Nova Squadron incident
While in Starfleet Academy in 2368, Sito Jaxa was a member of Nova Squadron, along with Wesley Crusher. Under the direction of Cadet Nicholas Locarno, Nova Squadron attempted the dangerous Kolvoord Starburst maneuver during a flight exercise – an action that resulted in a collision and death of fellow cadet Joshua Albert. Sito and her fellow cadets lied about their flying of the illegal maneuver to a board of inquiry led by Rear Admiral Brand and Captain Satelk. When the crew of the Enterprise-D discovered inconsistencies in the report, Captain Jean-Luc Picard reprimanded Cadet Crusher and threatened to go to the board of inquiry himself, but Crusher eventually decided to reveal the true cause of the accident. Locarno took the blame and was expelled from the Academy, while Sito and the other cadets had their academic credits from the past year canceled. (TNG: "The First Duty") Sito remained at Starfleet Academy, despite the stigma attached to the cadets involved in the cover-up. Sito had to take her flight test with the instructor because no other cadet wanted to be her partner. (TNG: "Lower Decks")
Career on board the Enterprise-D
After graduating the Academy, Sito was assigned to the Enterprise-D at the request of Captain Picard because he wanted to make sure she had a fair chance to redeem herself, although she did not realize that at the time. Sito worked in the security department under Lieutenant Worf, and developed close friendships with fellow junior officers Sam Lavelle, Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, Taurik, and Ten Forward waiter Ben. Sito found a mentor in Worf, who suggested her for promotion to the night duty operations officer position, in competition with Sam Lavelle. She was also a student in Worf's mok'bara class. (TNG: "Lower Decks")
Seven months after her assignment to the Enterprise-D, Picard called Sito to his ready room, knowing that she was a certified pilot, and chastised her for involvement with the cover-up at the Academy. He said she demonstrated a lack of character and that he was surprised she had been able to acquire a posting on the Enterprise-D. Sito tried to defend herself, but did not feel confident enough to express her opinion to the captain. She left his ready room upset and doubtful of her abilities.
Later, Worf informed Sito that he wanted to recruit her for an advanced mok'bara class, which required her to pass the gik'tal challenge, an unfair test which required a student to defend him or herself while blindfolded. The test was actually made up by Worf, who wanted to teach Sito to stand up for herself. Sito returned to Picard and told him that it was not his place to punish her for her past mistakes, and that she would work to be the best officer possible in the future. Picard then revealed to her that his harshness was actually designed to test her ability to carry out an important mission in Cardassian space. Picard also admitted that he had requested her assignment to the Enterprise-D.
Sito was to assist a Cardassian defector, Joret Dal, return to Cardassia Prime by posing as a Bajoran prisoner captured as part of a bounty hunt, which would allow Joret to cross the border without difficulty. She would then be returned to Federation space in an escape pod, after Joret reached Cardassian territory. Sito freely volunteered for the mission, and was surgically altered to appear as if Joret had abused her. Joret was shocked that she was so young, but was grateful that she risked her life in order for the mission to succeed. The Enterprise-D waited thirty-two hours for her to return, but only detected debris consistent with that of a destroyed escape pod. Eventually, a Cardassian communique was intercepted indicating that the escape pod was detected and destroyed after escaping. The pain over her loss was felt by both her friends and her superiors. Picard noted that she was the finest example of a Starfleet officer and a young woman of remarkable courage and strength of character. (TNG: "Lower Decks")
Sito Jaxa was played by Shannon Fill, who auditioned for the part on the suggestion of a friend. Fill was very surprised when she won the role, which marked her professional acting debut. In retrospect, she said, "It was a small role and, having it be my first professional experience, there was so much to learn from it. I had no idea how complex it was. I had never, for example, had to be on a mark [....] It was really exciting and who could have asked for a better place for a first experience." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 25/26, No. 6/1, p. 79)
Following Sito's debut in "The First Duty", the writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation spent years wanting to bring her back to TNG. ("Lower Decks" audio commentary, TNG Season 7 Blu-ray special features) It was Jeri Taylor who suggested reusing the character of Sito Jaxa in "Lower Decks", which established Sito's first name, but Ron Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias, who wrote the episode's story together, also wanted to use Sito for the installment. Killing off a much-liked character, initially unspecified during the development process, was one of the writing duo's primary objectives for the outing, inspired by the death of Robert Tomlinson in TOS: "Balance of Terror". (Cinefantastique, Vol. 25/26, No. 6/1, pp. 78 & 79) René Echevarria, who scripted the episode, likewise approved of Sito returning and being killed off. "It was nice [...] to give her another story," he commented. Considering Sito's death, Echevarria observed, "This is, of course, occasionally the price that gets paid." ("Lower Decks" audio commentary, TNG Season 7 Blu-ray special features)
While "Lower Decks" was being written, Sito Jaxa's death underwent revision. "In the early drafts of the script," remembered Jeri Taylor, "we left her death somewhat ambiguous because we thought we might pull her back in to help us out in some stories that were happening further on down the road." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 298) Taylor specifically wanted Sito Jaxa to return in later TNG Season 7 stories, at the end of the year. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 25/26, No. 6/1, p. 80) "When I mentioned that to Michael [Piller]," continued Taylor, "he said, 'Absolutely not, she's dead. She stays dead. That would undermine the whole episode.' So I said, 'Fine.'" (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 298)
The final draft script for "Lower Decks" described Sito as being in her early to mid-twenties at the time of the episode's setting. The same teleplay additionally commented, "As we'll see, the Nova Squadron incident has left Sito a little unsure of herself; determined to get her career back on track but desperate to avoid making another mistake, she's become very cautious, very by-the-book."
