Of all the criticisms of the new trilogy of Star Wars, the one that irritates me more than anything else is the arrogant, unfeeling assertion that Rey is a Mary Sue – a self-insert who has no personality or chemistry and who is, without explanation, more powerful than any other Jedi we have seen so far in Star Wars. To those not in the know, if a character is described as a ‘Mary Sue’, it essentially means that they are poorly written – the term originates from the Star Trek fan-fiction community, and has since spread to all areas of media as a basic term to mean any character who has been written, designed or otherwise created to be infallible, flawless, perfect at everything, universally loved and essentially unbeatable. The phenomenon often goes hand-in-hand with so-called ‘self-insert’ characters, which are examples of characters written in fan fiction to be a representation of the author within their work, playing off the idea of authors literally ‘inserting’ themselves into the continuity as a character. Generally, characters who are regarded as Mary Sues are often considered to be bad characters who break the immersion of a film, book or video game because they seem just that little bit too good – which alleviates all the drama from a work of fiction since you don’t feel as though they are in any danger.
Almost inevitably, when Rey debuted in the first film of the new trilogy, The Force Awakens, people classified her as a Mary Sue. Why was this inevitable? Well, she is portrayed as being very powerful in Episode VII, and many people took issue with this, for some reason. Apparently in order to correctly qualify as a Star Wars protagonist, you have to be totally out of your depth and clueless as to what is going on in the first movie of your trilogy, and only suddenly gain increased skill in lightsaber combat and the Force in your second film, silly. But let’s just take a second to think about why that isn’t such a good idea – for a start, the only reason why people seem to think that Rey was too overpowered in The Force Awakens is that she seemingly picked up a lightsaber and immediately knew how to use it. This might seem like a kick in the balls for people who like the prequels, since Anakin had to learn and hone his lightsaber fighting style throughout all three of those movies. Remember the crucial scene from the first film where we see Anakin pick up a lightsaber for the first time, and he tries to do a spin attack and drops the saber, and Qui-Gon picks it up and says “Don’t worry Anakin, you’ll level up after 40 hours of grinding”.
Of course not, because that didn’t happen, did it? In fact, do we ever see any scenes of Anakin even once practicing his lightsaber combat to explain why he can use CGI video game powers to jump and flip everywhere? No, of course we don’t. But hold on a second – we do see someone showing initial skill in melee combat to establish their skill before giving them a lightsaber, now who was that again?
Of course. To be fair, Anakin had ten or more years training under the peaceful, non-violent, stoic Jedi in which to hone his violent combat skills. Rey only had eighteen years on a hostile desert planet surrounded by scavengers, bounty hunters and murderers with absolutely nothing to do in her spare time, there is no way she would be as good in a fight as Anakin. But the other thing about Rey that makes her so unforgivable as a character is that at the end of the film she suddenly gains the ability to use the Force, an unprecedented occurrence in the Star Wars universe. Never before has a desert-planet dweller ever suddenly harnessed a dormant power within him to perform a feat of unbelievable good luck and then escape, it just doesn’t happen, and that is why Rey simply cannot stand on her own two feet as a character.
But in all seriousness, now that we have the established notion that Rey’s achievements are actually just as odd or random or unexplained as Anakin’s or Luke’s out of the way, we can actually get more into the meat of why Rey certainly isn’t a Mary Sue in the way she is written, and to do that we have to explore more of the reasons why people think Rey has been written as a Mary Sue. Allow me to make one thing perfectly clear and then I will not mention it again – I am fairly certain that a lot of the people who dislike Rey attempt to find reasoning for explaining why they don’t like her without admitting that they actually don’t like her because she is a woman. Regardless of what you might think of that as an assertion, anyone who has been into the Youtube comments of any video relating to Rey being a Mary Sue will immediately understand what I am talking about – people think that just because Rey is female the writers and producers will have made her a Mary Sue – because according to Hollywood, women can’t ever do wrong and can never be faulted. This, at least, I agree with – they did the same thing with Hermione in the Harry Potter movies (sorry, Ron, but your character is denied) and countless other times with random, one-shot female protagonists who need to be ‘cool’, ‘independent’ and ‘strong’ by basically putting down every male member of the cast. This is a totally separate issue from Rey, however, because it cannot come close to accentuating her characterization.
