"It's been a long road, getting from there to here," croons Russell Watson in the opening titles of Star Trek: Enterprise, and you might be forgiven to think he's talking about the lineage of starships named Enterprise.
From the beginnings of Starfleet to defending the universe against the Borg, there's been a number of different vessels carrying that infamous name, all responsible for countless discoveries of new life and new civilizations as well as blowing a space-ton of things up. With the return of Star Trek: Discovery, there's yet another Enterprise now on the screen to boldly go where, let's be honest, most have already gone before. So let's take this as an excuse to pit those fine starships against one another and see which one comes out on top. Will it be J.J. Abrams' super-scaled behemoth? Might it be the Borg-killer from the Next Generation movies? Or just the classic 1701? To quote a famous engineer, "No bloody A, B, C, or D."
Let's get it on, Roddenberry style.
Before we begin, please note: The following starships were judged based on four main factors: their warp speed, their weaponry and tactical ability, the crew serving on them, and their aesthetic qualities. They have been loosely put into two groups based on the technology gap between the 23rd and 24th centuries, where the warp scale was reconfigured to allow for the new velocities reachable by starships. Also, neither the new Enterprise from Discovery nor the Enterprise-J have been included in this list because they've only been seen for a minimal time and as such the Memory Alpha entries are pretty sparse.
Oh my. A whole century before Kirk and co., a new Enterprise was launched to runabout space and try not to get into too much trouble, a time when Starfleet didn't really exist.
The first of the NX-class, the NX-01 Enterprise was launched in 2151 and to be honest wasn't much space-cop. It could only get up to warp 5, and defensively it had but a few tricks up its sleeve; plasma cannons, phase cannons, and initially only spatial torpedoes (it got upgraded to photon torpedoes a bit later).
It's also not a great looking ship; while you can kind of see a bit of design lineage it always looked a bit too futuristic, not surprising considered its aesthetic was based on a previously existing 24th century vessel: the Akira-class, introduced in Star Trek: First Contact, to the point where the producers originally requested to use that ship design with no changes. Designer Doug Drexler convinced them otherwise and while the ship still doesn't look great, it at least has an individual feel.
When Paramount and J.J. Abrams decided to bring the franchise back to the big screen in 2009, they wanted to sex everything up and make it cooler and bigger and more impactful than before, and of course, that was also applied to the design of the new Enterprise.
Abrams was said to have wanted the new ship to look like a hot-rod and it does look like a muscle car, albeit one that spent a few months in the drydock of the 23rd century equivalent of Pimp My Ride. Who knows if it has a bass tube in its glove compartment, but it does have twelve phaser banks and some photon torpedo launchers, with the phasers acting more like Star Wars' pew-pew cannons rather than the usual phasers.
When the film came out there were some complaints about how quickly the ship could reach other planets, and indeed it can reach warp 8 on the old scale. It does look quite jumbled up though, like someone took a bit from the original and the movie refit and the later ships and made it a bit shinier.
And then they blew it up and made a new one, which managed to look even worse. Probably a good thing Star Trek 4 just got canceled...
Introduced in 1994's Star Trek Generations, the basic design of the 1701-B had been decided long before there was ever any thought of killing off James T. Kirk.
1987 saw the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and one of the sets built for the show was the observation lounge where the crew would get together to discuss missions and such. On the wall of the lounge was a visual history of ships named Enterprise via a bunch of gaudy golden relief representations of the ships, from the Navy aircraft carrier up to the newest at that point, the 1701-D. At that point, no one had thought about an Enterprise-B, so they decided that it would be an Excelsior-class ship after the class introduced in Star Trek III.
When it finally came round to build one, they stuck with the design but made some additions to the saucer, the nacelles, and the secondary hull, making it a bit more unique (and also meaning they could make a big hole in the ship without actually damaging the motion control model).
It's a decent looking ship with a fair amount of weapons — including many phaser banks and fore and aft torpedo launchers — and can bring itself up to the old warp 9, which is pretty great. Its biggest problem is that it's commanded by Cameron Frye from Ferris Bueller's Day Off who, from his short appearance on-screen, knows less about commanding starships than he does about convincing his smug proto-yuppie friend to steal his dad's Ferrari.
