So I finally got around to seeing The Force Awakens, which means I finally have enough data to chime in on the whole “Rey is a Mary Sue” controversy swirling around geekdom at the moment.
Also, Merry Christmas, ya pack of heathens.
OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING: I won’t be discussing too much in detail, so reading this likely won’t ruin any of the big reveal moments of the film for you, but if you haven’t seen it and would prefer to go into it completely blind, avert your fragile gaze lest you see something that cannot be unseen.
Yes, Rey is a Mary Sue.
If you can’t acknowledge that, if your worldview is so invested in the notion of “strong female characters” that you can’t see when they cross the line from “strong” to “ridiculous”, then I’m sorry, but it is what it is.
In Rey you get someone who can fix and fly the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo and Chewie combined, learns to use the Force in a matter of seconds to a level that allows her to defeat what is effectively a Sith Lord capable of stopping blaster fire with his mind in both Force combat and a lightsaber duel, despite having never engaged in either. She’s the best at everything ever, and there’s no logical reason for it in this film.
Note the caveat.
It’s likely that there will be some big reveal in a later sequel, filling in Rey’s backstory and telling us why she’s the best at everything ever, but even that won’t really address the Mary-Sue-dom of the character, it’ll just fill in the bit of exposition that usually accompanies one.
Rey is a Mary Sue because every time she’s in trouble, she gets out of it with ridiculous ease. There are no stakes for her struggle, since she basically tears through challenges in seconds without breaking a sweat. It’d be like watching Ronda Rousey take on a room full of first graders; she may spend a bit of time hopping around as the little bastards get bitey, but the outcome is never in question.
To address the inevitable responses: No, Luke was not a Marty Stu. Luke had one notable talent (he could fly pretty well), was trained by two of the greatest Jedi of the age, albeit briefly, and in his first film appearance the best he could manage with the Force was to make himself hard enough to kill that Vader got sufficiently focused as to let some yahoo in a bloody freighter sneak up on him. It took Luke years before he was up to taking on Darth Vader and actually winning, rather than merely surviving.
Anakin, there you have a case, though even he isn’t exactly whipping out a pint-sized light saber and taking Darth Maul down in a climactic lightsaber battle until after he’s been trained up a bit, and even then he still manages to lose a hand the first time he goes up against someone worth mentioning. And Anakin was the Chosen One, whose emergence was the entire point of the prequel trilogy.
No, Finn and Poe are not “equally talented”. Finn is basically just a guy with a blaster and a big heart, and while Poe is apparently the Maverick of the Star Wars universe, he’s not what one would call impressive when he’s not in the cockpit of an X-wing.
No, the protagonist in Kingsmen isn’t a Marty Stu either, since the bulk of that film is the process by which he, and several other people, are trained to become ridiculous badasses in an entire group of equally talented people. He may be the focal character of the movie, but the various folks that trained along side him are every bit as good as he is, or better.
It’s been weird for me watching Max Landis (screenwriter and creator of The Death and Return of Superman and Wresting Isn’t Wrestling on YouTube, which you should go and watch right now) take just mountains of shit for the tweet I linked at the start of this post.
I mean, characters get called out like this all the time as examples of bad screenwriting, and they don’t generate anywhere near the backlash that this has. Of course, that’s not especially surprising given that most of the time it’s a male character being called on the carpet, and those typically don’t generate anywhere near the same level of emotional investiture as female protagonists do amongst a vocal minority who feel compelled to call people horrible names for not liking the right things in the right way.
Note that those people are slightly different from the similar vocal minority that flips their shit if you criticize the things they like in any capacity. Not that it matters much, since the result is still people saying awful things to you on social media.
The whole thing strikes me as a Bizarro-world version of the Madonna-Whore Complex, wherein female characters in movies are treated by a certain crowd as being either completely above reproach or utterly reprehensible, with nothing in between. Whereas male characters get away with the entire genre of adventure fiction and sub-genre spinoffs of it, a mighty legion of Marty Stu’s that everyone is aware of and just doesn’t care about. It’s the kind of thing that gets brought up, agreed with, and promptly forgotten, with only a few die-hard fans (or Die Hard fans, as the case may be) going out of their way to justify why their favorite character should be recognized as both well written and the greatest man who never lived.
Yes, Rey is a Mary Sue. It doesn’t ruin the movie, doesn’t even ruin the character, it’s just an example of a way in which the character is flawed, an example of how the writing could be improved. It’s not the end of the world if your hero is a Mary Sue/Marty Stu. It happens. It’s a fine line to tread between being “just good enough” and “too good”, and sometimes writers slip, or find themselves constrained in some fashion and forced to cram too much capability into one character.
And sometimes they just get lazy, or decide to pander to their audience, or figure that maybe they’ll get away with it, and they wind up taking something that could have been great and reducing it to merely good.
So quit shitting on Max. He’s trying to help you.