Star Trek has brought breathtaking space battles to our screens throughout its history, but these clashes have always represented much more than just powerful starships and fantastic visual effects. From their underlying causes to ongoing repercussions, each engagement stands as a momentous turning point in both the Federation’s legacy and the lives of the individual participants. With thoughts of Commander Riker bellowing "Shields up!" and Captain Sisko ordering "Battle stations!" echoing in our minds, let’s recount the stories behind these iconic conflicts in the real-time chronology in which they aired, culminating with the struggle against Control that propelled the U.S.S. Discovery into the 32nd century.
9. Battle of Wolf 359, Star Trek: The Next Generation & Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
As Earth faced assimilation by the technologically superior Borg Collective, Starfleet failed to hold the line against the oncoming threat at Wolf 359. In addition to the catastrophic loss of lives and vessels, the circumstances surrounding the invasion had a profound effect on four beloved characters. After assuming the U.S.S. Enterprise-D’s center seat, William T. Riker was forced to match wits with his friend and mentor Jean-Luc Picard, who had been unwillingly enlisted to help the Borg with their mission. Picard himself would eventually endure years of psychological trauma related to these events. The battle also exacted an emotional toll on Benjamin and Jake Sisko, who suffered from Jennifer Sisko’s death. Despite emerging victorious, the Federation sought to rebuild its fleet and dedicated resources to developing a line of warships that ultimately gave birth to the Defiant-class.
8. First Battle of Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The looming Dominion threat and rumors of a compromised Cardassian government prompted the Klingon Empire to attack the Cardassian Union. The Federation rebuked this action, causing Chancellor Gowron to withdraw from the Khitomer Accords and placing Deep Space 9 in the line of fire. The ensuing battle saw a Klingon fleet unsuccessfully launch an assault against the starbase, but the engagement kicked off a brutal period of war between the Empire and the Federation. The situation was especially taxing on Worf, who found himself ostracized after selecting his allegiance to Starfleet over his warrior heritage. The continued Klingon presence in the region and the potential for further violence convinced Worf to accept a permanent position as the space station’s strategic operations officer.
7. Battle of Sector 001, Star Trek: First Contact
The Borg’s return to the Alpha Quadrant endangered 24th-century Earth, as well as the pivotal planet’s 21st-century past. The epic clash served as a dreaded reunion between the cybernetic lifeforms and Picard, whose history with the Collective proved crucial in repelling the Borg Cube’s advance into the interstellar coalition’s territory. The U.S.S. Enterprise-E’s crew experienced a brief temporal detour in which they foiled the Borg Queen’s plot to eradicate the Federation before it even existed. The series of events provided Picard with some closure to the horrors he endured at Wolf 359. However, the Borg wreckage that remained in the 21st century became reanimated a hundred years later. Although Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise destroyed the ship the Borg had assimilated, the drones managed to send a signal to the Delta Quadrant that might have been the first communication to alert the Collective about Earth’s existence.
6. Second Battle of Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The first major engagement of the Dominion War primarily served as a diversion to cover a secretive Federation-Klingon strike on the enemy’s shipyards at Torros III, but Captain Sisko’s cadre also held out long enough to give the U.S.S. Defiant enough time to deploy a cloaked field of self-replicating mines that would prevent the Dominion from bringing in reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant. The ploy succeeded, yet the loss of Deep Space 9 to Weyoun and Gul Dukat’s occupational forces struck a blow to Starfleet’s morale. The fact that Sisko’s son Jake elected to stay behind and report from behind enemy lines did little to assuage the captain’s troubled mood. While the mission mostly went according to plan, the battle paved the way for a series of vicious defeats at the hands of the Dominion.
5. Operation Return, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
When the time came for the Federation to retake Deep Space 9, the Dominion was making the final preparations to deactivate the minefield that blocked the wormhole’s entrance. Outnumbered two-to-one, Starfleet only proved able to advance through the enemy fleet when the Klingons entered the fray at a key strategic moment. Unfortunately, the Defiant arrived too late to prevent the wormhole’s reopening, and Sisko ordered the lone vessel into the Celestial Temple in a last-ditch effort to block almost 3,000 Dominion starships from swarming across the Alpha Quadrant. The captain spoke to the Prophets as their Emissary and argued that they needed to act to protect Bajor. The wormhole aliens whisked the incoming fleet away, but warned Sisko that he would pay a price for their assistance. Dukat’s own punishment was more immediate, as the death of his daughter compromised the Cardassian’s mental state.
4. Battle of Cardassia, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Two tragic years of warfare led to this moment, when the combined Federation, Klingon, and Romulan armada ventured into the heart of Cardassia to put an end to the Dominion’s rule. The grueling trek through enemy territory was merely a prelude to the confrontation that awaited the Federation Alliance at Cardassia Prime, where the Dominion fleet prepared itself to fight to the last Jem’Hadar soldier. The Cardassians turned against their overseers, causing the Dominion to begin eliminating the local population. Luckily, Odo’s choice to heal the Female Changeling convinced her to surrender. The Dominion War came to a close, but its effects rippled across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants for years to come.
3. Battle of Vulcan, Star Trek (2009)
More of a massacre than a battle, the Romulan mining vessel Narada wiped out a small Federation fleet and disabled the U.S.S. Enterprise during a surprise strike over Vulcan. The flagship’s crew put up a valiant fight, but Nero nevertheless injected enough red matter into the planet’s core to create a black whole that swallowed Vulcan and most of its populace. Only 10,000 Vulcans survived the criminal act, which also claimed the life of Spock’s mother Amanda. Under James T. Kirk’s leadership, Starfleet’s flagship later defeated Nero as the Romulan sought to sentence Earth to the same grim fate. After witnessing his homeworld’s destruction, Spock Prime dedicated himself to helping the remaining Vulcan refugees locate a suitable planet to colonize.
2. Battle of the Binary Stars, Star Trek: Discovery
The U.S.S. Shenzhou’s initial standoff with T’Kuvma’s Ship of the Dead soon spiraled out of control and launched the Federation and Klingon Empire into a prolonged and bloody war that tested Starfleet’s resolve. T’Kuvma’s death inspired his followers to rally behind Voq and L’Rell, but it also opened the door for Kol to assert his dominance over the Empire. Ironically, this series of events ultimately led to Voq’s transformation into Ash Tyler and his relationship with Michael Burnham, a pairing which played an important part in ending the war. Speaking of Burnham, the loss of Captain Georgiou ravaged the first officer’s spirit to the point that she allowed herself to be sentenced to life in prison with little resistance during her court martial.
1. Battle of Xahea, Star Trek: Discovery
Waged in the vicinity of Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po’s cherished home, this cataclysmic conflict represented the U.S.S. Enterprise and Discovery’s final opportunity to stop Control from acquiring the Sphere data, achieving sentience, and wiping out all life in the galaxy. Over the course of what is perhaps the most intricate battle that Star Trek has ever delivered on screen, the two Starfleet vessels held off the starships that Control procured from Section 31, Burnham and Spock solidified their familial bond, Admiral Cornwell sacrificed herself to save the Enterprise, and Mirror Georgiou vanquished Control as it embodied Leland’s reanimated form. Though triumphant, Captain Pike and Spock had to bid farewell to their loved ones on Discovery as the ship jumped 930 years into the future in order to safeguard the Sphere data. With its deeds purged from the historical record, Discovery set out to tackle new challenges in the 32nd century.
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine, as well as to Star Wars Insider and the official Star Wars website. Jay also serves as a part-time assistant and consultant advising many actors and creatives who work on his favorite sci-fi shows and films. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.