×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Star Trek: What Is The Kobayashi Maru?

There are no-win scenarios, and then there's the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Making its debut in the "Star Trek" franchise's second big-screen outing, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," the Kobayashi Maru scenario sees Starfleet command-track cadets dropped into a simulation in which the eponymous civilian freighter is stranded in the Klingon neutral zone. While the surface objective is to rescue the ship's passengers, doing so always puts the cadet and their crew in danger. In reality, the true purpose of the test is to observe how the cadet handles being in an impossible situation.

For some, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but in the case of Captain James T. Kirk, he just needed to win. In 2009's "Star Trek," Chris Pine's Kirk smiles his way through the scenario, leading to his being reprimanded by the test's creator, his eventual ally and friend, Spock (Zachary Quinto), and brought up on disciplinary charges. Although in both timelines, the Starfleet legend modifies the program to ensure a favorable outcome and as such, is the only person to have ever beaten the Kobayashi Maru scenario, William Shatner's Kirk has a very different experience.

Kirk's handling of the Kobayashi Maru scenario in the prime timeline

While Chris Pine's Kirk gets a firm slap on the wrist for screwing with the system, William Shatner's Kirk gets a commendation for "original thinking." In "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," plucky young Vulcan Starfleet cadet Saavik (Kirstie Alley, forever changing the course of her career) asks Kirk how he won the Kobayashi Maru scenario, to which he responds, "I changed the conditions of the test. ... I don't like to lose," perfectly encapsulating everything about what makes him great.

Today, the Kobayashi Maru scenario is a permanent point of reference for situations with no good outcome. Not only is it mentioned in Neil Marshall's 2002 cult horror classic, "Dog Soldiers" ("It's the Kobayashi Maru test. They fixed it so we can't f***in' win."), but "Doctor Strange" writer C. Robert Cargill also used it on the podcast "Double Toasted" in 2016, calling casting the Ancient One "Marvel's Kobayashi Maru." Ultimately, as long as there are no-win scenarios, the Kobayashi Maru scenario will always be remembered.