Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Star Trek's Guinan

Star Trek: The Next Generation doesn't boast as many recurring characters as other Star Trek shows, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. TNG's recurring characters are some of the most memorable of the franchise. There's the trickster Q, the cybernetic Borg, and one of the most intriguing characters in the history of Trek — Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan.

Introduced early in TNG's second season, Goldberg would reprise the role close to 30 more times during the series, as well as in the Star Trek movies Generations and Nemesis. In all that time, few recurring Trek characters proved as mysterious as the Enterprise's bartender. As much as we know about Guinan, there's so much we don't. Even though her official role on Starfleet's flagship doesn't go beyond serving drinks, time and again she not only proves herself capable of so much more, but it's hinted she knows and can do more than any of us have ever imagined. So let's do our best to chip away at the edges of this enigmatic figure and see how deep we can get into the untold truth of Star Trek's Guinan.

Guinan is part bartender, part therapist

As the Enterprise's bartender, we usually find Guinan in Ten Forward, the bar/lounge where many of the ship's crew members go to relax and where Guinan sees what's troubling them, no matter how hard they try to hide it. After all, Guinan is part of a nomadic species called El-Aurians. Her people are known as listeners, and members of other species often find themselves compelled to unload their problems on any nearby El-Aurians. It's not a trait all El-Aurians value, but Guinan embraces her role and offers her centuries-won wisdom whether it's asked for or not.

Guinan somehow knows exactly what demons are at her patrons' doors, and she always knows what to say and exactly how to say it. When she sees Worf's (Michael Dorn) adoptive parents gazing out the window of Ten Forward in "Family," she knows they need a friendly stranger to tell them just how constant they are in their son's thoughts. In "The Measure of a Man," when Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) fights to protect the rights of his synthetic officer Data (Brent Spiner), it's Guinan's words about how Data's potential status as Starfleet's property could lead to "whole generations of disposable people" that help Picard realize what's at stake. 

Sometimes, Guinan's silence speaks louder than anything. In "Evolution," when Wesley (Wil Wheaton) confides in Guinan that a high-tech project of his may be wreaking havoc on the Enterprise and asks her not to tell anyone, it's Guinan's silence that reminds Wesley that he already knows what he should do.

She's a woman of many years and many talents

We don't know how old Guinan is, but we know she's old — very old, by human standards. With a few noteworthy exceptions, at any given time she's likely the oldest person on the Enterprise. In the two-part "Time's Arrow," Data finds Guinan in 19th-century America as an acquaintance of the famous author Samuel Clemens, better known as his alias Mark Twain. So she's at least 500 years old, and it's likely you can add at least 100 or so years on that since she's an adult when Data sees her while time-traveling. From her cameo in Star Trek: Nemesis, we know she's been married 23 times, and while we don't know exactly how many children she has, towards the end of "Evolution," she puts the number roughly at "a lot." 

Guinan's many years have afforded her time to learn a lot of things you wouldn't necessarily expect of her upon first glance. For example, during TNG, she proves that she's not timid about using firearms under the right circumstances. In "Redemption," when she interrupts Worf's shooting range program to remind him of his responsibilities to himself and his son, she first asks to join him in target practice. When Worf warns her that he practices at level 14, Guinan says, "I guess I could come down to that level for a while." She beats his score easily, before doling out some much-needed wisdom.   

Guinan has a mysterious sixth sense

Guinan has a mysterious sixth sense, and the members of the Enterprise crew have learned to trust it. For example, in "Q Who," when Geordi (Levar Burton) notices that Guinan seems preoccupied, he asks her if everything is alright. She says, "I don't know," and even though he's off-duty, that brief answer is all Geordi needs to hurry back to engineering to check on the ship.

Guinan's intuition is more important than ever in one of the very best TNG episodes, "Yesterday's Enterprise," when the arrival of the time-lost Enterprise-C changes the timeline so that, among other things, Starfleet is fighting a losing war against the Klingons and Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) — who was killed in the first season — is still alive. While all of the other characters react as if the events of their time are normal, Guinan is overcome with the sense that something is wrong. In particular, the presence of Tasha disturbs her, as Guinan intuitively senses Yar doesn't belong there. 

Some fans believe her sixth sense is explained by 1994's Star Trek: Generations. Early in the film, Guinan and other El-Aurians are beamed out of a place called the Nexus, in which time has no meaning. When Picard later enters the Nexus, he finds an "echo" of Guinan there. It's the existence of this echo that some people think allows her to sense when there's something wrong with the timeline.

