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When “Star Trek Beyond” was first released theatrically, I not only enjoyed the science fiction film for its continuation of the excellent reboot of the franchise, but I also noticed some differences to the costuming and indeed epaulettes on the crew’s shoulders. Coming from a maritime cruise traveler perspective, I began to question if they were accurate, however.
In the first two reboot movies directed by J.J. Abrams – “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” – the crew wore gold, blue and red shirts not unlike those from the original series. A cool detail in those retro versions was the Starfleet emblem pattern applied to them in step and repeat fashion. “Star Trek Beyond” is instead directed by Justin Lin and departed from the preceding costumes quite a bit.
In the third film of the current trilogy, the solid colors remain this time without any pattern, but new are jackets worn over the shirts by the bridge team. I was initially excited to see epaulettes applied to Captain Kirk’s jacket with four golden stripes as is customary of his rank but taken aback when I saw what appeared to be the same four on Ensign Chekov’s jacket. To be sure, the new costumers are stylistically cool, but are they correct in representing rank?
Well, it turns out there is a little more to it that just four stripes alone to designate captain. Four stripes can apply to the captain, chief engineer, hotel manager, staff captain and staff chief engineer, for instance, with fewer stripes for descending rank. The captain may have a wider fourth stripe or some form of symbolic embellishment to better distinguish him or her, however, but four for ensign must surely be a movie mistake.
Even in the “Star Trek” universe, the number four is more common to solely delineate captain. In the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” television series, the crew wear dots along their collars to indicate their positions, and only Captain Picard has four solid dots. By comparison, Commander Riker has only three solid dots. After all, three stripes can apply to first officer or a navigation officer, closer in line to Chekov.
On a cruise ship, there may be some variation to how the stripes break down from one line to another, but we can surely agree, according to maritime history, that four stripes for ensign is just wrong.
As to why it happened that way in the film, my only guess is that the costumer was looking for a fresh motif without being mindful of its significance, or there was a continuity error made when the movie was edited. Perhaps, a scene was cut where Kirk gives Chekov one of his jackets to wear. Either way, the costume design does look unquestionably cool, and if nothing else, maybe you learned something about cruise officer rank in the process of analyzing the cinematic equivalent.