FYI – SPOILERS AHOY FOR A BUNCH OF THINGS. I've tried not to be too spoilerish, but there are some.
I never really understand the whole Star Trek versus Star Wars thing. For me, both series are so closely linked to my life because I have seen them since I was a child. I wanted to both Princess Leia and Uhura. I read the novelizations of both series for years. I discovered at one point I had slight preference for Star War because it was more fantasy than science-fiction, and that was where my preference lay. After one too many bad novelizations, television series, and movies, I took a break, somewhat, from both series.
I didn’t see the first two Star Trek reboot movies in the theater. I eventually saw them on cable. Overall, I enjoyed them. I didn’t think they were great. I liked the Spock/Uhura relationship, but I don’t understand why both movies had to feature women in underwear. I can understand Gaila, she is engaging in foreplay after all, but Uhura and Carol? It was kinda creepy. And, let’s be upfront, how come there is only every one returning female character in the movies – Uhura? Why couldn’t Gaila be in the second movie as well? The alternate timeline thing didn’t disturb me at all, and I found that I liked to because it allowed for differences. I didn’t understand why Kirk became such a special snowflake, however. Additionally, the whole Spock/Uhura argument in Into Darkness was just wrong. The movies are far from perfect, but I enjoyed them.
I will admit that I was hesitant about Beyond. The motorcycle in the trailer was a bit of a turn off, and it looked like Uhura was going to do nothing but have relationship issues (again) and scream. Look, the Enterprise gets destroyed again. Sulu being gay didn’t upset me, but I did wonder why Sulu? Was it because of George? Was it in honor of George? And quite frankly, Pegg, using Gene as a defense was stupid because if the movies were really following all of what he wanted the women would not be in mini-dresses, the underwear scenes would not have been in, and No 1 would be second in command. But, I went to go to see it in 3-D with a group of friends.
I was pleasantly surprised and not because we finally have an underwear scene free movie.
Pegg and Lin, I am sorry I doubted you. I applaud you.
Though the 3-D really wasn’t needed, unless you want to watch the cool credit sequence. So really, it would have been fine without it.
In fact, Beyond did something that Force Awakens and the other two new Star Trek movies didn’t do. Reawaken my love of Trek.
Force Awakens didn’t do the same for Star Wars. It might even have killed it a bit more.
Before I go any further, I should note a couple things. One, I know that a comparison between Force Awakens (FA) and Beyond is somewhat unfair because Beyond is the third in a series and FA is the first in a new trilogy. FA, however, is also part of larger story, of which 6 movies have been filmed whereas Beyond is part of a reboot. Jurassic World, too, is part of series and not a reboot. It should also be noted that Star Trek has always been more diverse than Star Wars. I’m sorry, but it is true, always has been, in part because that was part of the purpose.
Finally, Beyond is not a perfect movie. There are areas of the plot where you going huh. The fact that Uhura/Spock go through another relationship crisis is getting repetitive. It’s great that she called a break, but we don’t actually really see why they got back together. If there is going to be that type of sub-plot, it could have used a bit more work, especially from Uhura’s point of view. Jaylah, while wonderful, is also to a degree a character that raises questions – how did she learn what she knew, for instance. Sulu’s husband could have actually said something instead of being eye candy. Imagine if there was a silent wife, instead of a silent husband. In fact, it would have been nice to show more Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu having various relationships or friendships. If Scotty can have a “friend” why can’t the others? Finally, like FA, many people die but no one really seems to care.
But that aside, Beyond does more for women in science fiction than FA, even with Rey.
First, there is the absence of underwear scene. Thank you. Thank you.
More importantly, a woman in command actually gives orders in Beyond. In FA, we have General Leia who seems to be in change until an order to attack is given. She cannot give the order to attack the Darth Star 3; it has to be a man. She also really doesn’t do much in the movie. The fact that Leia doesn’t give the order and Poe, a captain, does is shocking. In Beyond, Kirk takes orders from a woman, incidentally a woman who is not white. He is even applying for a job that she has some influence on (which is one of the plot holes – how does a Commodore have influence over a vice admiral appointment, and how does one just go to vice admiral)? When the Enterprise is sent to help an alien woman, it is Paris who sends them. It is Paris who offers Kirk advice, not about a man like in FA, but in terms of his career. He also quite clearly respects her. True, Paris is part an advertisement for an upcoming Star Trek series, but her character is well done and not simply a Pike stand in, though you can wonder why like Maz in FA, Paris doesn’t seem to take part in the defense of the station.
In fact, you can argue that Beyond actually passes the Bechdel test because of the conversation between Paris and the alien woman.
And let’s talk about the alien woman who is a bad guy. She is a bad guy who succeeds at her job and who is actually puts up a fight unlike Phamasa in FA. A huge deal was made about Phamsa, the captain who caves when confronted with a gun. Alien woman in Star Trek fights back. How awesome is that. She doesn’t even seduce Kirk! This alien could have easily been a male, and I love the fact that she was female but not sexualized.