Rey is flawed, and we know this because she shows it. Unlike Anakin, who basically kept a straight face throughout any time in the prequels when he wasn’t scripted to be angry, or Luke, whose expression fluctuates from confused to content to confused again for most of the original trilogy, Rey actually expresses her emotions. Daisy Ridley’s range of facial expressions that can be plucked out of thin air on a whim lends heavy credibility to her as an actress, since she can perfectly portray in her face the emotions that her character is currently feeling, and in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Rey’s emotions are varied and plentiful. She feels anger, she feels fear, she feels loneliness, she feels sorrow and hate and self-doubt and loathing at so many points throughout the two films that many have even pointed out that she is in danger of falling for Yoda’s old ‘Anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to Suffering’ nonsense from the prequels. But the important point to take away from all of this is that if Rey were a Mary Sue, she simply would not feel these emotions because, for a Mary Sue-type character, these emotions would not be on the agenda.
For a Mary Sue character, negative emotions are a no-go. If a Mary Sue character needs to be upset or annoyed or angry, it must be due to the fact that they are so perfect and flawless that they push other people away. Rey, on the other hand, shows her potential as a protagonist because she gets upset, angry and annoyed. Most importantly, however, she feels self-doubt, and expresses it. This is the final nail in the coffin for Rey being a Mary Sue, as far as most rational-minded critics in the know are concerned. Everything from Rey’s body language, to her reactions to plot developments, even down to her lightsaber fighting style, it all rounds off the idea that Rey is a normal person. If Rey truly had been a Mary Sue, if she had been written to be a self-insert character who fulfills all the tropes that a Mary Sue usually carries, Episode VII would have gone a lot differently.
For a start, Rey would not be living in an AT-AT. She would be a scavenger still, probably, but she’d be the scavenger who always found the best part that day, and Simon Pegg in a fat-suit would give her all the portions she ever wanted. Then, one day, a handsome young resistance fighter by the name of Finn would show up in her town. Rey would guess straight away that Finn was a defecting Stormtrooper, because nothing ever gets past her, and she would then proceed to beat up all the other Stormtroopers and Finn would fall immediately in love with her. At this point, the rest of the story may as well not happen, because obviously both Kylo Ren and Han Solo would also fall in love with Rey, and the entire First Order would implode as Kylo, Hux and Snoke all fight over who gets to be her date for the Coruscant Homecoming Ball on Life Day. The crucial factor to remember when dishing out helpings of the ignorant assertion that Rey is a self-insert is that Rey is designed to be a character with positive traits, because she is the protagonist of the flagship franchise of a major child-friendly corporation, and she is supposed to be a good guy. If all protagonists were picked apart with the same vigor and zeal as new trilogy haters do for Rey, one might just find that most protagonists in television shows, films, books and video games display these traits, because they’re the protagonists.
To finish, one final scene that people often use to cite that Rey is a Mary Sue is the scene in the Millenium Falcon cockpit with Han and the ‘compressor’. To contextualise, people seem to think that Rey being able to bypass a compressor on the Millenium Falcon and therefore fix the ship is further evidence to suggest that she is a Mary Sue. I left this part until last because I really wanted to isolate how stupid that really sounds, if you think about it. Han may have owned the Millenium Falcon when we knew him, but he was by no means an expert on the ship, and this is heavily implied if not shown to us by his handling of the repairs in Empire Strikes Back. Are we honestly expected to believe that Han, a freeloading smuggler who prefers to sweet-talk his way out of trouble unless he thinks he has good odds at blasting his way out, the man who claimed to be able to re-wire a simple door in Return of the Jedi and ends up somehow botching that job, are we actually expected to believe that he has the faintest idea how or why the Millenium Falcon actually works? I mean, he can fly the thing, that’s for sure – but fix it? Isn’t that the whole reason why he has Chewbacca around, so that he can handle all the technical stuff while Han flaunts his fame to any random girl who passes through Mos Eisley Cantina? And yet people are up in arms about the idea that a technically-minded young girl who had worked on this ship when it was sat in the junk for years of her life could possibly outwit a sixty-or-more-year-old ex-smuggler who couldn’t even sneak up on a Scout Trooper. Frankly, it begs the question of why so many people are intent on picking apart Rey’s character when they aren’t pleased with the fact that she actually acts like a normal person.