Ranking The Enterprise: Trekking Through the Years
The U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship not only of Starfleet but the biggest icon of the long-running Star Trek franchise has gone through many iterations since it first flew across screens in 1966. Now, over five decades later, there are a number of iterations of the starship, some better than others, but all instantly recognizable, and beloved.
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Where does one start judging the best of the best? Is it the bridge? Engine room? Nacelle heights? Size? Computer-generated images versus physical models? There are too many options, and each one has factors in its favor, but for this voyage, ship designs will be where we boldly go.
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A Little Too Sleek…
Registry NCC-1701 J, Universe-Class. A far distant version of the USS Enterprise is glimpsed in “Azati Prime,” a third season episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s a little too stylized, taking the shape and design that is oh-so-familiar and extrapolating them into a 26th-century iteration.
It seems more akin to a sketch of the things that are loved about the Enterprise and stretched into a longer, thinner version of it. The Enterprise J is less appealing than other Starfleet crafts and thinks sleeker is better and more futuristic.
Isn’t That Just the Excelsior?
Registry NCC-1701 B, Excelsior-Class. Seen in Star Trek: Generations, the Enterprise B, is a bit of a disappointment, as viewers had seen the Excelsior before. The Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation, and usually the first ship in each class when a new iteration is needed.
So repurposing an Excelsior-class ship, one that wasn’t even fully equipped when viewers encountered it in Generations, is a bit of a letdown. One wonders what status Starfleet was in that they had to use an older craft for their flagship.
A Messy Amalgam
Registry NCC-1701 C, Ambassador-Class. The USS Enterprise C shows up in season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation thanks to a rift in space-time during the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” This design seems to be a combination of classic and movie-era Enterprises with little nods toward what would become the Enterprise D.
Not as iconic looking as its predecessors, nor as smoothly designed as that which follows, the C conveys the best of the new and the old but doesn’t always look like it fits together properly. More welcome than the B, the C can’t seem to decide if it wants to embrace its past or its future.
A Submarine in Space
Registry NX-01, NX Enterprise-class. The Enterprise that shows up in Star Trek: Enterprise is the first of the series. The NX is used to denote that it is an experimental model. Smaller than anything that would follow after it, this iteration looks and feels like a naval vessel.
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The familiar saucer section is there, as are the nacelles. What is missing is the engineering hull, but there’s something rather appealing about this smaller vessel that is out there, blazing a trail of discovery for humanity. It looks great and can push warp five. It also has this thing called a transporter…
A Different Universe
Registry NCC-1701, Constitution-class. The USS Enterprise featured in the Kelvin-verse (the J.J. Abrams-produced Trek) is larger than its Prime Universe counterpart, and while the basic design is the same, some of it feels a little unbalanced.
The neck pylon connecting the primary and engineering hull is set a little further back, and the nacelles have an odd flare to them. It’s still a beautiful ship and moves incredibly well, but feels like a refurbished home designed by committee, keeping the things that were loved but changing them just a bit to convey a freshness that may not have been needed.
Registry NCC-1701 E, Sovereign-class. The three Next Gen films following Generations featured the Enterprise E, a redesign that captured the sleekness that the Enterprise J missed out on. It hints at stealth, and speed, and seems at home amongst the stars.
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Its primary hull sits lower, and the nacelles have a welcome sweep. It embraced the designs that have all gone before and brings them together in a familiar but new way. This ship generates excitement and is ready for exploration.
The Ship of a New Generation
Registry NCC-1701 D, Galaxy-class. Exploring the galaxy for seven seasons, with some stories better than others, the USS Enterprise is seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is the cruise-ship version of the Enterprise seen in The Original Series. Much larger than its predecessor, the crew is twice the size, but the design is familiar.
The primary hull gracefully leads down into a flattened secondary hull and lowered nacelles. It’s a beautiful update on the iconic design and became a symbol of the franchise as much as the original Enterprise.
Boldly Going to Strange New Worlds
Registry NCC-1701, Constitution-class. The prequel series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds revamped the USS Enterprise from The Original Series. It’s close enough to the original designs to be recognized immediately. It seems larger than the version that graced the screen in TOS, but obviously comes from the same lineage.
This Enterprise rewrites some of the future history and canon, though there are stillstories that are essential to it, but it does it with elegance and grace and looks absolutely stunning.
A Big Screen Refit
Registry NCC-1701 (A), Constitution-class. When the USS Enterprise made the leap to the big screen in 1979 and began its continuing voyages, the ship needed a refit. Its deflector dish was changed, the nacelles lowered in line with the primary hull and made more rectangular, but it was still very much the ship that countless fans loved, but writ large to fill the silver screen believably.
With the relaunch, this ship was at the forefront of the Federation through countless events, culminating with its retirement after the conference at Khitomer. A perfect update to the original beloved starship.
A Star-Faring Icon
Registry NCC-1701, Constitution-class. The USS Enterprise as seen in The Original Series and The Animated Series is iconic, instantly recognizable, and was the ship that launched a franchise. Everything sits perfectly, and it looks as beautiful today as it did when it first graced television screens in 1966.
You can’t improve upon perfection, and while the refit upgraded the ship for a big-screen venture, and Next Gen revamped the design, the original works best. It’s come to symbolize a better future for all of us, and like the series itself suggests hope, discovery and exploration as the human adventure continues.
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