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Star Trek’s most tragic ship is still the USS Enterprise-C

The USS Enterprise-C is Star Trek's most tragic ship, and it deserves to be recognized as one of Starfleet's best ships for preventing a war with the Klingons.

Captain Picard in Yesterday's Enterprise in front of USS Enterprise-C

When it comes to the many Starfleet vessels from Star Trek‘s long history, you really can’t find an example more tragic than the USS Enterprise-C. The ship’s one and only appearance comes in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode Yesterday’s Enterprise, and the Starfleet ship is the precursor to the USS Enterprise we see under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard throughout his Star Trek series.

Yesterday’s Enterprise is widely regarded by fans and critics as one of the greatest (if not the single greatest) TNG episode of all time. We agree. With its twisty time-travel plot, it takes hold of the franchise’s sci-fi setting adding thrilling action and waves of emotion into a razor-sharp story set, mostly, in an alternate timeline. It’s episodes like this that make TNG perhaps the best TV series of all time.

In this alternate timeline, the peace negotiated by Captain Kirk and Spock in the Star Trek movie The Undiscovered Country has unravelled and the Federation is locked in a brutal war with the Klingons. Picard paces around his ship gaunt and tense, psychologically wounded by the toll exacted serving as a Star Trek captain in a brutal war, and one which the Federation is on the edge of losing.

Yesterday's Enterprise USS Enterprise-C meets Enterprise-D

The USS Enterprise-C is the ship that’s to blame. Under the command of Captain Rachel Garrett, it causes a rift in the Star Trek timeline when it’s pulled through a temporal anomaly at the Battle of Narendra III. 20 years prior to the start of TNG, in the year 2344, the ship was responding to a Klingon distress signal after an outpost was attacked by Romulans. However, the intense phaser fire triggered a spatial anomaly which pulled the Enterprise-C into the alternate future.

As the Enterprise-C was dragged through the rift, the Klingons watched the Federation ship abandoning them and fleeing from the Romulan attackers. It may have been a misunderstanding (Garrett didn’t willingly leave the battle) but it caused irreparable damage to the Federation-Klingon relationship, eventually leading to their war.

Yesterday's Enterprise Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar

The solution? To send the Enterprise-C back through the anomaly, into the past, to return to a battle which it knows it’s going to lose. That involves the self-sacrifice of the ship’s entire crew (plus an additional alternate version of Tasha Yar), facing their certain death head on in order to preserve a future they never get to see.

On its own, that’s tragic enough. The tragedy of the USS Enterprise-C isn’t just in its complete destruction and the death of its noble crew, though. It’s in the fact that this sacrifice is largely unrecognized.

Yesterday's Enterprise Rachel Garrett USS Enterprise-C

Yes, as seen in Picard season 3 Rachel Garrett gets a commemorative statue. However, no one in the correct timeline ever knows exactly what was prevented by the USS Enterprise-C’s sacrifice (40 billion lives, approximately), or that the ship’s crew chose to defend the Klingon outpost at Narendra III despite knowing they were destined to die.

The USS Enterprise is synonymous with the adventures of Captain Kirk, and Picard: boldly going, making first contact with alien species, stepping in to right moral wrongs. But under the command of Rachel Garrett the Enterprise-C, as Yesterday’s Enterprise shows, is just as worthy as going down in the history books. It remains Star Trek’s most tragic ship. Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name Enterprise… C.

Yesterday's Enterprise Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan

For more on Starfleet’s finest, check out our picks for the best Star Trek starships, and the best Star Trek characters. Or you can see our thoughts on why Data isn’t Starfleet’s best artificial officer, and how Strange New Worlds stole a scene from Star Trek VI.

You can also look to the horizon with all the news on the Strange New Worlds season 3 release date, Lower Decks season 4 release date, and the Discovery season 5 release date. You can also see our guide to watching the Star Trek movies in order, and check out the progress on the Star Trek 4 release date with Chris Pine and co.