Many prefer the original series, which saw Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew boldly going where no one had gone before, but in our eyes you simply cannot beat its out-of-this-world successor, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Running for 178 episodes over seven seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation saw Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard continue the Enterprise’s voyages, and it resulted in some of the best science fiction television that we’ve ever seen. And as a testament to the show’s legacy, it recently spawned a belated continuation in the Amazon Prime series Star Trek: Picard.
Have you ever wondered what became of Jean-Luc and his crew? And do you have any idea what they even look like these days? Well pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey tea (hot, of course), sink into your captain’s chair, and join us as we take an up-to-date look at the Federation’s best and brightest. Engage!
Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard)
Recently seen reprising the role of Jean-Luc Picard in the Amazon Prime series Star Trek: Picard, Sir Patrick Stewart was always great even in the worst Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes.
When the actor landed the role of Captain of the USS Enterprise, he was best known as a stage actor, having worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Stewart had a few film roles to his name as well, including supporting parts in Excalibur, Dune and Lifeforce.
As well as appearing as Picard in every episode of Next Gen, Stewart also played the role in one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and in the four Star Trek feature films centred on the Next Gen cast: Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis. On top of this, Stewart has voiced the role in numerous video games.
Now 80 years of age, Stewart shares a Guinness World Record with his X-Men colleague Hugh Jackman, for the longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero – playing X-Men’s Professor Charles Xavier, of course.
On top of appearing in seven X-Men movies, Stewart has racked up plenty more film, TV and voiceover work, including such unlikely credits as Ted, Charlie’s Angels (2019) and The Emoji Movie, plus 97 episodes of the animated series American Dad.
Jonathan Frakes (William Riker)
Also appearing in Star Trek: Picard alongside his former captain, Jonathan Frakes’ William Riker was as famous for the technique he used to sit on chairs as he was for being the Enterprise’s number one.
Landing Star Trek wasn’t Frakes’ first experience of a fan-friendly property; early in his career he had worked for Marvel Comics, appearing at conventions dressed up as Captain America.
Like Stewart, Frakes appeared in every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and would also appear as Riker on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and most recently Star Trek: Picard.
Frakes also cut his teeth as a director on Next Gen, calling the shots on eight episodes, and later on two feature films: the acclaimed Star Trek: First Contact, and the less well-received Star Trek: Insurrection.
Frakes has gone on to pursue directing further, taking the helm on two more theatrical films (including 2004’s Thunderbirds) and a great many TV episodes, which alongside a number of Star Trek series include NCIS: Los Angeles, The Orville and Roswell.
Frakes hasn’t given up on acting, although he tends to gravitate towards voiceover work now, taking voice roles on TV cartoon shows including Guardians of the Galaxy and Adventure Time.
Brent Spiner (Data)
Prior to landing the role of the android Data, Brent Spiner had worked on stage in New York, and had a number of small TV and film roles on his CV.
Spiner would play Data throughout the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s seven-season run, plus all four films to feature the Next Gen cast.
Concurrent with this, Spinee is also a keen singer-musician who has released two albums. One of these was a collection of Frank Sinatra standards entitled Old Yellow Eyes is Back, a pun on the contact lenses Spiner wore as Data.
Despite being ‘killed’ in Star Trek: Nemesis, the poorly received 2002 film that was the last to feature The Next Generation’s crew, Spiner’s Commander Data does still have a small role in Star Trek: Picard.
Spiner also plays Dr. Altan Inigo Soong in Amazon’s series, and has had major roles in Independence Day and its 2016 sequel Independence Day: Resurgence.
Spiner has taken plenty more TV and film roles, including – like a number of his Next Gen co-stars – a role as himself on The Big Bang Theory, and most recently appearing in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.
Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi)
London-born Marina Sirtis got her break in acting through small roles on TV’s Minder and movies including Death Wish 3 and The Wicked Lady.
Sirtis ultimately landed the Star Trek: The Next Generation role that became Deanna Troi after she and co-star Denise Crosby auditioned for one another’s parts.
Sirtis would go on to play the role for the entire run of Next Gen plus the four movies, as well as make appearances on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Sirtis went on to more TV sci-fi roles in the likes of The Outer Limits, Stargate: SG-1 and Earth: Final Conflict. She also had small film roles in 2005’s Oscar-winning drama Crash and – at the other end of the spectrum – 2018’s The Last Sharknado.
Sirtis’ Star Trek character, the Enterprise’s Counsellor Deanna Troi is now happily married to Will Riker, and appears alongside her on-screen husband in Star Trek: Picard.
Sirtis is close friends with her Next Gen co-stars Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn, who all served as groomsmen at her wedding.
LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge)
The character Geordi La Forge is rumoured to have a role in the second season of Star Trek: Picard, and LeVar Burton hasn’t stopped acting since Star Trek: The Next Generation ended in 1994.
Burton was already well known in the US before Next Gen for being the host of long-running children’s series Reading Rainbow, as well as for his role on acclaimed TV drama Roots.
Like Jonathan Frakes, Burton would also break into directing through Next Gen, calling the shots on two episodes. He would go on to direct many more episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, amongst other TV shows.
The actor would play the initially visor-clad La Forge through the entirety of the show’s run, as well as in the four movies, by which point they let him wear contact lenses to combat the character’s blindness.
Burton remains a popular figure among fans, and has made cameo appearances as himself on the sitcoms Community and The Big Bang Theory.
Burton continues to direct TV and take small acting roles, and has also written two books: sci-fi thriller Aftermath, and children’s story The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.
Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar)
Denise Crosby is unusual among the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast in that, while she remains one of the show’s most recognised stars, her tenure was short.
As the granddaughter of legendary entertainer Bing Crosby, showbiz was in Denise’s blood. Crosby broke into acting in the early 80s, making one of her first appearances in hit thriller 48 Hrs.
She then played the Enterprise’s Security Chief Tasha Ya in the first season of Next Gen, but Crosby did not enjoy working on the show and found her role unfulfilling.
Subsequently, she asked to be released from her contract, and so Tasha Yar was controversially killed off in the show’s 23rd episode.
Despite this, Crosby’s popularity with fans saw her return in subsequent seasons, playing Yar’s half-Romulan daughter Commander Sela.
Like many of the former Next Generation characters, Crosby, who originally auditioned for the role of Deanna Troi, is often seen making one-off appearances in TV shows such as NCIS: Los Angeles and Suits.
Michael Dorn (Worf)
Becoming the Enterprise’s chief of security and tactical officer after his colleague Tasha Yar met her maker, Worf made Michael Dorn the most prolific Star Trek actor in the franchise’s history.
Dorn made his first screen appearance with an uncredited role in 1976 classic Rocky, as a bodyguard of boxer Apollo Creed.
As Worf, Dorn became Star Trek’s first good guy Klingon, and the character proved popular enough to be brought back on spin-off show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Dorn’s combined runs of Next Gen and DS9 add up to 272 TV episodes. Dorn also appeared in five Star Trek movies; he played another Klingon role in 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country before the Next Gen cast took over the movie series. This is the most Star Trek credits any actor has clocked up to date.
Dorn also had a supporting role in the Santa Clause movies, and has worked extensively as a cartoon voice actor, notably voicing the title role in IM Weasel.
Outside of acting, Dorn is also an accomplished pilot who has owned several jet aircraft.
Gates McFadden (Beverly Crusher)
Gates McFadden only had a few roles to her name when she was cast as the Enterprise’s Doctor Beverly Crusher, but she’d enjoyed a long and distinguished theatrical career.
Highly trained in dance and physical theatre, McFadden worked extensively as a choreographer under her birth name, Cheryl McFadden.
Her most high-profile work in this capacity was on Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy classic Labyrinth; she also did uncredited choreography work on The Muppets Take Manhattan, in which she also made a cameo appearance.
McFadden was actually fired at the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first season after falling out with the show’s head writer Maurice Hurley, and was replaced by Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski.
However, when Muldaur failed to make much of an impression, McFadden was re-hired as Dr Crusher at the start of season three, and remained a regular cast member for the remainder of the show’s run, including the four movies.
Post-Star Trek, McFadden has taken occasional screen roles but has largely returned to theatre, teaching the subject at several prestigious universities including Harvard.
Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher)
Despite only appearing in a handful of episodes after the show’s fourth season, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher remains one of the most well-remembered characters in the show, loved by some and hated by others!
The actor, aged 15 when Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired, landed the role of Beverly Crusher’s son soon after finding fame in the acclaimed 1986 movie Stand by Me.
He would appear on 85 episodes of the show, and viewers saw him grow from wide-eyed youngster to Starfleet Ensign, and ultimately a Lieutenant.
Since Next Gen ended in 1994, Wheaton has continued to work steadily in film and TV, although he hasn’t enjoyed another role as prominent as Wesley Crusher. Wheaton reprised the role in the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis, but his scenes were cut, leaving him with only a brief silent cameo.
Wheaton’s most high profile character since Next Gen has been a shady variation of himself, appearing as the nemesis of Sheldon Cooper in 17 episodes of sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
A prominent figure in fandom and on Twitter, Wheaton has made moves into writing, podcast hosting and even poker playing. His nerd icon status was confirmed when he was name-checked in the popular novel Ready Player One as a future President of the USA.