Shannon Fill was even more surprised to be asked to reprise the role of Sito Jaxa in "Lower Decks" than she had been upon initially being offered the part. "I couldn't believe this character who had just been introduced was going to be developed and I was the one who could develop it. When I received the script, I had to pinch myself, realizing this was a significant role for this episode." Performing alongside Picard actor Patrick Stewart had an effect on how Fill portrayed her scenes as Sito, two of which were one-on-one scenes with Picard. "To be able to speak with him on camera, to actually have dialogue and a relationship with Captain Picard, was extremely intense [....] I'd been rehearsing alone, knowing these were major chunks of speech and I could blow it really easily." Fill was consequently not satisfied (at least, not immediately) with her filmed performances in the two scenes. "Inside, I'm dying, saying, 'Please let me do it over again. I can do a better job. I'm certain of it.'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 25/26, No. 6/1, pp. 79 & 80) However, Visual Effects Producer and martial arts consultant Dan Curry was impressed with how Fill, a trained dancer and acrobat who was new to martial arts, managed to pick up the Klingon moves for Sito's combat with Worf. "I've never seen anybody learn it that quickly and so convincing," Curry said of the actress. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 3rd ed., p. 282)
Following the initial broadcast of "Lower Decks", plans were made to reuse the Sito Jaxa character once again. Recollected Jeri Taylor, "The morning after Michael [Piller] saw the episode, he came in and said, 'We can't let her stay dead. We've got to bring her back. She was wonderful.'" (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 298) René Echevarria explained, "There was a lot of talk about bringing her back, but we never got around to it." Though there was no time to have Sito rescued on TNG, there may have been on spinoff Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 337) Almost immediately after the first airing of "Lower Decks", Piller arranged to have Sito turn up alive in an ultimately undeveloped premise for DS9. His intention to return the character to Star Trek was partly influenced by fan mail which lamented Sito's death. Shortly after devising the plan to reuse the character on DS9, Piller remarked, "I think that the character was so good, and Jeri in her wisdom allowed there to be a loophole, and we got some very good ideas of why it will be successful to bring her back." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 298) Subsequently, Ronald D. Moore stated, "We talked about this for quite awhile, but then decided that bringing Sito back would rob 'Lower Decks' of a great ending." (AOL chat, 1997) The proposed story would have found Sito in a Cardassian prison and would climax with her killing her own cellmate. Elements of the story were ultimately adapted into the DS9 episode "Hard Time". (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 326)
Steven Scott Ripley, who wrote the short story "Change of Heart" for Strange New Worlds II, nominated Sito Jaxa as his favorite Star Trek character. He noted, "Her character was unforgettable." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 123, p. 68)
In Saturn's Children, her mirror universe counterpart (β) was depicted as a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance spy who was infiltrating the Terran Rebellion in 2375. Her true loyalties were discovered by Miles O'Brien and she was killed by Keiko O'Brien's counterpart Keiko Ishikawa.
In the story "Brave New World" in Star Trek: Myriad Universes #2, Echoes and Refractions, Lt. Sito is alpha shift Ops officer on the Enterprise, serving under Captain Picard and his first officer, Commander Geordi La Forge. She briefly dated Lt. Sam Lavelle (the current helmsman) and is Chief Engineer Lt. Wesley Crusher's confidante in matters of romance (she teased Wes mercilessly about his lack of a love life). She also struck up a friendship with her fellow Bajoran Commander Ro Laren (tactical officer/security chief).