Welcome home, Wesley Crusher

From the moment Star Trek Picard was announced, people asked me if Wesley Crusher would make an appearance. Until August of last year, I told the truth when I said that I would love to do that, but had no idea if it would actually happen. I’m pretty psyched that we were able to keep this secret as long as we did.

I want to take a minute and share why Wesley’s return to Star Trek is so deeply meaningful for me, why this is so much more than merely playing a fun cameo for two pages. I want to tell you what Wesley Crusher means to me, as an almost 50 year-old husband, father, and survivor.

I love Wesley Crusher. I cherish Wesley Crusher. I am fiercely proud of Wesley Crusher. It is an honor and a privilege to be the actor who played him. But that wasn’t always true. For far too long, I allowed my opinion of Wesley, and my opinion of myself, to be defined by others. And it hurt so much, I almost walked away from Star Trek entirely, just to get away from it.

Wesley’s fictional journey and my real life journey are remarkably similar. We were both incredibly smart kids who struggled to fit in with our peer group. Neither one of us had a relationship with our father (Wesley, because his father died when he was a baby, me because my father chose to be my bully instead of my dad). Both of us spent our entire lives on paths we did not choose, struggling every single minute of every single day to make the people who put us on that path proud of us. We both felt uncomfortable in our own skin, and ended up spending as much time in our intellect as we could, because that was a place that felt safe.

Our stories and paths diverge widely in our teens: he’s awkward and angsty, but genuinely loved and supported by the adults in his life, who encourage him to explore his interests. I’m awkward and angsty, but I’m invisible to my dad on a good day, and my mother does not see me. Instead, she only sees the kid from Teen Beat, and all the trappings that come with proximity to him that she can scrape up for herself. In my headcanon, Wesley felt alone because he didn’t get to regularly interact with kids his own age, and if his life mirrored my own at that time, a lot of kids he would have wanted to be friends with judged him before they knew him, because he was kind of famous. Let me tell you, when every room you walk into is filled with people who have already made up their mind about you before you even introduce yourself, you just stop walking into rooms. Or, at least, I did.

When Wesley saw his opportunity to forge his own path with the Travelers, his entire family supported him, they celebrated the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I did not get that support. When I was about 20 and left the series, followed quickly by leaving the entire entertainment industry, neither of my parents were there for me, at all. By this time in my life, my father had stopped trying to hide his contempt and disinterest for me, and my mother had essentially abandoned me to focus her energy on a friend of my sister’s, who was climbing the teen fame success ladder. My mom was always there when I was chasing her dream of acting fame, but when I needed a mom to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life, she just did not show up at all. I was left entirely alone to try and figure out how to be an adult. It was terrifying. Luckily for me, when I was 23 I met the woman who would become my wife, and my journey toward discovering and realizing my dream began.

But let us go back to the moment when we each realized we were not on our paths, but someone else’s. Wesley and I both walked away from everything we knew, every expectation that was ever put on us, every person we ever cared about, because we both knew that something was not right in our lives, and if we were going to fix it, we had to figure out what it was. And to figure out what it was, we had to get off the paths we had been on since we were too young to know what a path even was.

Wesley was expected to be a Starfleet captain, or maybe a chief engineer. I was expected to be a famous film actor, or at least famous. We both accepted these expectations right until we didn’t. He got there before I did, but there was a moment when we both knew that we were pursuing dreams that were not ours, that they were more important to other people than they were to us. We needed time and space to find out who we were, and what our dream was.

When we had that time and space (or all of time and space, for Wesley), we could discover what was important to us, what we wanted to do with our lives and the time we had in this universe, who we were when we weren’t defining ourselves according to someone else’s expectations. During that time, I met more people than I can count who have told me how much Wesley means to them. They told me he inspired them, that they saw themselves in him at a time when they felt unseen by the people in their lives. They told me he helped them figure out what kind of person they wanted to choose for a partner in love and life.

For two decades I listened, while people told me the ways he was there for them. I never would have expected that he would also be there for me.

And yet.

Ron Moore wrote Wesley’s final episode, Journey’s End. Ron knew Wesley needed to do something different with his life. He knew that Starfleet wasn’t right for Wesley. He knew that Wesley couldn’t keep defining himself through someone else’s expectations. I don’t know if he knew that I also needed that (I didn’t even know it at the time), but like so many other people who watched Wesley’s story, I was inspired by Wesley’s courage and conviction. And I followed him out into the Great Unknown.

I was surprised to discover that as I got to know myself all over again for the first time, I also got to know Wesley. If Wesley could matter so much, to so many people, why couldn’t he matter that much to me, the actor who played him? It took a long time and a lot of work to find the answer to that question. I wrote a whole book about it, in fact. But what’s important is that much in the same way I had allowed myself to be defined by how I was measuring up to someone else’s expectations, I had allowed my relationship with Wesley Crusher to be defined the same way. And the end result of that was a lot of self-inflicted pain and sadness for me. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that around the same time I finally felt seen in the world, I was able to see Wesley the way so many others did. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it. I was, and am, worth it. Getting to know Wesley Crusher, to see him the way he was seen by the people who loved him, to love him the way he always deserved to be loved … you can see the parallels, right? Believe me, it was all worth it.

Wesley and Kore may blink out of existence and never come back on camera again. Or they might go literally anywhere through all of space and time, from Strange New Worlds to Discovery to Lower Decks (but not to season three of Picard. Sorry, nerds.). I honestly don’t know what comes next for them in canon, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent some time thinking about it.

I may get to tell more of Wesley’s story at some point — his journey over the last 25 or so years is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about — as a writer or as an actor. Maybe both. But even if that never happens, if I never get to be Wesley Crusher on camera again, I will have the privilege of hosting The Ready Room, where I get to be a Starfleet veteran, a member of the exclusive “Legacy Star Trek” club, and an unashamed superfan who gets to take other nerds into the Room Where It Happens. I get to celebrate everything we all love about Star Trek in all its incarnations, for my job.

I love the life I’ve built for myself. I love and am intensely grateful for the place in Star Trek that belongs to me, as the actor who played Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher, who now plays The Traveler Formerly Known as Wesley Crusher, who is the host of The Ready Room.

I and Wesley will always be part of The Next Generation for the rest of our lives, and that would absolutely have been enough. The fact that we both get to be part of not just The Next Generation, but also part of the larger Star Trek universe, is a privilege and a gift that I will never take for granted.

We talk about how Star Trek is so inspiring when it shows us what’s possible, what we can achieve for ourselves when we work hard and work together with compassion and empathy for each other. For me it goes deeper than that, because finding love and compassion for Wesley Crusher allowed me to find love and compassion for myself.

This morning’s bedhead is so grateful.

Welcome home, Wesley. I missed you so much. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you.

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Wil Wheaton

Wizard. Time Lord. Fake geek girl. On a good day I am charming as fuck.