John de Lancie (Q)
While the omnipotent intergalactic antagonist Q was never a full-time character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he is one of the show’s most memorable characters.
The actor himself has remarked, “My popularity is very disproportionate to the amount of times that I actually was on the show.”
De Lancie first appeared as Q in the very first Next Gen episode, Encounter at Far Point, and would make further appearances in one episode per season for the show’s seven-season run. Such was Q’s popularity that de Lancie reprised the role in spin-off shows Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager.
Nor does the actor’s association with the role end there, as de Lancie also co-wrote the 2000 Star Trek novel I, Q.
In the years since, de Lancie has remained a prolific TV character actor, with notable credits including TV’s Breaking Bad, Charmed and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. He’s also worked widely in theatre, film and video games.
So, now that we’ve brought you up to (warp) speed on what the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation are up to these days, here are some facts about the TV SF classic and its big-screen spin-offs that you might not have known…
10. Fans of the original series were aggressively opposed to The Next Generation
Star Trek was one of the first properties to develop a major fan following as we know them today, inspiring conventions, fanzines (and later fan sites), fan fiction and what we now call cosplay.
It was this impassioned following that resulted in the original Star Trek being brought back on the air after its initial cancellation in 1967.
However, when Star Trek: The Next Generation was first announced back in the mid-80s, this very same following were every bit as vocal in their opposition to the new show.
Fans insisted that it wouldn’t be Star Trek without the original cast – who, by the time The Next Generation first aired, were already four films into a six-film run of big screen Star Trek adventures.
Protests were staged outside the gates of Paramount Studios, an abundance of letters were sent, and none of it seemed to bode well for the show, given that this was precisely the audience The Next Generation needed to appeal to.
As a result of this, many involved felt the show was doomed to fail. Patrick Stewart, who’d come to Hollywood from England to work on the show, didn’t even unpack his suitcase for six months because he expected the axe to fall.
9. Patrick Stewart wore a wig at his audition
Star Trek: The Next Generation was Patrick Stewart’s first major role in America, and competition for the part of Jean-Luc Picard was fierce.
Stewart had initially been considered for the part of Data before making the wishlist for Picard. He was up against established American film actors including Yaphet Kotto, Mitchell Ryan and Stephen Macht (below), the latter of whom was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s initial pick for the part.
Roddenberry feared that Stewart lacked the machismo the role demanded – and part of his concern was down to Stewart’s baldness.
Because of this, Stewart was initially ordered to wear a wig for his screen test.
Happily, Roddenberry himself had a change of heart, told Stewart to remove the “awful-looking” toupee, and allowed the actor to play the role his own way.
Roddenberry and the network executives were immediately taken with Stewart’s commanding presence, and the part was his, bald head and all.
8. Wesley Snipes was considered for the role of Geordi La Forge
LeVar Burton ultimately landed the role of Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge, helmsman and later chief engineer of the Enterprise – but the actor had some noteworthy competition.
Another contender for the role went on to really hit the big time in Hollywood: Wesley Snipes.
Snipes was 24 and only had a few credits to his name at the time of his audition for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In 1987, the year Star Trek: The Next Generation aired, Snipes would land one of his most significant breakthrough roles in the video for Michael Jackson’s hit single Bad.
By the early 90s, lead roles in such hits as New Jack City, White Men Can’t Jump and Passenger 57 made him a major leading man.
Another actor who auditioned for the part of La Forge was Tim Russ, who would later take a supporting role in Star Trek: Generations before being cast as Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager.
7. Gene Roddenberry wanted Deanna Troi to be a hermaphrodite with four breasts
As the ship’s counsellor Deanna Troi, Marina Sirtis portrays a half-human half-Betazoid with heightened empathic powers.
However, if Gene Roddenberry had had his way, the ability to literally feel the feelings of others wouldn’t have been Troi’s only notable extra.
According to the book Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, the series creator originally envisaged Troi as “an oversexed hermaphrodite” with four breasts.
It’s hard to imagine how this would have gone down on network television in the mid-80s – and in any case, this version of Troi didn’t survive the initial planning stages.
Writer Dorothea ‘D.C.’ Fontana persuaded Roddenberry that this vision of Troi would “offend most women, and maybe a lot of men,” and pointed out the impracticality of making the character four-breasted.
Still, this didn’t keep Troi from being nicknamed ‘Counsellor Cleavage’ due to the show’s insistence on dressing Sirtis in tight-fitting low-cut outfits.
6. The budget was so low that the cast sneaked onto the set of Cheers to steal food
Any show set in a high-tech futuristic universe is always likely to cost a lot of money to produce.
