Star Wars XII: The Force Awakens is now the top domestic grossing film in history, having soared past Avatar in well under a month. It’s smashed so many records that it’s kind of ridiculous. It only just released in China and it’s doing very well so far, even if it didn’t set the day 1 record. Of course, a movie doing well doesn’t mean that it’s good. Just look at Transformers, Twilight, some of the brutally bad “spoofs” like Epic Movie, and of course The Last Airbender (which made over $300 million). That said, The Force Awakens is actually really good. It’s not perfect by any means, but after two dreadful prequels and a mediocre Episode 3, we finally have another Star Wars movie that actually feels like Star Wars.
Needless to say, this post will contain spoilers. Also, I’ve made several additions since I originally posted that I felt were worth addressing.
Before we get into the discussion bout Rey, I only have three complaints about The Force Awakens. One, it’s a bit too much like A New Hope. The story and characters are different sure, and like JJ Abrams said, they needed to go backwards in order to move forwards, but maybe they went a bit too far with making The Force Awakens like A New Hope.
Two, there are things that aren’t explained enough. The Starkiller base and the planet it destroyed in particular come to mind with this complaint. Did the First Order destroy Coruscant, or was it another planet? There’s a passing line that says it was another planet, which begs the question – why isn’t the New Republic based in Coruscant? These are questions that should have at least been touched upon before they destroyed the New Republic’s central planet, and it could have been done in less than a minute.
Third, and this is minor, but the dogfight above Starkiller base doesn’t feel nearly as personal as most dogfights in the series. In A New Hope, we follow Luke for the Battle of Yavin, a character we’ve spent an entire movie getting to know. In Empire Strikes Back, we follow Luke during the Battle of Hoth. While Luke isn’t in the space part of the Battle of Endor, at least we’re following Lando Calrissian, a character we’ve spent two movies getting to know by now. With Starkiller base, we only know Poe, a great yet fairly minor character with no real arc. He started the movie as a resistance pilot and he ends the movie as a resistance pilot. While it’s great that the squadron is diverse with even an Asian woman who survives, it’s harder to care about this battle when compared to the Original Trilogy’s space battles. I hope we get to know both Poe and the Asian pilot more in Episode 8.
Now finally, let’s talk about why Rey is not a Mary Sue. I’m going to organize this into sections, to touch on every argument in favour of Rey being a Mary Sue and then systematically refute them. A lot of these arguments aren’t my own, and there are so many articles and posts about this that I won’t even try to figure out where they’ve originated, but I’m going to do my best to represent them in my own words.
What are you even talking about with this one? Rey spent most of her life stranded on Jakku as a scavenger. She needs to scavenge in order to even survive. As a scavenger, she needs to be able to identify pieces of technology, figure out what’s valuable and if they’re in working condition, and safely remove them from their sockets. It’s obvious that Unkar Plutt, the junk dealer, would have trained her to do this. After all, he needs his scavengers to know what they’re doing if he wants to be a successful junk dealer.
As a skilled scavenger, Rey would also know how ships work. Several of her off-handed comments suggest that she often helps Unkar repair the ships he’s acquired, most notably when she mentions that she discouraged him from installing the compressor on the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive. She certainly knows the Falcon’s recent history more than Han does. It’s not the least bit unrealistic that she’d be able to repair the Falcon under pressure when she’s spent most of her life doing it for Unkar just to get the food she needs.
Furthermore, she makes mistakes. Don’t forget that on Han Solo’s freighter, she pulled the wrong fuses and releases the Rathtars, almost getting Finn killed as a result.
A very common argument that Rey is a Mary Sue is that she’s immediately a good pilot. If you honestly think that, clearly you were either not paying attention or you are willfully ignoring key moments and lines of dialogue. Rey isn’t immediately good at flying the Millennium Falcon. She spends the first few minutes struggling to balance the ship properly, smashing several buildings and skidding on the ground in the process. Furthermore, Finn needed to remind her to turn on the shield.
After they escaped the tie fighters, Rey and Finn are both surprised and excited by how well they did. It’s easy to miss the first time, but Rey says that she’s flown ships before, just nothing as big as the Falcon. She most likely flew ships for Unkar to make sure they worked, but this is neither specified nor does it need to be. Regularly driving her speeder doesn’t hurt.