For unknown reasons, she's an enemy of Q

More than any other scene in TNG, an interaction in season two's "Q Who" hints that there's a lot more to Guinan than we know. When the trickster entity Q (John de Lancie) brings Captain Picard to Ten Forward, Guinan and Q recognize each other, and they're not buddies. Q calls Guinan "an imp" whom trouble follows. When he hears Picard use Guinan's name, Q asks if that's what she's calling herself now — suggesting she's used other names in the past. 

But arguably the most intriguing thing about the scene is that Q seems genuinely threatened by Guinan. He offers to remove her from the Enterprise, and Guinan raises her hands in response, suggesting she could somehow protect herself from Q. Considering the absolutely godlike things we've seen Q accomplish, the notion that Guinan could defend herself against such unthinkable power is very intriguing.

During her time on the Enterprise, Guinan doesn't reveal darker feelings for many people, but Q is a definite exception. In the later episode "Deja Q," when Q says he's been de-powered by the Q Continuum, Guinan tests his claim by stabbing him in the hand with a fork. However, we never learn exactly how Q and Guinan first met or under what circumstances, though at the 2016 Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention, Whoopi Goldberg suggested they may have dated, even joking one of her children could be half Q.

Her ties to Picard go 'beyond friendship, beyond family'

There's been a good deal of speculation about the nature of the relationship between Guinan and Jean-Luc Picard. And as most things go when it comes the enigmatic El-Aurian, we don't have any firm answers. 

A few hints are dropped here and there during TNG that Picard and Guinan's relationship might have at one point been romantic. After Picard is assimilated by the Borg in "The Best of Both Worlds," Guinan tells Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) that her ties to Picard go "beyond friendship, beyond family." Granted, that doesn't necessarily mean there's anything intimate going on. Guinan could just mean they have a very close friendship. However, in the earlier episode "Booby Trap," as she's talking to Geordi about his relationship woes, Guinan confesses she's attracted to bald men, and of course, TNG does have one pretty well-known bald guy.

But Goldberg has a different insight. The actress said Gene Roddenberry had suggested to her that, because of Guinan's age, she could be the ancestor of other characters on the show. At the 2016 Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention, she told the crowd, "I always assumed Picard was one of my great-great-great-great-great grandkids." Though never confirmed in any of the series or movies, it's an interesting idea, and were it to prove accurate, it opens up the question of whether or not Picard knows she's his ancestor.

Whoopi Goldberg was inspired by another Star Trek character

One of the main reasons Goldberg worked so hard to get a role on TNG was the inspiration she found in the form on Nichelle Nichols' Lt. Uhura. The communications officer on the first Star Trek series was a rarity in 1960s television — a black woman who wasn't only in space, but who was one of the most important members of the crew.

Nichols told NPR in 2011 that she had the chance to meet Goldberg for the first time while the latter was working on TNG. She said Goldberg told her when the young actress first saw Lt. Uhura on TV, she happily ran through the house yelling that there was a black woman on TV, "and she ain't no maid." Nichols said, "And that did something to my heart, so I knew that I had made the right decision."

By "the right decision," Nichols referred to an encounter she had with Martin Luther King, Jr during which the historic activist insisted she could not — as she was considering — leave the cast of Star Trek. King told Nichols that because of her presence on the show, for the first time on television, African-Americans were "being seen the world over as we should be seen." He added because of her, Star Trek was the only show he and his wife allowed their children to watch. 

Guinan was one of Gene Roddenberry's last gifts to us

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of both Star Trek and TNG, died in 1991, a little over a month before the release of the final original crew-only Trek film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryTNG continued on for three more yearsand more regular series and films would be inspired by the utopian narrative Roddenberry forged in 1966. 

And on a 2020 episode of The View, Goldberg and Patrick Stewart confirmed that the enigmatic alien bartender who gave so much of her wisdom to the Enterprise crew was the last recurring character Gene Roddenberry created for Trek before his passing. On The View, Goldberg said, "I think [Guinan] might have been the last character that Gene created. That he actually created. I think that might be mine." Stewart agreed, saying, "I would say the true lasting character that we saw again and again and again." And it's fitting that a man whose creative expression was so concerned with the future would create, for his final addition to TNG, a character who would potentially see further into the future than any of his other Trek creations.

