Riker, the Enterprise, and why it took so long to leave

Back when Riker still had ambitions.
Credit: Memory Alpha.
I think the reason why Will Riker kept turning down promotion after promotion was because he wanted to be captain of the Enterprise, but what he didn't count on was Jean-Luc Picard sticking around for so long.

When he was first offered the post of First Officer on the Enterprise, he did some research on Picard and figured that he would be captain of the ship in no time. Keep in mind that Picard had already been captain for over twenty years (closer to thirty) at that point and Riker assumed that “well, he’ll probably hang around for a few years, then move on to the Admiralty and I’ll become the new captain!”, so he accepted the offer and bided his time, waiting for Picard to scoot.

Unfortunately, what he didn’t count on was that Picard had no interest in being an admiral and that even if he was, the loss of the Stargazer and the resulting court martial probably pushed him down to the bottom of the promotion list. I think getting command of the Enterprise was meant to be a consolation prize by some sympathetic Admirals who felt that Picard had gotten a raw deal.

He looked good with the four pips.
Credit: Memory Alpha.
Anyway, Riker waited and waited for Picard to move on, but he never did and as time passed, Riker grew complacent as Picard’s Number One. I think this is best illustrated after the events of Best of Both Worlds where Riker, who was field promoted to captain and given command of the Enterprise, gave both up and returned command to Picard. I’m sure that if he wanted it, he could have pushed the latter aside and kept both the promotion (which Starfleet would have surely made permanent) and command of the ship. But he didn’t because he respected and loved Picard too much to do that.

On the other hand, Riker’s decision was incredibly selfish. Starfleet lost thirty-nine ships during the Battle of Wolf 359. Thirty-nine ships and thirty-nine captains. I don’t imagine that it was a crippling blow to Starfleet, but it had to hurt in terms of the combined experience that was lost. I do imagine, however, that Starfleet did a round of mass promotions to replace the thirty-nine (forty, if they promoted a captain to replace Admiral Hanson, who died at 359). At that point, Riker should have conceded that he probably was never going get the Enterprise, sucked it up, and moved on as a captain for the good of Starfleet.

Clearly questioning his previous life choices.
Credit: Memory Alpha.
Riker really lost his original ambition while serving on the Enterprise because of his aforementioned complacency. According to two episodes of TNG, he had wanted to make captain by the time he was thirty-five years old. He was forty-four by the time it happened. Before that, he was offered command several times, but turned down each one.


  1. i think you hit it right on, why riker stuck around for 14 years as picards first officer.

  2. Great points Jason. He's a huge loser.

    1. No, no, I wasn't trying to imply that Riker was a loser and I don't think he is. I think he merely made a bad decision based on the assumption that Picard was only going to be around for a few years before moving on to the Admiralty. I would have made the same decision in his place.


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