Guinan has been a Star Trek franchise fan favorite since her introduction. She’s named after the real-life prohibition-era hostess and vaudeville actress, Texas Guinan, who appeared in over 30 silent films and sound pictures, including 1929’s Queen of the Night Clubs.
Guinan first appeared in 1988’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 episode “The Child,” portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg. The character is best known as a bartender at the Ten Forward lounge in the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, reprising her role approximately 30 times during the next four seasons of TNG, Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: Nemesis.
Since the character’s first appearance, Guinan has been portrayed by other actresses, including in the TNG episode “Rascals,” where actor Isis Carmen Jones plays her. Recently, Goldberg reprised her role as Guinan in Star Trek: Picard to pass the baton to her 2024 self portrayed by Ito Aghayere, whose biceps have me in a real “do-be” mood since the actress’s introduction.
Let’s hear it for the Guinan Squad in this comprehensive herstory of the character. Read on, geek girls, geek boys, geek nonbinary babes and geek Bynars!
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Whoopi Goldberg wanted to be in Star Trek
Following the departure of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) during the first season of TNG, Goldberg believed the show needed another female character, so she approached her friend LeVar Burton, who plays Geordi La Forge, about joining the TNG cast—more than once. Since Goldberg was better known as a comedic actress in the ’90s, Star Trek didn’t take her requests to join the series seriously at first.
Goldberg is a lifelong Trekkie, and Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series inspired her to become an actress. Nichols told NPR in 2011 that when she had the chance to meet Goldberg while the latter was working on TNG, Goldberg said to her that when she first saw Uhura in TOS, Goldberg ran through her house happily screaming 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,” referring to the actress’s famous encounter with Martin Luther King Jr., during which he insisted she didn’t leave the franchise.
Before Earth’s first official contact with the alien race, El-Aurian, Guinan hid from her father on the planet beginning in 1893, making it the earliest contact between her species and humans in Star Trek canon (and maybe the earliest contact between an alien species and humans, since the Vulcans’ T’Mir, Mestral and Stron didn’t crash-land until 1957).
In the 19th century, “Madame” Guinan posed as a celebrated and wealthy socialite in San Francisco who entertained luminaries like Mark Twain.
El-Aurians have a different aging process than humans and can live to be many centuries old. With Guinan making her way to Earth in the 19th century, she must be at least 500 years old. In that time, she has married 23 times and had roughly “a lot” of children (according to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Martuz Mazur was almost one of her sons, but when Goldberg couldn’t appear in the 1994 episode, the writers removed all mention of the character from the script).
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There are rumors Guinan also met Picard during his tenure as Captain of the U.S.S. Stargazer. Although that hasn’t been confirmed anywhere outside of the Beta canon (where they met dealing with Garak’s father), descriptive text about Guinan in the internal reference work Star Trek: The Next Generation Writers’/Directors’ Guide states Picard did meet several El-Aurians while he was serving as a lieutenant on board the Stargazer and they fascinated him. The description also explains the species “encourages others to be honest when they speak,” as the listener race.
“My name is Guinan. I tend bar, and I listen.”
Guinan came abroad to the Enterprise at Picard’s request because their relationship went “beyond friendship and beyond family,” so she decided to join the crew as a lounge host. As the Ten Forward bartender, Guinan does more than serve drinks; she also acts as the Enterprise’s second therapist to anyone in need.
As an El-Aurian, she embraces her role as a listener, offering her centuries of wisdom to troubled crewmembers whether it’s asked for or not (although it’s almost always needed). She knows to tell Worf’s (Michael Dorn) adoptive parents in TNG’s “Family” how they are constantly in their son’s thoughts.
Then, in “Measure of a Man,” it’s Guinan who helps Picard realize what’s truly at stake in his fight to protect Data’s (Brent Spiner) status as a Starfleet OFFICER, not Starfleet PROPERTY, which could lead to “whole generations of disposable people.”
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Good thing, too. If it weren’t for Data, Starfleet wouldn’t know El-Aurians had a precognitive awareness that supersedes the normal flow of time and space, making them extra-sensitive to the space-time continuum. In the TNG-saving episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Guinan can perceive the changes from the regular timeline to the alternate time and back again.