As for being able to outfly the Tie Fighters, well … that’s a very common trait for force sensitive people. Remember Anakin being a winning pod racer at 9 before destroying the droid control ship when he never flew anything that could move freely in all 3 dimensions before? Remember Luke with the Death Star when that X-Wing was the first proper space ship he ever flew? He was one of 3 pilots (out of 30) that survived that battle, plus he survived being chased by Darth Vader himself. Vader, the same pilot that did this.
(And yes, this is in the same canon as The Force Awakens)
Remember how Leia often flew the Falcon while Han Solo either manned the gun or worked on repairs while four or more tie Fighters chased them? That happened in both A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back (and Star Destroyers were also involved in The Empire Strikes Back). Nobody in those movies ever commented on how good of a pilot Leia is. In that context, Rey outlying two tie-fighters isn’t impressive.
It’s also worth mentioning that Rey also owns a flight simulator in her ATAT home. In the book “Before the Awakening” by Greg Rucka, Rey hones her skills on this simulator before the movie’s events. And yes, this book is canon. The Star Wars movies have been including extra material as canon for a long time, and Revenge of the Sith’s General Grievous is the perfect example of this going wrong. With the Force Awakens however, we don’t necessarily need to know that Rey honed her skills on a flight simulator – it’s just an extra tidbit that explains where some of her skills come from.
So in conclusion, Rey is not an unrealistically good pilot.
Uh … no. Han Solo finds both Rey and Finn quite annoying when they first meet. He’s clearly annoyed by Rey’s superior knowledge of how the Falcon works, and gives her several dirty looks in their time together. He even tells Chewie to drop them off on the first inhabited planet they come by, only cancelling that order when he learns that BB-8 is carrying the map to Luke Skywalker. Unkar clearly doesn’t like her that much either. She’s likeable yes, but that doesn’t mean everyone likes her.
update: I recently had a debate with someone on a related subject on Comicvine’s forums. He argued that people act out of character around her and specifically mentioned Han offering Rey a job, saying that he’s known to not trust people. Uh … three things.
1. You do remember that Han offered Luke a job before the Death Star battle in A New Hope, right? “Why don’t you come with us? You’re pretty handy in a fight, we could use you.”
2. Rey has already proven herself as both a competent pilot and a mechanic to Han, and having three crew members in a ship that needs a co-pilot is a very good idea. If all three are capable pilots and mechanics, then not only can one take over in the event that someone is injured (like Chewie was when Rey jumped into the co-pilot seat), but they can also make ongoing ship repairs while they’re fleeing an enemy … like when Leia took over flying the Falcon while Han and Chewie made some emergency repairs just before the asteroid field scene in Empire Strikes Back.
3. This movie takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi. People tend to change over 30 years, especially when you have a son who turns to the dark side of the force, and a good friend of yours (Luke) vanishes. I can prove that Han has changed with two lines. Episode 4 “I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything.” Episode 7 “Crazy thing is, it’s true. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It’s all true.”
Rey learns the Force way too quickly.
I’ll admit that this is the hardest of the arguments to refute, since many of these defenses rely on speculation. The argument is that Rey is able to master several force powers in a very short amount of time, with no training whatsoever. These powers include the Jedi Mind Trick, which some argue Rey shouldn’t even know about, and force pull. Luke taught himself a lot of his force abilities too, but he took years to do it while Rey learned her powers in a matter of hours at most. That said, I still disagree with this statement.
Here’s the main problem; we don’t know that much about Rey’s life before Jakku yet, and we don’t know for sure that she’s never received any kind of training in the force. The vision she received when she touched Luke’s lightsaber only showed things that either the lightsaber or she was present for. The novelization expands on these visions quite a bit, including how Rey even watches Luke’s hand get cut off by Darth Vader before it shifts to the massacre. The moment where Kylo Ren stabs his lightsaber through a man’s back is seen from a low viewing angle, suggesting it’s from the eyes of a short person, perhaps a child.
