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Star Wars: The Rey Controversy Awakens


One of the hottest topics about the new Star Wars film seems to be the lead character, Rey, and whether she’s a Mary Sue or not, speculation about her ability with the Force, and how she’s so different from her original trilogy counterpart, Luke.  She’s been the topic of heated debates on Twitter, lengthy articles on various sites, and sometimes nasty arguments on social media. I’ve been watching it all just shaking my head.  The biggest part of the debate seems to be whether she’s a Mary Sue or not, so let’s entertain the notion that it even matters for a moment and look at what that means.  There are two definitions of Mary Sue, a literary one that most writers recognize, and the popular one that is used by commentators and reviewers most commonly online.

First, let’s look at the basic literary definition of a Mary Sue.  This type of character is usually referred to as the author’s insert, or wish-fulfillment.  It is a character that usually matches the author in many physical aspects, but often carries traits the author wishes they had, or that the author thinks are appealing in an individual.  The Mary Sue is usually a side character, but central to the plot for no other reason than everyone in the story wants to be with, or around this character.  They are the plot vortex, where everything that happens is related to them, but they have no actual impact on the plot itself.  Writing a Mary Sue is often done by new writers who will insert themselves into the book, not as the hero, but as a character to give perspective to the story through their eyes.  It’s pretty easy to say that Rey does not fit this definition of a Mary Sue.  She’s not a side character, she obviously doesn’t physically resemble authors Michael Arndt, J.J. Abrams, or Lawrence Kasdan, and while central to much of the plot she is not the center point of all of it.

The second, and more nebulous definition of the Mary Sue can’t even be agreed upon by anyone who writes about it.  Generally speaking, it’s a character that everyone likes, is beautiful, skilled at everything she needs to be skilled at for the story, usually the focus of every other character in the story, and never fails at anything.  Since no one can really agree on what this type of Mary Sue is specifically, let’s look at some of the most common complaints about Rey that seem to make her guilty of fitting this role.  We’ll use this little meme, that, like so many memes on the internet, is not very well informed, but it seems to be the popular one.

mary sue meme

“She beats up four guys by herself.” Yah, you mean like how anyone competent with a metal quarterstaff could beat four unarmed goons?  Whenever the hero of the movie beats up a few unarmed goons, it’s usually pretty bad-ass, even when done with bare hands, but not this time?  This scene, in the market in Jakku, is to show us that she has learned to use her staff.  Sure, they could have given us some montage of her training, but as the old writing adage goes, “show, don’t tell.”

“Knows more about the Millennium Falcon than Han does.”  Whoever wrote the meme can’t even spell an iconic ship’s name but whatever.  To the statement, does she?  She knows about one part that her boss installed, a part she advised against installing.  Why doesn’t Han know about it?  He didn’t install it and apparently hasn’t seen the Falcon in years.  I know it was easy to miss, but it was another one of those moments if one was paying attention, it was right there.  Now again, they could have given us some drawn out montage of her working on the Falcon, or learning to fly, but then we’d be getting into prequel territory, where there’s too much explaining and not enough story.

“First time she flies the Millennium Falcon she outmaneuvers TIE fighters in a large ship with an awkward cockpit position.”  What?  Has the position of the cockpit ever been a factor, ever?  We’re going to discuss cockpit position but not atmospheric flight for aircrafts that aren’t even aerodynamic?  You want to get nitpicky, TIE fighters don’t have shields while the Falcon does.  Their blasters didn’t do much to the Falcon in previous movies, so it was really just a matter of staying in the air so Finn could shoot them down.  Hell, Han let TIE fighters pummel the Falcon on several occasions to no ill effect.  All that aside though, what’s the biggest way the Force displays itself in the untrained?  Luck.  Luck is a big part of the theme of Star Wars, luck and instincts.  We’re also expected, throughout all the movies, to assume in this universe that being able to fly one thing makes you a pilot of pretty much everything else.  Luke basically goes from his puddle-jumper T16 right to the cockpit of an X-Wing as if going from a stunt plane to a fighter jet is no big deal.  Han can fly the imperial shuttle no worries, and Chewie is adept and operating an AT-ST his first time out.  Even Poe can fly a TIE fighter having never been in one, as if his X-Wing and the imperial fighter are even remotely designed the same way.  Why no questions about those?

