I want to write about Rey, a character from The Force Awakens.
While I’m not going to post any major spoilers, I will of course be discussing the new movie, and new characters, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know anything (neither did I!) please don’t keep reading – SPOILER ALERT. If you’ve seen it or don’t mind hearing about Rey/some minor spoilers, please keep reading below!
Mary Sue. This phrase is generally not used favorably:
A Mary Sue or, in case of a male, Gary Stu or Marty Stu is an idealized fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through extraordinary abilities. Often but not necessarily this character is recognized as an author insert and/or wish-fulfillment.
The roots of a “Mary Sue” are in fan-fiction:
The term “Mary Sue” comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie’s Tale” published in her fanzine Menagerie. The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue (“the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old”), and satirized unrealistic Star Trek fan fiction. Such characters were generally female adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canonical adult characters, or in some cases were the younger relatives or protégées of those characters.
In the case of recent female characters, this phrase has been used time and again to basically discredit female characters. They’re either “not really strong” or “too strong” – insinuating, of course, that if a female excels at something (or numerous things – the horror!), she must either be faking it or some over-hyped, unrealistic person.
I emerged from The Force Awakens both impressed and kind of nerd crushing on Rey, who was all parts awesome. A few days later, I started wondering how others perceived her, but the idea of looking into it frightened me.
Sure enough, there are all kinds of commentary on Rey being no more than a “Mary Sue”. It may have started with some guy on Twitter, but has unfortunately gained some traction.
So, okay, let’s look at Rey’s shining abilities:
- She’s good at fixing stuff, but she’s also been around said stuff for however many years (decades?).
- She learns to fly a certain ship with relative ease. Okay, what’s the alternative here? She sucks? They spend 45 minutes where she struggles to figure it out? Or she’s completely hopeless and needs someone else to show her?
- She figures out certain aspects of the Force without a designated teacher, to the point of fighting Kylo Ren by the end. But it should be noted, she doesn’t kick his butt instantly. There is back and forth, there’s no “Oh hey here I am, you fall over now”.
Okay, yes, she’s strong and it’s not necessarily the most realistic set of abilities ever. But, you know, who is actually seeing Star Wars for its intense and famous realism? And why don’t we have endless debates about Han Solo? Surely he was just as suave and skilled at his traits as Rey is, if not more so. We’re talking about the man who has a princess say “I love you” and his ever-so-cool response is “I know”. The man is skilled, cool and slick as hell. But we seem to be largely OK with that?
Can we please just have a cool female character without digressing to dismissing her because she’s skilled at a few things? What exactly would be the point of focusing on a character who wasn’t good at certain things in this universe?
This constant bickering about female characters is tiresome. It’s okay for a female to be good at things, much like it’s okay for a female to have feelings and be not-so-great at other things. Shockingly, the same goes for male characters.
While an attention-grabbing Tweet might have been good for someone’s follower count, it wasn’t based on any real understanding of “Mary Sue”, Rey or the movie itself.
This is not a topic anyone would even be discussing if Rey was Ray, and it’s about time we just appreciated a cool female character for what she is, and not as something to be bickered over and criticised for her gender.