The new Star Trek Beyond character Jaylah is a dynamic addition to film and potentially the crew. Here I make my case for why she is among the strongest characters of the franchise and should stick around should another Kelvin film be made.
Fresh is not generally a word associated with someone or something that is celebrating its 50th birthday. While J.J. Abrams breathed new life into the aging Star Trek franchise in 2009, the introduction of a new character that resonates with audiences has been missing from both the television shows and feature films arguably since Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, in Star Trek Beyond’s Jaylah, fans have been presented with a character that offers a new vitality as well as the potential of a new role model to an aging franchise that needed a reboot to once again connect with the zeitgeist.
Innovation has always been at the forefront of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, especially the aspects in which he personally created. Two of those revolutionary moments came in the characters of Uhura in The Original Series and the aforementioned Worf. Both represented powerful images in times of social upheaval, and sadly, both are still needed today.
While Jaylah’s origins are not as unique as those two, her inclusion is no less important for a franchise that needed to go back to the original characters Roddenberry created to remain relevant and interesting to audiences.
Exciting debuts are hard to achieve, and yet Justin Lin, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung were able to accomplish just such a feat when Jaylah, superbly portrayed by the talented Sofia Boutella, bursts on screen to rescue Scotty from a marauding band of scanners. As soon as the audience set eyes on her, it was evident Jaylah was a strong and independent character, not defined by her gender or race, but by her perseverance to survive and ingenuity to repair the USS Franklin, a type of technology she had never encountered.
Dynamism is a lot like charisma, one either has it or not. It is difficult to manufacture, and yet Jaylah possesses a passion, spirit, and vivacity for life that has not been seen in Star Trek for a long, long time. Taking nothing away from the stronger female characters that came before Jaylah in the Final Frontier, like Janeway, Torres, and Kira, Star Trek’s newest addition is responsible for saving the entire crew of the Enterprise. When introduced to Scotty and Kirk, she does not wither into the background, but remains an integral component in the crew’s rescue, escape, and ultimate defeat of Krall.
Debuting on television screens in 1966, Uhura famously connected with a disenfranchised part of the population that had never been portrayed in other than a servant role. Martin Luther King stated it was the only television show to be viewed in his home. Following in Uhura’s footsteps was Janeway when Voyager debuted in 1995, as the first female captain to lead a Star Trek show. Again, a new generation of viewers were inspired by her inclusion and role. While Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has been a revelation in terms of growth and strength, her character already had an impact on audiences.
Struggling with the depiction and inclusion of strong female characters, popular culture has come under fire, and rightfully so, for its handling of female comic book characters, as well as women in film. Another Abrams production broke down the barrier a bit when the character of Rey was introduced to the world in the latest Star Wars film. Her character was the best part of the film, and introduced the typical male-dominated fandom of the franchise to young women. Opportunity are always present to make an impact and impression on audiences and Abrams’ Rey accomplished its goal. Now Jaylah has the potential to do for Star Trek what Rey achieved in Star Wars.
This is why Jaylah’s story continuing in the Kelvin Timeline is essential and vital that she not be a one-off character. The director and screenwriters already opened the door with her admittance to Starfleet Academy, and it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for the amount of time needed to pass in the fictional universe for her to join the crew for its potential fourth cinematic adventure. She is spirited, powerful, positive and courageous – all the attributes all people should look for in a role model.
As the Great Bird of the Galaxy once said:
“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
Whether it be man, woman, Russian, Klingon or anybody, regardless of orientation and background.