Chiefs, Ensigns, and Commanders…oh my

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Courtesy CBS All Access)

The Continuity Issues of Rank in Starfleet

It may seem like a somewhat nerdy and pedantic issue, but with the new Star Trek series set to premiere in just less than three months, I would like to take a moment to comment on the rank structure of Starfleet.

This is not an issue of design, or aesthetics, but rather an issue of accuracy and detail. This page describes continuity issues across the Star Trek universe, including the nonsensical issues with Miles O’Brien. And the chaotic and messy mistakes made during the first season of Voyager.

My (very passive) concern is that the new series will be so intensely focused on being fresh and entertaining, they will gloss over an issue that has been debated and picked apart for decades. As a US military veteran, I am very familiar with naval ranks and how they apply to basic units and ships. That being said, I would very much like to see the writers and producers take the time to get it right from the beginning of the series.

A few shows that got it right were China Beach, M*A*S*H , JAG, and Army Wives. Being accurate and consistent is not necessarily the criteria by which all shows should be judged, however, if Starfleet prides itself on scientific advancement and a common goal  “To make yourself more than you are”, as Captain Picard put it, then advancement and rank would be key components of knowing where one is on one’s journey.

Firstly, there need to be enlisted. The sloppy way TNG handled having enlisted personnel, and the awkward way ENT tried to wedge in a few crewman in weirdly meaningless plot-lines…it’s all a bit off-putting. That is not to say that the tendency to focus on the senior crew is not understood, but if there are going to be enlisted, the goal should obviously be to have some recognizably predictable pattern and be consistent with it throughout the seasons.

Establish it Early in the Series

I do not believe there need to be any retconning or ex post facto explanations. Simply put, establish early in the series that there are officers and enlisted and have ready the appropriate uniform rank insignia that allow for the addition or removal of any possible crew (actors). The fact that we know this series is set ten years prior to TOS; the choice of pips is also somewhat confusing, except that ENT went with the square pip motif. In either case, continuity will be a welcome change from the somewhat haphazard way this aspect has been dealt with in almost every other series.

Of course we want to know about the Captains, Commanders, and Lieutenants, but for any ship of considerable size to function there would undoubtedly be a large contingent of enlisted crew, and we should know about them too.

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About Carl Buck

Carl Buck is the newest contributor to our Opinion section. You can find him on Twitter at For now, he values his privacy. Be sure to check back here in case he is willing to share more about himself in the near future.

  • William Thompson

    I am thinking the same thing, I not a fan of the new mini pips. It is too difficult to distinguish ranks at a glance,and officers do not like not being recognized as officers. But one good thing is that the medical, and science divisions are not wearing the same color uniform.

  • Jonathan Burns

    Apart from the WOK+ movies Star Trek has always been rubbish depicting Enlisted.
    They had clear rank and rating Insignia.