We then see a 5-year-old Rey being abandoned on Jakku, begging for someone to come back while Unkar grabs her by the arm. Again this is speculation, but I suspect that Kylo Ren experienced a moment of weakness with the dark side during the Jedi Academy massacre. He killed the other present Knights of Ren and saved Rey’s life before dropping her off on Jakku. It would explain why her parents never came for her – they thought she was dead. He used his mind powers to wipe Rey’s memory of the Jedi Temple (or base, or wherever Luke started training his new Jedi order) and dropped her off on the dump of a planet where nobody would search for her, hoping for his own apprentice to take on Snoke in the future. This would be like Darth Vader’s hopes for Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back. This would also explain why Kylo was even more upset when the officer mentioned that a girl helped Finn and BB-8 escape Jakku. If this is the case, then perhaps Kylo’s mind probing subconsciously brought Rey’s training back.
Even if you throw that theory out, Rey is described as being very powerful in the force. When Kylo tried to scan Rey’s mind, he unwittingly awakened her own force abilities. The novelization specifically states that he unlocked something, and that something terrifies him. She then copies his mind reading attempts and digs into his mind instead. Monkey see, monkey do. As for how she knows about the Jedi Mind Trick? Well, she did think that the Jedi were myths. How do you know that Jedi mind tricks are not part of those myths? As described in Rey’s Survival Guide, the myths come from some of the small villages … like the one the First Order destroyed at the start of the movie. Someone like Lor San Tekka (the man who gave Poe the map to Luke) would know about the Jedi Mind Trick. Also don’t forget that Rey failed at least two times before the mind trick worked on Daniel Craig’s Stormtrooper.
And before you say that Rey is too powerful in the force, we’ve only had Kylo to compare her strength to in this movie. The movie is vague about exactly what the force’s awakening means. We don’t know how Rey’s power level compares to Luke’s, Snoke’s, or anyone but Kylo’s. I’ll talk more about Kylo Ren later.
Now you’re just getting desperate. Rey starts the movie off as a loner, intentionally distancing herself from others while hoping for her family to return. She’s self-reliant and finds it annoying when people try to help her. She cares for others, but it takes her a moment to let BB-8 follow her to town. She takes great pride with her mechanical skills – I love her smile after she bypasses the compressor. She’s a reluctant hero who wants nothing to do with Luke’s lightsaber after the vision she receives.
Throughout the movie she learns to accept help from others, let people in as friends and eventually, to let the force guide her actions. That last particular development is an arc that will most likely continue through Episode 8. So there you go, she has personality traits and a character arc, and that’s just from memory. Now tell me from memory what Qui Gon’s personality traits in Episode 1 are … and Queen Amidala while you’re at it.
It’s also worth mentioning that Rey isn’t that great of a shot, unlike Luke in A New Hope, or Fin for that matter, who’s a crack shot even though he’s a Stormtrooper. Of course, in Before the Awakening, it’s explained that he’s in the top 1% in all performance categories. Rey on the other hand fires 4 shots and hits 2 stormtroopers that we can see, before she starts running. Her third stormtrooper kill is immediately after we cut to see Kylo Ren arriving at the battle, so neither side can use that as evidence. When Kylo Ren is no more than 50 feet away from her, she fires more than 10 times at short range and he only needs to block 4 or 5 times. On at least two occasions you clearly see a shot hitting the rocks beside him while he casually walks forward, his lightsaber blade lowered.
Furthermore, her social skills are somewhat lacking, which makes total sense for a loner with abandonment issues. After all, she’s the only one who doesn’t figure out that Finn isn’t a part of the resistance, even though he makes it quite obvious that he’s lying.
Out of all the arguments for Rey being a Mary Sue, this is quite possibly the weakest. There are six simple but important things you need to know about Episode 7’s lightsaber fight before you even consider using this argument.
1 – Kylo Ren was injured.
