The Battle of Wolf 359’s legacy goes much further than just “The Best of Both Worlds,” both in and out of the text of Star Trek itself. The trauma of the incident follows Picard throughout the remainder of TNGbrought up explicitly in episodes like the following season’s “Family” and “The Drumhead,” and of course in Star Trek: First Contact and its renewed engagement with the Borg in Sector 001, set just six years after the events of “The Best of Both Worlds.”
It touches other important Star Trek figures beyond Picard, too. The vast majority of what we’ve actually seen of Wolf 359 is almost entirely from the perspective of Deep Space Nine’s Captain Sisko during the show’s premiere, where we see the destruction of the ship he served on, the USS Saratogaas well as the death of his wife—something he ultimately places directly on Picard when the two briefly butt heads later on in the episode. Later still in Picard’s third season, we learn that the USS Titan’s Captain Shaw served as an engineer aboard the Constance during the battle, and was just one of 10 survivors randomly selected to use the ship’s remaining functioning escape pod. The exploration of Picard’s trauma, and then eventually Sisko’s, sets the stage for what Deep Space Nine would go on to do in its storylines with the Dominion War in its latter half.
The battle is also another important moment in that age-old existential Star Trek metacommentary: is Starfleet a research organization with an exploratory and diplomatic mission, or is it a military force? What does it mean for its aims and intents in its depiction of a post-scarcity utopia that it has to be both at once? Wolf 359 sees Starfleet’s ideals—that its ships, while armed for defense, were primarily vessels of science and exploration, places that housed not just Starfleet personnel but their families, had libraries and schools and recreational areas as necessary as tactical and scientific ones—laid low in the worst possible way. The battle is directly responsible for Starfleet’s first explicitly designed warshipthe Defiant-class that became the vessel of Deep Space Nine’s crew, something that had at that point in the franchise been almost alien and inconceivable to imagine.
Star Trek would go on to depict bigger and more explosive battles, and place war throughout its history, from the conflict with the Dominion to Discovery’s exploration of the war with the Klingons a century prior. But few moments could ever match the gut-wrenching tragedy of Wolf 359, in spite of dwarfing its scope—a battle barely seen, but one whose scars are forever etched across generations of Star Trek.