If you’ve ever sat down to rewatch Star Trek The Next Generation, you’ll probably remember that LeVar Burton’s Geordi La Forge wasn’t always the Chief Engineer of Picard’s Enterprise. In fact, in the first season of the show, he’s mostly seen on the bridge, wearing a red Starfleet uniform, piloting the ship.
Yes: despite being just as recognized for his engineering prowess as Star Trek‘s iconic Scotty before him, Geordi started life aboard the ship as a Lieutenant Junior Grade helmsman. It was only in season 2 that he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (before becoming a Lieutenant Commander in season 3) and took on the role of Chief Engineer. In doing so, he seemingly replaced a whopping four Star Trek characters, because throughout season 1 the role of Chief Engineer was rotated among multiple crew members.
It’s a bizarre and confusing piece of continuity, especially because this ‘rotation’ isn’t something seen in any other Star Trek series (or season of TNG), and it’s left fans scratching their heads for decades. Now, fans on social media have tried to make sense of it all by giving a lore-friendly explanation to the mystery.
The debate was sparked by illustrator and Star Trek fan Ste Johnson who, posting to X, said: “[I] wonder what the in-universe explanation is for the revolving door of Enterprise D Chief Engineers [in TNG season 1].” His question provoked several illuminating responses.
One fan suggested that because “Galaxy Classes were so huge, I could imagine several ‘chief’ engineers at the same time.” That’s a good surface-level explanation, but doesn’t explain why Geordi seems to become the sole Chief Engineer later on.
A more bullet-proof response was that the multiple Chief Engineers could have been, “people doing a short term [stint] on the flagship before being posted to other Galaxy Class starships before they leave drydock and go out on trials.”
Meanwhile, other comments suggested that the four rotating Chief Engineers were just shift supervisors, overseeing the maintenance of engineering as the USS Enterprise cycled through its shifts.
Our own theory? Being the most collaborative Star Trek captain, Picard wanted to try a new system with multiple Chief Engineers given the importance of the role. However, he realized that it wasn’t quite working and that there needed to be one single crew member responsible: enter Geordi. The others will have then left to take on the role of Chief Engineer on other Starfleet ships.
It’s not perfect, but it works, right? Whatever explanation you choose to believe, we can all agree that having Geordi take over as Chief Engineer was a brilliant decision, both in-universe and out. Giving him a better-defined role from season 2 onwards helped cement his character, and gave the entire series a better sense of stability and consistency that was much needed. Or, maybe he was just so damn good at engineering that he could do the work of four people all at once.
That’s because while we all agree that Star Trek The Next Generation is one of the best TV series of all time, the first season of the show really sucked. Season 2 is often criticized but has some soaring highlights (‘The Measure of a Man’, ‘Q, Who’, ‘Peak Performance’, ‘Elementary, Dear Data’), in contrast to the first which is very light on redeeming features.
The Star Trek TNG cast hadn’t yet found its footing, and the plotlines were a mixture of horribly misguided (‘Code of Honor’) and incredibly dry and dull (‘When the Bough Breaks’). It’s so bad that plenty of fans will skip it entirely. Geordi’s promotion (and the growth of Riker’s beard) coincided with an uptick in quality that then persisted throughout the show, and even within the Star Trek fandom — which loves to debate the minutiae of the series — no one’s mourning the loss of Argyle, MacDougal, Logan, and Lynch.
For more Star Trek fun, check out our complete guide to the Star Trek timeline as well as our guide to the Strange New Worlds season 3 release date. You can also learn about our hopes for Star Trek Legacy, and see why Jonathan Frakes had to break Rick Berman’s rules to make ‘The Drumhead’.