The characters of Wesley R. Crusher and Jacob “Jake” Sisko stand as unique creations in the history of Star Trek – teenage characters who fans get to watch grow into adults as the show progresses. While children and teens had been guest stars during the original show, most notably “ And the Children Shall Lead,” it was not until the introduction of Wesley on Star Trek: The Next Generation and then Jake on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that teens took a prominent role in Trek adventures.
One of the most-important similarities between the characters is that both lost a parent. It is worth noting the deaths of Wesley’s father and Jake’s mother are connected to Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Wesley’s father was Jack Crusher, a Lieutenant Commander serving under Captain Picard on the U.S.S. Stargazer. Picard sent Crusher on the mission that lead to his death (“Encounter at Farpoint, Part I). Fourteen years later, Picard would be abducted by the Borg Collective and turned into Locutus, leading an assault at the Battle of Wolf 359 against Starfleet. This led to the death of Jake’s mother Jennifer aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga (“Emissary, Part I”). Wesley and Jake were lucky to have strong surviving parents in Beverly Crusher and Benjamin Sisko, respectively, and in the tradition of Star Trek serving as a metaphor to real life, these characters represent the challenges faced by single parent homes during the 1980s and 1990s.
Both Wesley and Jake were influenced by their parents in terms of career choices and hobbies. For example, Wesley and Jake learned about baseball from their fathers (“Evolution,” “Emissary, Part I”). Even more important to their characters, especially as teenagers, is watching Wesley and Jake decide which career paths to take as they grow into adulthood. The character development here is realistic, with Jake and Wesley both dealing with something many teens have to face – balancing parental expectations with personal goals.
For Wesley, living in space is a wonderful experience and he has a deep interest and commitment to Starfleet. He had good role models in his two Starfleet parents, which inspired his choice. This commitment almost entirely defines Wesley’s personality during his four years as a regular character on TNG. In fact, except for the occasional mention of friends, as in the Ten Forward scene at the end of “Evolution,” or his interactions with characters like Robin Lefler (“The Game”), most of Wesley’s friendships are with his Starfleet mentors, William Riker, Geordi La Forge, Data, and of course, Picard.
Wesley does have a crisis about whether or not to actually join Starfleet near the end of the series, and he questions if he made his choices because of what he wants or because of what he thought others wanted of him. He does leave his studies at the Academy for a while to go experience the universe with the Traveler (“Journey's End”), but he then returns to his original goal of joining Starfleet by the time of Star Trek Nemesis. He is seen at Riker and Deanna Troi’s wedding in a Lieutenant Junior Grade Starfleet uniform, and a deleted scene, the script, and the novelization explain that Wesley will be joining Riker’s crew on the U.S.S. Titan; it should be noted that some of the non-canon books offer a different explanation for why Wesley is wearing the uniform.
My family and I meeting Cirroc Lofton during 2015
By contrast, Jake is less enthusiastic about living in space, especially aboard Deep Space 9. The 1992 DS9 Writer’s Bible says that Jake “knows that his mom would still be alive if they did not live in space, and he has a suppressed bitterness about it.” Unlike Wesley, who immediately takes to life aboard a starship, Jake does not really see Starfleet as an option. Benjamin Sisko presumes his son will follow his example, and Jake is concerned about disappointing his father in early episodes of the show. In actuality, Jake wants to be a writer. This love of literature is hinted at in episodes, such as when Jake teaches his friend Nog how to read (“The Nagus”). While never as good a student as “I always get an A” Wesley Crusher, Jake has a creative and artistic side similar to the rest of his family. His father, Benjamin, enjoys jazz and art, and his grandfather, Joseph, is a master chef.
In the episode “Shadowplay,” Jake finally resolves this common teenage problem of balancing expectations and personal goals-- thanks to the advice and encouragement of Chief O’Brien.
O’Brien: What's wrong?
Jake: Nothing. It's just that – why does everyone assume that I'm going to the Academy?
O’Brien: Well, you want to go, don't you?
Jake: Not really.
O’Brien tells Jake about his own experiences with his father, who wanted Miles to become a musician. Jake realizes that he must tell his father about not wanting to join Starfleet. In many ways, the relationship between Ben and Jake is one DS9’s best features. It shows the love that exists between fathers and sons, and the realistic dynamics of those kinds of relationships. Benjamin tells his son, “It's your life, Jake. You have to choose your own way. There is only one thing I want from you: find something you love; then do it the best you can.” This line is especially moving considering the excellent episode, “The Visitor,” a few seasons later, which shows a possible alternative future for the characters in one of Star Trek’s most-emotional and beautiful episodes ever.
One of the reasons that I as a teenager like Wesley and Jake is that both achieve their goals by taking advice from others, but also and ultimately by listening to their own dreams. They are great role models for children and teens because while one is interested in science and one is interested in the arts, both contribute to their family and society (galaxy!) by using their talents in the service of others.