“Instantly skilled at using a light saber and wins a fight against Kylo.”  Ok, so someone trained with a staff gets a weapon that is similar to wielding a staff by one end.  This one does have a little merit, but still, someone who has basic martial skills, can obviously fight, fought a battle to a stalemate against an opponent that had a gut shot from a bowcaster that was throwing other people across rooms.  The apprentice she fought had just killed his father, was underestimating the ‘girl,’ and was doing pretty well despite all that until she tapped into the Force.  More on that with the next one.

“Instantly knowledgeable about probing minds, telekinesis, and using Jedi mind tricks.”  I guess I have a different definition of knowledgeable.  She looked just as shocked as I probably would when she caught one of Kylo’s surface thoughts, or when she got the trooper to do what she wanted.  Do you remember when she rescued BB8 from that other scavenger?  How’d she get him to give up such an obviously valuable prize?  She had a knife, he had a staff…  There’s something important that could explain it, and a very good reason we weren’t shown it.  Check this out for a sec, from the knowledgeable folks at Wookieepedia, Force Adept.  Known to use quarterstaffs, “This generic concept of Force Adepts often depicted them with little to no formal Jedi training in the Force and often coming from primitive planets.”  That’s just one explanation among many, but if Rey is a force adept, no one would know it, there is no one with perspective in this movie to explain to the audience what that is.  Her life as a scavenger, fighting for scraps, bargaining for parts, food, water, climbing, surviving, all the while she could have been using the Force without even knowing it.  Heck, we already saw her doing exactly what was part of Luke’s initial training with Yoda, right?  Of course there are countless other theories, that’s just one I like.

“Instantly trusted by the Resistance to go on a mission to find Luke, even though they barely knew her.”  Was she?  Remember when Han said at the beginning, to Finn, “Remember, women always know the truth.”  Remember when Leia hugged Rey when she got back, ignored everyone else and hugged Rey as a mother, or other close family member might?  Even if Leia doesn’t know her, how long was it between that scene and her leaving to find Luke?  Days, couple weeks?  Hours?  We don’t know.  This is just a case of not seeing it so it must not have happened.

“Speaks droid and wookie.”  Um…so?  She lives on a planet where droids are prevalent, so are scavengers, bounty hunters, traders, and merchants.  Did you want a montage of seeing her learn to speak wookie?  Would that have driven the plot forward?

“Instantly liked and trusted by everyone.”  Again, was she?  Finn, sure, he has some sense of honor about him and saw a woman starting to get attacked, then the droid, etc.  Han wanted to put her on the first planet they could find along with Finn, didn’t even want her around at first.  Maz liked her, because Maz knew who she was.  Who else did she really meet until the end?  Kylo didn’t like her.  She didn’t meet Luke or Leia until the end of the movie (see above). Who else, Chewie?  Do we know if he liked her or was just following Han’s lead?  There was very little interaction between the two, and neither of us speak wookie, right?

We could go on for hours like that, but it doesn’t really matter.  If you have convinced yourself that the only explanation is that she’s a Mary Sue, there’s nothing at all I can say to change your mind.  Me?  I’ll keep an open mind, because honestly I never cared about all the other movie heroes that are awesome at what they do.  I don’t need hours of backstory to see how Batman became so bad-ass, or how John McClane, an average city police officer, is so good at taking out international terrorists all on his own.  I’d rather have those minutes devoted to story and plot, with little bits of explanation sprinkled in than another Gods Damned Spider-Man origin story to show me how he got to be so good at what he does.

Rey isn’t Luke, just like Kylo isn’t Vader.  I see a lot of people complain that TFA was too much like ANH, but then criticize the characters for not being like characters from the original.  Do we want a reboot?  I didn’t think so. I was glad to see them go very different ways with the characters.  So there’s my rant, I guess.  End of the day, doesn’t really matter whether she is or not.  It’s a debate no one wins, but that’s my take on it anyway.