As an El-Aurian, she experiences a time-sickness, making her disoriented and nauseous (something only occurring when the timeline has been affected).
“When the Borg destroyed my world, my people were scattered throughout the universe.”
Guinan hates the Borg almost as much as she hates Q. The El-Aurians have a history with the Borg, who destroyed their homeworld. In Generations, the U.S.S. Enterprise-B rescues 47 El-Aurian refugees from the Nexus, including Guinan.
The first time Guinan meets Picard chronologically was back in the 19th century when she was on Earth as a lady of letters, although she doesn’t reveal their past meeting to him when they meet again 500 years later.
The lounge hostess holds a grudge against the Borg, having trouble when the U.S.S. Enterprise-D encounters a young Borg, Hugh, cut off from the collective. At first, Guinan struggles to accept Hugh, who is the first to prove that Borg can become civilized once free from the collective, and she must confront her prejudices with the help of Geordi.
Perhaps her people’s history with the Borg encouraged Guinan to learn how to shoot a phaser, as she is certainly no stranger to the phaser range. In “Redemption,” she beat Worf on Level 14, firing left-handed, saying, “I guess I could come down to that level for a while.” She also once stopped a dream-deprived paranoid mob in Ten Forward with an energy-beam rifle hidden behind the bar.
“Seems pretty human to me.”
We know little about Guinan’s long history with Q (John de Lancie), other than they met over 200 years ago in the 2160s. The two characters are hostile, mutually considering each other implacable enemies. However, Trekkies never learn how Q and Guinan first met or under what circumstances. Although Looper reports at the 2016 Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention, Goldberg suggested they may have dated, even joking one of her children could be half Q.
Whatever their personal history may be, the Ten Forward bartender has no compassion for Q, stabbing him with a fork to determine whether he is flesh and blood when stripped of his powers by the Q Continuum in “Deja Q.”
As he howls in pain, she says, “Seems pretty human to me.” Then, after the alien energy beam leaves him floored, begging for help, she remarks, “How the mighty have fallen.”
Furthermore, according to the Beta canon novel The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett, Guinan has a unique ability to perceive Q, thanks to the echo left after the time she spent trapped in the Nexus. Guinan’s “echo” is better explained in both drafts of the Generations screenplay, “When the Enterprise-B beamed us off the Lakul, we were partially in the Nexus. The transporters locked onto us … but somehow, everyone left a part of themselves behind.”
Ten Forward to LA
In Episode 4 of Picard, “Watcher,” Admiral Picard beams down to the Watcher’s coordinates on 2024 Earth provided by Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) after she rooted around in the Borg Queen’s mind. Picard finds himself at a familiar lounge, located in a new time, Ten Forward Los Angeles (remember we learned in the first episode of Season 2, elder Guinan had also opened a bar in Los Angeles).
With the future timeline of Starfleet wiped out, none of the crucial “Time’s Arrow” episodes happened, meaning Picard never met Guinan in 1893, and no time travel paradox ever occurred. So instead, in “Watcher,” Picard finds Guinan packing to leave Earth and humanity FOREVER, and she tells Jean-Luc, “I don’t know you, old man!” Even when Picard tells the bartender his name, although she is familiar with it, she doesn’t know him.
Inverse reached out to Picard co-showrunner Terry Matalas, who explained it like this:
“This Guinan wouldn’t remember Picard because in this alternate timeline, the TNG episode “Time’s Arrow” never happened. Because there was no Federation, those events did not play out the same. No previous relationship exists. However, she still was likely traveling to Earth and, as we know, she hung around a bit. So this Guinan is different. But she, of course, can sense something is off. She’s going through a kind of time-sickness thanks to Q’s meddling with the timeline.”
But, like in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Guinan feels the alteration to the timeline, and she gets time sickness.
History Notes: Gene Roddenberry on Guinan
On a 2020 episode of The View, Goldberg and Stewart confirmed the last recurring character Gene Roddenberry created for Star Trek before his death was Guinan. 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.”
Roddenberry suggested to Goldberg about the character that, because of Guinan’s age, she could be one of the TNG characters’ ancestors. 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.”
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