We spent the entire movie watching Chewbacca’s Bowcaster blow Stormtroopers up. A single blast from that beast sends people flying, and on one occasion, sends two flying when Han shoots the ground beneath their feet. Kylo Ren took a shot from the bowcaster straight in the gut mere minutes before his lightsaber fight with Finn and Rey. He shouldn’t even be standing, let alone swinging around a lightsaber. He also suffers three further lightsaber injuries before Rey grabs him by the wrist and overpowers him. It’s not hard to believe that a scavenger with climbing skills can physically overpower a seriously injured man, whether the scavenger is a man or a woman.
update: I’ve seen two people argue that if he’s injured, he shouldn’t have been able to get ahead of Rey and Finn in the forest. This is a good point, until you remember that a: Rey and Finn needed to climb down a ladder, while Kylo was at ground level, giving him plenty of time to get ahead. b: It’s been long established that people can augment their physical strength with the force (Yoda almost says this directly in Empire Strikes Back). It’s only through Kylo’s power in the force that he can stand and fight, which would weaken his otherwise impressive raw power. If you want to know more about this, look it up – there’s no need to expand on it further here.
2 – Rey spent most of the fight on the retreat.
After Rey force pulled Luke’s first lightsaber into her hands, she spent most of the fight on the retreat while Kylo outmatched her in skill. She held her own much better than Finn, but she still stumbled back frequently and often cut down trees just to slow Kylo down. It’s only after she allows the force to guide her that she overcomes Kylo. Her strong survival instincts are enough to set aside her apprehension toward the force and allow it to strengthen her and guide her actions.
update: When I debated this subject with one person online, he complained that this is too simple of a solution(that trusting the force shouldn’t be a magic solution). Here’s the thing – it is that simple when it comes to the force. That’s the entire point of Yoda lifting the X-Wing in Empire Strikes Back.
“Do or do not, there is no try.”
“I don’t believe it”
“That is why you fail”
3 – Kylo isn’t fully trained.
As impressive as Kylo’s abilities in the force are, he’s clearly not fully trained. In his fight with Rey, he makes several mistakes and opens himself up to her strikes. Snoke even says after Kylo loses that it’s time to complete his training. We can be sure that when Rey and Kylo fight again, and we know it will happen, that Kylo will be a much more formidable opponent.
Speaking as someone who is currently studying Kung Fu, I can tell that Kylo Ren isn’t that great of a duelist. On several occasions, he swings too wide and leaves himself open. Even Finn is smart enough to take advantage of this and strike Kylo’s shoulder before he was taken out of the fight, and he lost a melee fight to another stormtrooper.
4 – Kylo was emotionally weak at the time.
Minutes before his fight with Rey, Kylo killed his own father after it was made perfectly clear that he was struggling with the light side of the force. You can see in his eyes that he’s saddened by his father’s death. The novelization expands on this by saying straight up that instead of strengthening his resolve like he hoped, killing his father weakened it. So not only is Kylo seriously injured, but he’s in emotional turmoil. Rey on the other hand is fighting for survival as far as she knows, and that tends to give people focus.
5 – Kylo wasn’t trying to kill Rey.
While Rey was escaping from Daniel Craig’s Stormtrooper, Supreme Leader Snoke ordered Kylo to take Rey to him. He’s under orders to take Rey alive, so he’s clearly holding back. He even tries to convince her to let him teach her the ways of the force in a desperate move.
A bonus point here, and this doesn’t affect the argument much either way. Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. In the novelization, after Rey pulls the lightsaber into her hands with the force, he says “it is you”, and Rey gets the feeling he knows more about her than she does. His look in the movie could be interpreted as a look of recognition. Until episode 8 proves otherwise, Kylo Ren knows who Rey really is. As someone who’s struggling between the light side and the dark, he would find it very hard to hurt someone he knew as a child, which would be the only easily explained way that he would know her.
Remember when Finn first saw Rey on Jakku? She beat up several thugs with her staff before knocking him onto the ground. She’s clearly skilled with melee weapons, and for life on a junkyard planet like Jakku, it’s yet another necessity for survival. While it’s true that a single blade doesn’t work the same way as a staff weapon, many of the same concepts still apply. She even wields the lightsaber like it’s a staff for the first part of the fight if you watch closely, and that’s part of the reason that Kylo has her on the retreat for most of the fight.
Any one of these points on their own is enough to disprove this particular argument, and when they all come together, they ultimately demolish it. If anything, it would make Rey look weak if she couldn’t defeat Kylo Ren in that lightsaber fight. If not for these serious disadvantages, Kylo Ren would have dominated that fight, and we can be sure that when they do fight again, a better trained, uninjured Kylo Ren will be a much more formidable opponent.
