Friday, January 8, 2016

Mary Sue stars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By William Tung from USA (SWCA - Rey's Speeder [2])
[CC BY-SA 2.0
 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: Spoilers!

The new Star Wars movie, featuring a strong female protagonist, was a great success, but “feminists” have still found something to complain about. This time Disney isn’t at fault (the cast was all-around PC)—it’s the fans!

Fans tweeted that the main female character Rey is a Mary Sue—a term that refers to a character in fan-fiction who represents the author and is usually outstanding in everything she (or he) does. The response from the feminist crowd was a smack-down of indignation. Articles insisting that Rey is not a Mary Sue are so numerous that I couldn’t find anyone writing an article claiming the original opinion (though they quoted plenty of tweets).

I liked Rey as a character and would consider myself a supporter of women’s rights (I have criticized stories form a feminist viewpoint before on this blog). However, complaining that other fans are sexist accomplishes nothing and ignores any valid points those fans might have.

Time to Get Over It: Rey Is a Mary Sue

Rey is very accomplished. If pressed on this issue, I would say that she is not impossibly so, but definitely improbably. The general opposing argument is that lots of past Star Wars characters are, too. All Star Wars characters are wish-fulfillment characters. The only thing that I have to say to that: go back and watch the original trilogy, please. Luke was constantly screwing up. He had some serious flaws and he didn’t always win. Han Solo is the poster-boy for flawed main characters--he shot first. Princess Leia was certainly competent, but she couldn’t do everything herself; she needed help from others occasionally.

Rey is not only talented and widely skillful. She also lacks a character arc. She does not have faults to grow beyond. As the story begins, she is not only likable and competent: she is patient, noble, kind, fair-minded, compassionate, and humble. Compare this to Luke’s frustrated, childish behavior in A New Hope. Or even Finn’s internal conflict about his place in the universe. Perhaps, like Aragorn from LOTR, Rey represents the typical romantic hero, superior to others and her environment, but from an industry that hasn’t produced characters above the high mimetic mode for decades, this seems like a stretch for me.  

Mary Sue Is Not a Gendered Term

Many bloggers have argued that “Mary Sue” is a gendered term targeting female characters who dare to break that glass ceiling separating heroes from damsels, but this simply isn’t true. The only difference between a male “Gary Stu” and a female “Mary Sue” is that no one throws fits about the Gary Stu’s being identified. When someone points out that a male main character is over-competent, no one cares. Either the story is good enough to carry him, or it isn’t.

In my opinion, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was handled well enough that Rey’s flatness as a character did not greatly affect my enjoyment of the film. She is not my favorite character and won’t be as the series develops unless some depth is added to her character. This is not sexist: it is a reasonable expectation for a talented team writing a good story to produce complex characters.

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