Then there is Uhura who does scream, but does so much. She separates the saucer and in doing so has to allow herself to be captured by Krall. He asks her why she did that because she had to know. She replies that she did because that’s what the Enterprise crew does for each other, from the captain on down. Krall appears to have some respect or fascination for her because he interacts with her the most among the crew. It is clear, however, that the interest is not to see what’s under her dress. It’s her inner strength. Also while she and several others, including Sulu, are prisoners, she is not a damsel in distress. Neither she, Sulu, nor the others wait around to be saved. While she does fight, she is not the kick ass that Jaylah is. Her strength is different. Kudos for that.
But what really stood out was Kirk’s reaction. He doesn’t feel guilty, or at least guiltier. If Uhura was Sulu or Chekov, his reaction would have been the same. Spock, too, is concerned about Uhura as prisoner, but even then it doesn’t become “I have to get my girl back from the bad guy” but “I want to go and free the others even though I am hurt because of I want to make sure Uhura is safe”. There isn’t I have to save my girl vibe like there was with Finn in FA.
Uhura and Paris are not the only Starfleet women in the movie either. There are Starfleet women in the crew; some of these women even wear pants. During the battle, the women are just as busy as the men. There is also the character of Ensign Syl (who wears pants!). I cannot stress how happy Ensign Syl made me. In movies such as Jurassic Park, you have characters that could have easily been made female (such as the geek who lets out the T-Rex) but weren’t. Here that isn’t the case. Kirk uses Syl as a hiding place because of her alien race (her head crest makes a good secret hold all), not because she is girl or anything. True, Syl caves when Krall starts to drain Sulu’s life force, but looking at the reactions of those around them, a viewer gets the idea that the caving is because she is young (she is an ensign, and she is young) as opposed to her being a more emotional female.
And then there is Jaylah who comes very cross to being a Mary Sue in the same Rey is one in FA. But Jaylah stops, just. She has deep rooted fears. She helps Scotty because she has motives. She wants off the planet. She even needs help at one point. Unlike Rey, who magically develops powers and becomes kick ass with no training with lightsabre, Jaylah’s back-story allows for some explanation as well as layering her character. It’s true that like FA more is made in Beyond of the Father/child relationship than the mother/child. Jaylah is upset, rightly, that her father was killed saving her, Kirk is aware of how he is now older than his father, and Spock deals with the death of Spock Prime. In FA, it is all about missing Luke and Han Solo as absentee dad. Yet, in fairness to Trek, much was made of Spock’s relationship with his mother – even here in Beyond she is present in the necklace (or tracking device) he has given Uhura. It was once his mother’s. (How it survived Vulcan, I don’t know). We know more about the Ben/Han relationship than Ben/Leia. Why? Hell, if you left the movie at a critical point you would not even know Leia was his mother. Jaylah, however, is not a romantic lead. No one puts the moves on her.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie involves Jaylah, Uhura, and Scotty. The command crew is on Jaylah’s ship, and Scotty is trying to adjust the communications station so they can stand out music to the bad guys and destroy them. He can’t do it. He doesn’t know the ship like he knows the Enterprise, for several reasons. Jaylah yells at him to let her do it. Unlike Rey, who magically knows how to deal with the Falcon, Jaylah has been living in the ship for years. She might not be able to repair the engines, but she knows the system. The important thing is that Uhura back her up because Jaylah is right.
Unlike Rey, Jaylah also doesn’t magically know how to fly, so Sulu flies the ship. In fact, everyone has their awesome area – Uhura’s is her language and listening abilities, Sulu’s his pilot abilities, Scotty’s technical magic, Bones does surgery without medical tools, Chekov makes something go boom. It’s team work. Kirk’s role is leader and innovator to a degree, but vice admiral post aside, he is no longer a special snowflake.
The movie is about the Star Trek theme – unity overcomes badness. Unity saves us. Beyond is very close to old school Star Trek. Force Awakens has no real theme. Star Wars was about defeating tyranny but there is no frame of reference for that in the new movie. What are the rebels rebelling against? Why?
In Beyond, we are back to Gene – the ideas that always made Star Trek awesome. Pegg and Lin also bring it further into the present in a way that Star Wars did not. Rey is the only real woman who does anything in Star Wars. Most of her helpers are male She is also a romantic lead in terms of Finn. She barely talks to other women. Star Wars hasn’t really evolved, not in the same way Trek has. What is more, in Beyond, Trek evolves but stays true to itself.
It made me wants to read and watch Star Trek again. Force Awakens was the first time I did not read a novelization of Star Wars movie. Maybe this will change with the release of Rogue One. Maybe. But Star Trek is the science fiction series that should get the accolades.