We almost met one of her sons

If you've watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, you almost met one of Guinan's children. In the DS9 second season episode "Rivals," we encounter Martus Mazur (Chris Sarandon), an El-Alurian con artist. Mazur doesn't embrace his species' role as "listeners." For the most part, he uses his "listening" to con strangers out of as much money as he can get, but otherwise, he resents being the object of unwanted conversation. According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Mazur was originally meant to be Guinan's son. Goldberg was going to reprise her role as Guinan in the 1994 episode, presumably to help clean up after the havoc Mazur wreaks. When scheduling prevented her from appearing, all mention of Guinan was removed from the script. 

It's possible Mazur was at least partly conceived much earlier than his DS9 appearance. In the 1989 TNG episode "Evolution," when Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) asks Guinan if she had trouble relating to any of her children, Guinan says there was one who "wouldn't listen to anybody." She adds it took "several hundred years" before she "managed to bring him around." Maybe she didn't "bring him around" as well as she thought she did? The fact that Michael Piller is one of the two credited writers on both "Evolution" and "Rivals" adds at least a little fuel to the theory. 

She was named after an old-timey actress

Because of her reputation as a comedic actor, Whoopi Goldberg's early campaigning to join the cast of TNG wasn't taken seriously. When Gene Roddenberry realized Goldberg wasn't playing a practical joke on the Trek crew, he chose a name for Goldberg's character that not only reflected Guinan's profession but had meaning for women in film.

The Enterprise bartender Guinan is named after the real-life Texas Guinan, a vaudeville actress, film producer, and speakeasy hostess and singer. The real Guinan appeared in over 30 silent films between 1917 and 1921. She also appeared in a pair of sound films, 1933's Broadway Thru a Keyhole and 1929's Queen of the Night Clubs. In the 1929 film, she played a fictionalized version of herself. 

It's most likely that Roddenberry was tapping into her "queen of the night clubs" reputation when naming Goldberg's character. Texas Guinan's prohibition-era hostess work included her well-known catch phrase, "Hello, sucker! Come on in and leave your wallet on the bar." Goldberg's Guinan never got to use that line, though considering her different tone — and the fact that money apparently doesn't exist in TNG's Federation — it's probably for the best.

Guinan wants to be on Discovery

The 2017 premiere of Star Trek: Discovery began a new era for the franchise's television life, and that fact didn't escape Whoopi Goldberg. As early as a year before Discovery's release, Goldberg made it clear she wanted to be a part of this new age of Trek storytelling. At the 2016 Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention, Golberg told the crowd she was campaigning for a spot on the new series, and that she was starting a new Twitter hashtag — #BringBackGuinan — to help her cause. Rod Roddenberry, the Star Trek creator's son and a producer on Discovery, was there and seemed receptive to the idea. 

While Discovery takes place before the events of the original Star Trek series, there's no reason Guinan's appearance on Discovery would hurt continuity or need any kind of time travel to be facilitated. As Goldberg said, "The great thing that Gene did for me was he wrote a character that can appear anytime, anywhere." From TNG's two-parter "Time's Arrow," we already know Guinan was alive during Earth's 19th century. If that's the case, then she's somewhere in the galaxy during the events of Discovery. Time will tell if we ever get to see the El-Aurian interact with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) or anyone else on the Discovery crew.

Guinan will return in Star Trek: Picard

In January 2020, Star Trek: Picard premiered on CBS All Access with Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Jean-Luc Picard, now retired from Starfleet but called back to adventure after a mysterious young woman shows up at his home in France. The day before Picard's premiere, Stewart appeared on The View — of which Whoopi Goldberg is a co-host — and he didn't come just to promote but to recruit. 

Shortly after sitting down, Stewart said, "I have something I need to bring up, if that's okay. I'm here with a formal invitation." The invitation was for Goldberg to reprise her role as Guinan on the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Goldberg's response was immediate and emotional. She shouted, "Yes, yes!" and embraced Stewart. During the rest of the segment, she seemed to be having trouble holding back tears. "Star Trek was one of the great experiences from the beginning to the end," Goldberg told the audience. "I had the best, best, best time. Best time ever."

As of the writing of this article, the first season of Picard has yet to conclude. So we'll have to wait and see how much time Guinan gets in season two and whether or not any of the many questions about Guinan will be answered. Considering the mystery surrounding the character is one of her more appealing traits, it's tough to decide whether we want any answers or not.