Let's face it: the Star Trek franchise, while awesome, is a little testosterone heavy. Now, I love Captain Kirk and Spock's bromance as much as the next person, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about the fact that Uhura is the only woman allowed to speak on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Most of Star Trek Beyond does not take place on the Starship Enterprise, so there isn't really the opportunity for a new female character to earn speaking rights onboard, but the movie does manage to introduce a brand new, three-dimensional, kick ass female character in Jaylah. Jaylah is the most important character in Star Trek Beyond , and she's also the most groundbreaking, making her essentially the best thing about the movie.
After Star Trek came out in 2009, the reboot film franchise tried to introduce a new female character into the fold to make the male-dominated crew a little more welcoming to women. Star Trek Into Darkness debuted Carol Marcus as both a new crew member and a potential love interest for Kirk; however, she failed to survive the transition from Into Darkness into Beyond. (Carol also failed to bring in a huge wave of feminist support after a scene in which she strips down to her bra and panties caused a bit of a stir.) So I was thrilled to see that, after that failed attempt, the filmmakers behind the franchise finally managed to introduce a complicated, strong female character that will undoubtedly stick: Jaylah.
In Star Trek Beyond , Jaylah (spoiler alert) becomes an honorary member of the Enterprise crew when she comes across Scotty after he crash-lands on Altamid, a strange planet unknown to the Federation. In her first scene, Jaylah proves herself to be independent and good with a weapon by taking out two alien foes by herself, showing off her hologram technology, and making a deal with Scotty that will help them both survive. Believe it or not, she only gets better from there. Not only does she have two of the best fight scenes in the movie (not surprising considering actor Sofia Boutella broke out as a scene-stealing villain in Kingsman), she's also a budding engineer, and smart — like, Scotty-level-smart.
What makes Jaylah truly a spectacular character, though, is not just her badass nature and awesome look, but that she's a very proactive character. Scotty doesn't happen upon her and recruit her to the cause. Instead, she specifically finds him and inserts herself into his life, and the lives of the other Enterprise crew members. She needs help, sure, but she's not a damsel, passively waiting to be rescued. The active nature of Jaylah's character can be attributed to the fact that she isn't just used as a plot device by co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. In Star Trek Beyond, Jaylah is given something even Uhura has yet to receive: a backstory. Her emotional baggage — her parents were captured and killed by Krall and his men years ago, and she watched her father die so she could escape — drives her motives and immediately helps her form a connection with Kirk. She's a natural fit with the Enterprise crew because she is a fully-formed character.
Jaylah is also never overly-sexualized in the film. Does Chekov not-so-subtly check her out when they meet? Yes. Is it adorable and funny? Also yes. And, shockingly, that quick glance is about all the objectification you'll find in the film. Despite sharing scenes with most of the men in the Star Trek universe, Jaylah isn't introduced as a romantic interest. She shares a bond with Scotty, but it's never overtly romantic (though here's hoping it might be in the future). The lack of romance for Jaylah helps her eclipse the traditional female role in male-driven movies while also ensuring that her lasting impression on fans isn't as one half of a new ship.
Jaylah is unlike any other female character in the Star Trek franchise. Not only is she not anybody's romantic interest, as Carol and Uhura were/are, but she's also never shown taking off her shirt in the movie. Yes, you read that correctly. Jaylah is the first major female character in the Star Trek reboot franchise not shown in her bra (to be fair, both previous Star Trek movies featured equal opportunity shirtlessness, with Chris Pine and Benedict Cumberbatch also showing some skin). Of course, both Carol and Uhura are great female characters — Uhura in particular — bra scenes or not, but it's still significant that Jaylah doesn't have to perform that same striptease in Beyond, no matter how empowering it might make one feel.
As plans for a fourth Star Trek movie begin to take shape, fans will undoubtedly be asking whether or not Jaylah will return to the franchise. I'm hoping that the filmmakers don't do to Jaylah what they did to Carol, and expand her role on the next Enterprise adventure instead of shortening it. The Star Trek universe needs more women, and Jaylah is a fantastic start.