Movie Reviews

Star Treks Redshirt Has A Real World Meaning


  • Star Trek popularized the term redshirt for disposable characters in The Original Series, which often unceremoniously killed security officers.
  • The term redshirt also exists in real life for college athletes who are kept out of competition for a year to extend eligibility.
  • The redshirt trope ended in Star Trek: The Next Generation when the color red switched to command, making it one of the safest colors for officers.

Star Trek fans may only associate the term redshirt with the unluckiest officers of the Starship Enterprise, but the word also has a real-world meaning that has nothing to do with Star Trek. The term redshirt became associated with Star Trek thanks to the tendency of Star Trek: The Original Series to kill off unnamed security officers. These unfortunate souls were always wearing red Starfleet uniforms, and numerous redshirts were killed in 1960s Star Trek. While every Trek show since Star Trek: The Next Generation has done away with the redshirt trope, the term had already made its way into the pop culture lexicon.

As the USS Enterprise’s security officers were often the first ones to face any dangers, it makes sense that more of them would be killed in the line of duty. The term redshirt became a Star Trek trope because these officers were often killed unceremoniously and then promptly forgotten about. Once it became a pattern, these redshirts were doomed from the start, and numerous movies, television shows, and other forms of media have referenced or joked about Star Trek’s redshirt trope. However, the term redshirt has another real-world meaning familiar to college sports fans.


TNG Ended Star Trek’s Redshirt Joke For Good

Star Trek is infamously known for killing off officers wearing red, but Star Trek: The Next Generation actually put an end to this trope in 1987.

Redshirt’s Meaning In Star Trek & The Real World

The term ‘redshirt’ was coined before Star Trek

Star Trek Redshirts

In Star Trek: The Original Series, a redshirt was one of the usually unnamed red-shirt-wearing security officers who was killed during a mission. These Starfleet officers would often be members of a landing party, and their deaths would serve to raise the stakes for the rest of the crew. Over the course of TOS, 55 crew members were killed, 24 of whom were wearing red shirts, and so the term came to refer to disposable characters who were killed off soon after being introduced. The 1999 film Galaxy Quest pokes fun at Star Trek‘s trope, as does the novel Redshirts by John Scalzi and the video game Redshirt.

The first known usage of the term redshirts in regard to college athletes was in 1955, eleven years before
Star Trek
premiered in 1966.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a redshirt is “a college athlete who is kept out of varsity competition for a year in order to extend eligibility.” In other words, a redshirt freshman can spend their first academic year practicing with the team and playing in a game or two, before taking on a larger role in subsequent years. This allows the player to have five years of eligibility and continue to play on the team as a fifth-year senior. Also according to Merriam-Webster, the term redshirt was derived from the red jerseys often worn by these players during scrimmages against the regular players.


DS9 Gave Star Trek’s Red Shirt Death Problem A Greater Meaning

Killing off a minor character in Deep Space Nine season 1 fixed Star Trek’s redshirt problem and ensured that death would have meaning on DS9.

Star Trek’s Redshirt Trope Ended After The Original Series

Star Trek: The Next Generation changed the colors of Starfleet uniforms. Red went from security to command, and command gold became operations. This switch brought an end to the redshirt trope in Star Trek, although the term retained its meaning in popular culture. From TNG on, officers on the command track have been wearing red, making it one of the safest colors for a Starfleet officer to wear. Star Trek was never going to kill off Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) or Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), after all.

With the deaths of Star Trek characters like David Marcus (Merritt Butrick) in Star Trek III: The Seach for Spock and Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) in Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1, death began to have more of an impact and real consequences for the other characters. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took this even further with its darker tone and Dominion War storyline. Even Star Trek shows set before TOS have mostly done away with the trope. Shows like Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds rarely treat characters as disposable, and which characters live or die has nothing to do with the color of their uniforms. Still, the trope persists, even though Star Trek characters wearing red haven’t actually been more likely to die since 1987.

Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation are available to stream on Paramount+.

  • Star Trek The Original Series TV Poster

    Star Trek: The Original Series

    Star Trek: The Original Series follows the exploits of the crew of the USS Enterprise. On a five-year mission to explore uncharted space, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) must trust his crew – Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Forest DeKelley), Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Sulu (George Takei) – with his life. Facing previously undiscovered life forms and civilizations and representing humanity among the stars on behalf of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, the Enterprise regularly comes up against impossible odds and diplomatic dilemmas.

    Release Date
    September 8, 1966


    Gene Roddenberry

  • Star Trek the Next Generation Poster

    Star Trek: The Next Generation

    Star Trek: The Next Generation is the third installment in the sci-fi franchise and follows the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew members of the USS Enterprise. Set around one hundred years after the original series, Picard and his crew travel through the galaxy in largely self-contained episodes exploring the crew dynamics and their own political discourse. The series also had several overarching plots that would develop over the course of the isolated episodes, with four films released in tandem with the series to further some of these story elements.

    Release Date
    September 28, 1987


    Rick Berman , Michael Piller , Jeri Taylor

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