The term Mary Sue originated in an intentional parody of fan fiction (A Trekkie’s Tale by Paula Smith). The Mary Sue is by definition a wish fulfillment fantasy with characters inserted into other works of fiction. They’re usually given romantic relationships with pre-existing characters or shoved into a ridiculously important role. It’s especially telling if a prophecy is shoehorned into the story.
Wish fulfillment? Are you telling me that writers JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (who also helped write Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (he wrote Toy Story 3) want to see themselves as a loner teenaged girl?
Is Rey the most important character in the story? Everything that happens in the plot is a team effort. Finn rescues Poe from the First Order and is equally responsible for getting BB-8 off of Jakku. In the battle of Starkiller Base, Han is the one who makes his landing approach at light speed, Finn figures out how to deactivate the shield, Han Solo comes up with the plan to destabilize the thermal oculator and Chewie enacts it. The only plot-related thing that Rey does on her own is that she defeats Kylo Ren in a lightsaber fight. If she was a Mary Sue, she would have done a lot more.
Romance with existing characters? This movie doesn’t even have a romantic subplot, unless you count Han and Leia’s which continues from the original trilogy.
I’m not going to accuse anyone in the “Rey is a Mary Sue” camp of anything since I don’t know them in person. What I will say is that it implies a sexist attitude. Nobody would accuse Luke Skywalker of being a Mary Sue, and I’ve never encountered anyone calling Legolas or Wolverine a Mary Sue. Even Batman and James bond fit the bill much better, but most people (including me) just think they’re awesome.
I will specifically mention Max Landis’s tweet that he will never be convinced that Rey isn’t a Mary Sue, and that these kinds of statements are the worst possible things you can say in a discussion like this. It heavily implies that he’s a close-minded bigot and maybe a bit arrogant. Again I won’t accuse him of this because I don’t know him, but that’s what it looks like.
Since I wrote this post, I stumbled on this video from Fantasy Author JM Fray, who wrote her masters thesis on the Mary Sue. Be warned, this video is almost 2 hours long and goes on several tangents, but she thoroughly explains that acedemically, Rey cannot be a Mary Sue and if anything, Fin fits the bill better. I want to make it clear that I don’t agree with everything in this video – I believe they focused too much on the storytelling aspect and not enough on the “too powerful” arguments for one.
If you want to use the urban dictionary version where it’s just a character who’s too powerful or too good at things, then that definition has broadened to the point where it’s utterly meaningless and you won’t be able to argue against the following characters being Mary Sues (or Marty Stus if you prefer).
Anakin Skywalker, James Bond, Aragon and Legolas from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cable, Nate Grey, Harry Potter … I could go on.
So here are your options. You go with the academic definition and Rey cannot be a Mary Sue, you go with the broad definition and all of those characters are Mary Sues and it’s not inherently a bad thing, or they’re all Mary Sues and therefore, they’re all terrible characters.
Update: There are two more arguments I’ve learned of through several debates I’ve had on forums, so here they are.
Precious Rey doesn’t get hurt, therefore she’s a Mary Sue
You weren’t paying much attention to the Kylo Ren fight, were you? She’s thrown 30 feet into the air and against the tree, which knocks her out for a few minutes. Sure, that’s not a huge injure, I’ll give you that, but Luke didn’t get any more hurt in A New Hope and neither Anakin nor Obi-Wan get hurt at all in The Phantom Menace.
One guy on Comicbookresources argued that she should have lost her hand in the fight against Kylo. Right away, you’re judging Rey on 3 movies when she’s only had one. Both Luke and Anakin did lose a hand, yes, but in their second movie. In their first movie they’re supposed to end with a heroic moment – it’s part of the whole Heroes Journey mythology that Star Wars is modeled after. Now personally I hope they go with something different this time instead of repeating the same lost hand shtick, but if Rey doesn’t experience some sort of loss or low point in Episode 8, then you’ll have an argument here.
Why did Rey and Leia go straight for each other for a hug when they’ve never met?