As a result of this, the makers of Star Trek: The Next Generation were cutting corners wherever they could to save pennies.
This meant that, in the first season at least, conditions for the cast and crew weren’t necessarily that great.
None of the main cast had trailers, and the on-set catering was by all accounts pretty bare-bones.
As a result of this, some of the cast members – notably Denise Crosby – have confessed to sneaking onto the set of other Paramount productions to steal food.
Crosby has admitted she stole from the set of Cheers, which got considerably better catering given it was the most popular sitcom on TV at the time.
5. Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin was rejected for a writing job
Some prominent TV writers got early writing jobs on Star Trek: The Next Generation, among them Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) and Brannon Braga (24, Salem).
However, there was another writer who applied to work on the show and went on to huge small screen success: George R.R. Martin.
Despite already being a Hugo Award-winning writer for his science fiction novels and short stories, Martin was rejected when he took an interview for a job on the show’s writing staff.
Reportedly the producer who turned him away said that Star Trek: The Next Generation was more of a “people show” than science fiction.
Of course, in the mid-90s Martin would launch his best-selling (and still-unfinished) novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, which would be the basis for the phenomenally popular TV series Game of Thrones.
Still, Martin enjoyed some small-screen success whilst Star Trek: The Next Generation was on air, as a lead writer on Max Headroom and Beauty and the Beast.
4. LeVar Burton suffered massive discomfort in Geordi’s visor
The visor which gives the blind Geordi La Forge more sophisticated sight than his fellow crew members became an iconic part of the character’s look.
However, there was a significant price to pay for actor LeVar Burton, who suffered for his art whilst wearing the visor.
For starters, the actor says the accessory that was meant to give his character enhanced sight actually took away “85-90%” of his field of vision.
You’d hope that when the visor was redesigned in later seasons this would make things easier for the actor, but in fact things only got worse.
Later models of the visor were heavier, so in order to stay in place they had to be literally screwed into the side of Burton’s head.
Small wonder that by the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the character was given cybernetic eyes which only required Burton to wear contact lenses.
3. The Next Generation crew started shooting their first movie a week after the show ended
When a long-running TV series comes to an end, we might expect everyone to put their feet up for a while – but this wasn’t the case for the Star Trek: The Next Generation team.
The cast started shooting Star Trek: Generations – the movie which saw the Next Gen cast take over the movie franchise from the original series line-up – just one week after Star Trek: The Next Generation wrapped.
Work had already begun on the movie while the TV show was still in production, with the film’s crew shooting the prologue scenes centred on William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, James Doohan’s Mr Scott and Walter Koenig’s Chekov.
Star Trek: Generations was given a very tight schedule overall, as it was set for release in November 1994, barely six months after the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired.
This paid off commercially, as the film made $118 million at the box office off the back of a $35 million budget – although critics and fans were divided on the movie, with the death of Captain Kirk sparking some controversy.
Even so, Star Trek: Generations went down well enough for the Next Gen cast to take over the movie franchise for a further three films.
2. Tom Hanks could have played Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact
The second movie to feature the Next Gen cast was 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact, which is widely held up as one of the very best films in the series.
Centred on a time-hopping confrontation with the dreaded Borg, the movie sees the hive-minded techno-race attempt to change intergalactic history by stopping the first meeting between humanity and alien life.
For the part of the 21st century man responsible for ‘first contact,’ the filmmakers had a very bold first choice: Tom Hanks, then at the height of his fame following his back-to-back Best Actor Oscar wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.
As a lifelong Trekkie, Hanks was interested – but had to turn the part down as shooting on First Contact clashed with his directorial debut, That Thing You Do!
Hanks had been offered the role of Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the Warp Drive engine whose breakthrough makes interstellar travel and communication with alien forms possible.
When Hanks passed, Cochrane was subsequently rewritten as an older man, and the part went to James Cromwell, who would go on to play the role a second time in the pilot episode of later Star Trek TV series, Enterprise.
1. Tom Hardy makes an early appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis
Since rising to prominence in such movies as Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max: Fury Road, Tom Hardy has become one of the most popular and acclaimed British actors of his generation.
However, some fans of the actor may have missed one of his earliest big screen roles: in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, the last movie to feature the Next Gen crew.
It should have been a major breakthrough role for the largely unknown actor, aged just 25 at the time, who was cast as an evil young clone of Patrick Stewart’s Picard.
Unfortunately, Star Trek: Nemesis was a massive critical and commercial failure which stopped the movie franchise dead in its tracks, until the 2009 reboot of the original series from director J.J. Abrams.
Most of the cast and crew of Star Trek: Nemesis have expressed regret over how the film turned out, and Hardy has confessed he was “terrified” by the experience, and felt “genuinely out of my depth.”