If there's any ship that deserves to have a tragic opera composed about it, it's the 1701-C. Originally destroyed by Romulans while defending a Klingon outpost, it was saved by the Enterprise-D during a temporal mishap, which was great until Whoopi Goldberg told everyone that they had to send them back to fight the Romulans and certain death.
Nevertheless, the Ambassador-class ship was impressive and not that far away from Picard's ship in ability and design. Ten phaser banks lined the hull along with a pair of photon torpedo launchers, and the warp engines could push it to a speed of warp 9.2.
She had a good crew, although Captain Rachel Garrett was later killed before she could return to her time. But it was aided by Tasha Yar going back with it. Yeah, I know, she was already dead, but this as they say in Star Trek, "No one's ever really gone."
The Original Enterprise
Sometimes you just have to admire a classic.
Refined lines, a rare color, the original 1966 Constitution-class Enterprise always has been one of a kind and was an incredible design back when the majority of screen spaceships were flying saucers or rockets, never both. But designer Matt Jefferies put the two together and bam, an instant classic.
She was never the fastest ship at warp 6, and while she had a healthy amount of photon banks and torpedo launchers (7 of both), her charm came from her beauty and the men and women serving her.
Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu — these were great minds and together got this ship out of more scrapes than you can imagine, all while looking like one of the smoothest vessels in the galaxy. And then she had a full refit, but we'll come to that soon enough.
With the Enterprise-D destroyed in Generations, it was fate that a new starship would be introduced for the first solo TNG movie, First Contact. And thus the Sovereign-class Enterprise-E, a slender hellfire of a ship with long beautiful lines and enough firepower to make anyone jealous, made her debut.
Built for the sole purpose of fighting the Borg, it was a vessel made to be a predator, initially armed with twelve phaser banks, four photon torpedo launchers, and a new quantum torpedo launcher that helped take out a Borg cube. She even got upgraded further for Star Trek: Nemesis, in which she received a further four phaser banks and five photon launchers across the hull.
Her speed isn't too shabby either, with a maximum speed of warp 9.9, and being under the command of Jean-Luc Picard puts her at a huge tactical advantage. The only drawback is that Worf's position at Deep Space Nine means he's no longer the regular security officer, although he always seems to be in the right place at the right time for certain missions, the jammy Klingon.
Before E there must come D, and once again we have a beauty of a starship commanded by Picard.
At the time this was the true future, a huge behemoth of a ship with an oversized saucer and low-slung nacelles, a truly progressive design. Inside she was just as powerful with warp engines that could take her to 9.6, a stunningly efficient crew (this time with Mr. Worf permanently stationed), several tasteful carpet choices, and even a bar.
While there were bigger vessels like the enormous D'deridex-class Romulan warbird, she could hold her own with ten phaser arrays and front and rear torpedo launchers that could launch multiples at a time. Sadly she finally saw her end at the hands of the Klingons at Veridian III, but one future vision saw a refitted and upgraded version that would be a match for anything, with a cloaking device, a top speed of warp 13, and a massive ventral phaser gun thing that could take out a Klingon battle cruiser in seconds.
But it was the original 1701-D that still remains in the heart of fans, a beautiful ship with one of the best crews ever to serve in Starfleet. And in any other universe, it would be the best.
1979 saw Star Trek launch onto the big screen with The Motion Picture, so for a bold new venture, they needed a brand new ship that could stand the increased resolution and detail of movie cameras.
Enter the refit concept, purporting that after the original five-year mission the Constitution-class Enterprise entered a drydock to be upgraded and transformed. She got a larger saucer, new hull plating, brand new warp engines, and for all intents and purposes was a brand new Enterprise. The new engines pushed her to warp 8 and she gained new phaser banks to take her to twelve, although curiously her photon launchers were reduced to two forward-facing.
And then you have that crew, a seasoned Kirk et al bringing tactical and technical brilliance that saw them beating the no-win scenario wherever they could. One such occasion saw him destroy the ship himself, but soon after saving the galaxy once again they received a new Constitution, designated the 1701-A.
It's no surprise that The Motion Picture contains a six-minute sequence where Kirk falls in love with the Enterprise when seeing it for the first time, it's that great, just a wonderful design and practical model that has enchanted fans and cinemagoers alike since '79. To quote that first film's theatrical tagline, "There is no comparison."