa near the film’s beginning, played by Spencer Daniels, is called “Johnny” onscreen and appears to be a random hitchhiker “Jimmy” knows. But a deleted scene reveals Daniel was cast to play Jimmy’s older brother.
Beyond what two original series episodes established then, we’ve never known much about George Samuel Kirk. He hasn’t even appeared in all that many licensed but non-canonical works. The most notable fact about Sam Kirk has, until now, been the fact of his death.
I’m excited Strange New Worlds will be giving “Samuel Kirk” a life of his own. And I wonder:
- Will we discover why Pike calls him Samuel rather than George? (Maybe Sam prefers it—remember, per Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in the 2009 movie, George Kirk, Sr. lived to see Jim become captain of the Enterprise.)
- Will Samuel enjoy working under what will no doubt be Spock’s exacting standards?
- Will the Kirk brothers share adventures together when Paul Wesley joins the cast in the second season?
- Will we watch Sam, Aurelan, and the family see Kirk off as Enterprise captain, then head to Earth Colony Two—or, perhaps, to Deneva?
Seeing Samuel Kirk was one of the most delightful and unexpected surprises of the Strange New Worlds premiere. Not even knowing his ultimate, tragic fate on Deneva diminishes it. To adopt Captain Pike’s own outlook, we can only hope and expect we’ll get to see Samuel Kirk live his life gloriously in the meantime.