Pop culture has gifted us plenty of classic space captains like Star Trek's James T. Kirk, Battlestar Galactica's Admiral William Adama, and Firefly's Malcolm Reynolds. Sitting in the captain's chair of a space-faring vessel is a true honor. With each command, you hold the livelihood of thousands of souls, whose fates can turn for better or worse with your judgment.
In pursuing engaging space stories, I regularly seek out heroes and leads who look like me. Representation helps fans identify and engage with an account (for example, my daughter only likes professional wrestling because she saw Biana Belair). It definitely hits differently when I see a person of color commanding the captain's chair of a spaceship. So let's celebrate those brilliant characters with a list of the best Black Space Captains this (or any) galaxy has seen!
Lando Calrissian from Star Wars
Let's start with the OG. The smoothest robot-loving, gambling, smuggling Baron Administrator Cloud City could ask for. I'm talking about Landonis Balthazar Calrissian. I want you to re-read his full name and realize he's the coolest cuss in the universe. He may be a terrible gambler and a backstabbing lecherous hump, but he stood by his friends when the chips were down. He's also the sharpest dressed fellah to fly the Millennium Falcon.
Morpheus from The Matrix
Morpheus is probably the second most recognizable Black ship captain in pop culture. 'Space captain' may be a bit of a stretch since he captains a ship that flies on earth, but the ship also traverses the spaces of the mind. Morpheus keeps cool, calm, and collected, all the while commanding a reverence and respect unmatched by anyone not named Jean Luc Pichard. There is no scene in the Matrix where he isn't captivating and engaging despite his quiet, stoic tone. For these reasons, Morpheus is a true standout.
Captain Joshua Rigg from Outer Darkness
If you love sci-fi space horror and lovable curmudgeons, look no further than Outer Darkness and Captain Joshua Rigg. Rigg commands a ship powered by a captured god who eats souls to fuel space travel, and this guy is entirely over it. The miserable Captain Rigg of the Starship Charon has seen it all, done it all, and fully expects his crew to drive a knife between his ribs. Unluckily for them, he has some knives of his own ready.
Michael Burnham from Star Trek: Discovery
Starfleet officer Michael Burnham took a long, hard road from the first officer aboard the USS Shenzhou to the captain of the USS Discovery. A road paved with Klingons, time-traveling cyborgs, and a stepbrother no one saw coming. Captain Burnham is a strong-willed, brilliant, uncompromising leader with enough space experience to fill a wormhole. Her poor choice to mutiny aboard the Shenzhou forged her destiny to the captain's chair-- and a trip to the future no less.
Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop's much-anticipated debut on Netflix in 2021 was met with mixed reviews. I personally enjoyed the adaptation of the beloved anime franchise. One aspect that jumped out was the casting of Mustafa Shakir as Captain Jet Black. The former detective, turned bounty hunter, puts on a tough, gruff exterior, but underneath, he's a father who wants to do right by his daughter, a friend who wants to protect his crew, and a protector looking to clean up the streets, whether with a badge or a run-down bounty-hunting spaceship.
Jubal Early from Firefly
I would be remiss in my nerd duties to pass up an opportunity to mention Firefly and the sadistic, enigmatic bounty hunter Jubal Early. Based on Star War's Boba Fett, Early is the villainous captain of his bounty hunter ship. On the hunt for River Tam, Jubal infiltrates the Firefly and terrorizes the crew. He threatens the crew with truly heinous things before being bested and jettisoned into space. He also holds the honor of uttering the last line in the beloved Firefly series, "Well... here I am." It's a one-man crew of evil.
Commander Shepard from Mass Effect
Commander Shepard of the SSV Normandy single-handedly saved the entire galaxy from the threat of a Reaper invasion. In their years-long quest to battle back the perils of the universe, they still stook the time time to help out the little guys. The beauty of Commander Shepard is your ability to customize them to your liking. While the easiest option is to select the default model, my Shepard looked like me. A strong-jawed Black man ready to defend his friends and family with the power of his Vanguard abilities. I became the most incredible savior the universe has ever known, and there is no better space captain than the one you create.
Want to read more about the importance of representation? Check out this article on Milestone Comics and its powerful methods of representation.