I am willing to admit that this is a minor weak point with the movie. Chewie probably should have been included in this hug, although we do see him mourning in private. Maybe that fits his personality better – people mourn loss in different ways. While I will grant you this as a flaw, this isn’t a good argument for Rey being a Mary Sue.
Both Rey and Leia know they’re force sensitive by this moment, and they’re both in mourning for Han’s loss. They would be able to sense this, whether they’ve ever met or not. Since Han was never a part of the resistance, he wouldn’t mean nearly as much to anyone else at the base, save for the comatose Finn.
Further Update: In a recent interview, JJ Abrams admitted that this was a mistake, but also pretty much agreed with my reasoning that they’re both force sensitive. Read about it here.
Why did they send Rey to find Luke instead of someone else?
Allow me to answer this question with another question. Who else do you send? Leia? Nope, she’s too busy leading the Resistance, and needs to be present in the very likely event that the First Order will retaliate for the loss of Starkiller Base. Any of Luke’s other friends in the Resistance? Same thing, since anyone he would know would have some sort of important leadership position. If they’re not with the resistance, than they’d either be retired, or they probably died when Starkiller Base destroyed the Hosnian System.
Do you send a younger member of the Resistance? Why would Luke care about them? Lando? As far as we know, Lando was part of the Republic that died on the Hosnian System, or he’s alive but nobody knows where he is. With how bad things are about to get for the rather small Resistance now that the Republic is gone, they need Luke as soon as possible and they don’t have time to track down his old friends. Do you send Chewie and R2? They went actually. They probably stayed with the Falcon to continue with repairs, but they’re there for moral support if it’s needed.
Meanwhile, you have Rey. She’s a force sensitive girl who Luke’s first lightsaber specifically called to. She’s a potentially strong Jedi with a similar past to Luke, and she has at least some of the same sense of hope that he had when he first joined the Rebellion. It’s also worth noting that the script specifically says that Luke recognizes her. Until Episode 8 proves otherwise, this is canon, not speculation. Since Leia is force sensitive, she might recognize some sort of connection even if she’s not sure what it is.
So please tell me, who else do you send?
Star Wars’s real Mary Sue
With all this being said, one doesn’t need to look that hard to find a Mary Sue in Star Wars. Let’s take a brief look at Anakin in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. He’s a 9-year-old who is not only a skilled mechanic, but he somehow built the fastest Podracer in existence using nothing but spare parts from junkyards. Just watch how fast he zooms past the other racers in the third lap – it’s cartoonish. Before the Battle of Naboo where he destroys the droid control ship, he’s only flown vehicles that can’t move freely up and down in altitude.
Worse yet, he spends several minutes figuring out what the different buttons and levers do in the Naboo Starfighter and yet he still destroys the Droid Control Ship from the inside, when none of the professionally trained fighter pilots even thought of doing. But the worst part of all is that there’s a prophecy about him, stating that he’s supposed to bring balance to the force. By prophecy, he’s the most important character in the movie. That’s almost a surefire sign that he’s a Mary Sue (or a Marty Stu or Gary Stu if you’d rather).
Rey is not a Mary Sue by any definition of the trope. She’s a fully-realized character who is no more impressive than the main heroes from any fantasy film. She has flaws, has a character arc where she begins to grow into the hero she needs to be and she makes mistakes along the way. I think what bothers some people about her is that you could replace her with a man and not change a single element of the story. That scares people, but the way I see it, it’s about time that a fantasy movie starring a female lead does this well. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that women can sell an action movie, and The Force Awakens wouldn’t have done nearly as well after the opening weekend if this wasn’t the case.
And I would like to conclude with my interpretation of what I consider to be the most beautiful scene in The Force Awakens. Throughout the movie it’s established that Rey is waiting on Jakku for someone to return for her. She’s devastated when Maz helps her realize that whoever dropped her off on the junk yard is never coming back. Flash forward to the Starkiller base, when Han, Finn and Chewie run into her while she’s sneaking around. After all those years, someone came back for her. Not her family, but Finn, a labelled traitor who’s risking his very life to come back to the belly of the beast. She found her belonging where she least expected it. That’s something that I can personally relate to.