If you’re a fan of Star Trek you’ve probably noticed that an alarming amount of characters with red shirts has died over the course of the franchise. Now, this is no coincidence, if you ever thought it was. The “redshirt” is actually a fan term for a Star Trek stock character whose most common function in the narrative is to – die. In this article, we are going to explain everything you need to know about the redshirts, their narrative function, and why they die so often.
A redshirt is a stock character in fictional works that has the function of dying dramatically immediately after being introduced. The term originates from the classic Star Trek series (1966-1969), in which characters wearing a red jersey uniform frequently died. The death of such characters is often used to express the potential danger faced by the protagonists (who are destined to survive).
In the rest of this article, we are going to further elaborate on the concept described in our answer. You’re going to find out about the history of the redshirt character, what the name means and why it is so intrinsically connected to death. We’re also going to give you a list of the known redshirts who have survived their common fate.
What is the meaning of redshirts in Star Trek?
The Redshirts are crew members of the USS Enterprise and, by extension, the extra actors who are destined to play the part of crew members going to their deaths. In the original series, they are usually muscular and tight-lipped security guards who will fall one after another under the mortal blows of the hostile entity of the moment, revealing, by their self-sacrificing violent end, the subtle or gross nature of the danger involved.
The men (and women) in red are the subject of a true autonomous cult within the Trekkie culture. In a mixture of mocking irony towards the sometimes simple brutality of the original series and curious and tender respect for all the extras and extras who participated directly or indirectly in the great Star Trek adventure, the men and women in red are now meticulously counted, listed and their career trajectories, both fictitious and real, are precisely described and investigated.
Sadly or luckily, depending on how you look at it, redshirts don’t have a deeper meaning. They’re simply stock characters, completely expendable, and almost absolutely irrelevant for the plot of the series. They have a narrative function and that function is to – die. Redshirts are just an example of such stock characters, present in the history of American television in large numbers.
Why have so many redshirts died?
As you know by now, in Star Trek, the majority of redshirt characters often meet a quick death during their brief appearances in the show; this is especially true for the original series, where such stock characters were truly irrelevant, with things changing a little as the years went by. An analysis of the classic Star Trek series showed that out of the 59 crew members who died in episodes of the series, 43 (or 73%) wore a red shirt.
In the novel Killing Time, published by Pocket Books in 1985, a crew member states: “You don’t want to wear a red jersey while on the landing party.” In the book Legends of the Ferengi, which references the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series, it is stated that Starfleet security characters “rarely survive beyond the end of the second act”. In the 2009 film reboot, Star Trek, the character of Olson, played by Greg Ellis, dies prematurely while on a mission; in homage to the original series, he wears a red jersey.
In modern culture, the use of a red shirt or the term “redshirt” serves to identify characters who would have suffered or died in a quick fashion, with their deaths being their main (or only) narrative function.
The reason why redshirts died so often was never officially revealed or confirmed. Redshirt characters were introduced a bit later to serve as a distinction between the gold- and blue-shirted characters. They were mostly security guards (sometimes engineers), so it made sense that they died most often. Firstly, that was their function (they had to protect the mission), and secondly, it wouldn’t have made sense if they survived, while the officers and the scientists died.
Their deaths had a narrative function, as they anticipated a dangerous mission. Now, whether the writers had to be so brutal towards them is a question of debate, but television standards back then were radically different than they are now, so it makes sense from their point of view. Now, redshirt characters have been dying even after the original series, but the number of such situations has decreased dramatically as the seasons went by.
Best-known redshirts that did not die
Not every redshirt died. Most of them did, but not all of them. In this section, we are going to tell you about the most famous redshirts that actually managed to survive. Here they are:
Dickerson was a member of Starfleet in the 23rd century. In the 2260s, Lieutenant Dickerson served as a security officer aboard the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. In 2269, Dickerson announced the arrival of Abraham Lincoln, following his encounter near the planet Excalbia.
Evans was a Starfleet officer in the 23rd century. In the 2260s, Lieutenant Evans served as a security officer aboard the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. In 2268, Evans reported to Captain Kirk that trouble was taking place in the crew’s quarters and discovered that the Trojan Ambassador Petri had been stabbed by the Elasian Dohlman Elaan. Later, Evans discovered Kryton sabotaging the Enterprise’s engineering. Kryton attacked Evans and stole his phaser to kill himself.
Freeman was a Starfleet officer in the 23rd century. In the 2260s, Lieutenant Freeman served as a security officer aboard the USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. In 2268, when Freeman, Montgomery Scott, and Pavel Chekov walked into the bar on Deep Space K-7, Miles O’Brien thought Freeman was Captain Kirk, but Julian Bashir noted that he was wearing lieutenant insignia.
Several minutes later, a fight broke out between Starfleet officers and Klingons from the IKS Gr’oth, in which Freeman participated. The presence of officers from Deep Space 9 who had time-traveled back to the 24th century, caused a minor alteration to the timeline. O’Brien was brought aboard the Enterprise, for questioning by Captain Kirk, in place of Freeman.
When the USS Enterprise traveled back in time to 1968 on a historic observation mission and its crew accidentally encountered Agent Gary Seven, Freeman was called to the transporter room. Accompanied by another security guard, he arrested Gary Seven. In 2268, Freeman found himself under Gorgan’s control and attempted to stop Kirk and Spock.
Lieutenant Galloway is a crew member aboard the USS Enterprise. Galloway is on duty in 2267 during the Keeper of Eternity mission. He and another security officer first search the ship for the mentally disturbed Leonard McCoy, who is wandering through the corridors after a cordrazine injection. The two discover transporter technician Kyle knocked out by McCoy. While Galloway reports, his colleague takes care of Kyle.
The two security officers are assigned to the landing party consisting of Captain Kirk, Commander Spock, Chief Engineer Scott and communications officer Uhura a short time later. They beam to the Planet of the Keepers of Eternity and continue to search for McCoy there. But even they can’t prevent McCoy from jumping into the past through the keeper.
Ensign Renlay Sharr is a member of Starfleet in the 24th Century. In 2371 she was stranded with the USS Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. In 2375 she was photographed by the Doctor with his holocamera because the ship’s doctor now uses his camera for his annual examination. During a routine check-up, the doctor soon discovers that her memory files have been manipulated by Captain Kathryn Janeway. He then confronts them.
She, therefore, grants him access to these files and the Doctor sees this crew member attending Ahni Jetal’s memorial service on the bridge in 2373. Later, she was also in the casino when the doctor blamed himself and threw a fruit towards her table. She later steers the ship when the USS Voyager hits a subspace sandbar. At Janeway’s command, she goes to maximum power, but soon has to abandon her attempt to escape.
After the ship is stranded in the Chaos Room, strangers attempt to contact Chakotay telepathically. As a result, he experiences a boxing match. On the bridge, Sharr witnesses Chakotay experiencing the first signs of these visions. In 2376, she speaks to an alien guest as the USS Voyager docks at a Markonian outpost.
She is working alongside Ayala on the bridge when B’Elanna Torres and Captain Kathryn Janeway take a report from Seven of Nine. Later, she walks past Tuvok and Captain Janeway in a hallway. In 2377, she was working at a console in a ship’s corridor when B’Elanna Torres wished her “good morning”. A little later, she is present in the casino and, together with Neelix and other crew members, congratulates Torres on her pregnancy.