*Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens as well as other films in the Star Wars franchise. Read at your own discretion*
The release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has taken the world by storm, earning a whopping $1.5 billion worldwide since its release on December 17, 2015. The film has received a Rotten Tomato score of 93% with nearly 300 positive reviews from critics, making it the top rated film at the box office currently. Undoubtedly the numbers prove that Episode VII is a financial and critical success, but on top of that fans around the world have been giving it major praise for bringing a much-needed breath of life back into the Star Wars film franchise. However, as with any major release, not everyone who has seen the film walked away with positive feelings. Given that nothing is truly perfect much of the criticism is warranted but there is one critique in particular that has not only been extremely prevalent among naysayers but has also been problematic. I myself rather enjoyed the movie and only have one or two minor complaints, but the critique I am most baffled by from others is the one which labels Episode VII’s main protagonist, Rey, as a Mary Sue.
The term Mary Sue (or Gary Stu if referencing male characters) is a colloquial and pejorative term used to describe a character who begins at story with a low rank or status yet extraordinarily rises to “save the day” in unrealistic ways. It’s basically a character who goes from zero to hero, often providing what many consider to be wish-fulfillment for viewers/readers via being overly idolized. The term is mainly used as a criticism due to its implications of unrealistic perfection with characters often being simultaneously referred to as “annoying” and “too faultless”. Since Episode VII’s release Rey has been criticized by many as a Mary Sue due to her apparently unrealistic transformation from poor, junk scraper to lightsaber wielding hero in the span of one film. I believe that everyone has the right to like or dislike a movie for whatever reasons they want but when people claim that it’s a fact that Rey is a Mary Sue, and that it has ruined the film, I take issue. For one it’s inaccurate/not true in relation to the Star Wars universe she exists in, secondly if she was a Mary Sue then she honestly fits in perfectly among past film protagonists and lastly, regardless of accuracy, this isn’t a movie ruining flaw.
Allow me to start at the beginning by describing why Rey is not a Mary Sue, which happens to be the most meaningful and loquacious point I’ll be making so get ready. Keep in mind that the term Mary Sue isn’t a term used to describe a character who does a few extraordinary things but instead describes a character who is basically flawless and can do no wrong. Her being able to fly the Millennium Falcon without crashing and dying due to inexperience or being able to understand droid/alien languages can’t make her a true Mary Sue, for example. Many of the people who call her a Mary Sue refer to Rey’s ability to use the Force skillfully and quickly as a supporting factor in their argument, which would possibly be a good point if The Force Awakens weren’t a film that takes place in universe where the Force exists. Since Episode VII is aptly titled The Force Awakens, I figured it was obvious that the main plotline of this film would be the Force awakening in someone; that someone happened to be Rey and thus the movie had its plot.
According to Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Wiki, the Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. While it surrounds and penetrates everyone, only Force-sensitives can tap into it. Rey happens to be one of those Force-sensitives and can therefore tap into the Force and use it in a variety of ways. As we’ve seen in past films, some can understand and use its power more quickly than others and some have greater powers while others don’t (Luke and Leia are a good example of varying strength among Force-sensitives). Seemingly all it takes to tap into ones Force abilities is a belief in the Force itself and a will to understand and control it. Some have claimed that Rey’s usage of the Force makes little sense due to her not knowing about it or believing in it, but that is not entirely accurate. While we aren’t necessarily told exactly how much Rey knew of the Force before being told by Han Solo that it definitely exists, it’s made clear soon enough that by the time she actually starts using it she does believe in its existence. This is thanks to her experience after touching Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber at Maz Kanada’s; it was as if the lightsaber was calling to her and her touching it awakened the Force within her, much to her initial dismay. She soon begins to understand her abilities once she is captured by Kylo Ren, Episode VII’s antagonist and someone who is trained in the Dark Side of the Force.
While being interrogated with the Force by Kylo Ren, Rey discovered that she was able to push back on him with Force powers of her own. After taking the Force for a test drive by using it to trick a Stormtrooper into releasing her from her confinement, Rey escapes. Upon learning of her escape Kylo Ren clearly states that the more she uses her newfound power the better she will get and heavily implies that learning is a quick process. If all this seems a little to good to be true that’s because it is, but not because Rey is a Mary Sue. The Force is overpowered in and of itself, granting extraordinary powers to all who can use it. It’s a fictional, god-like force of nature within a fictional universe full of fictional beings and devices. Rey being able to use it makes her another Force wielding character like all those before her and not some perfect, all-powerful Mary Sue who is incapable of having flaws. If your main beef with this film is Rey’s ability to use to the Force then blame George Lucas for creating such an all-powerful ability, not Rey for using it within the confines of film like everyone else.
Another prominent complaint made by “Rey is a Mary Sue” supporters is one that directly criticizes her ability to “win” a duel with Kylo Ren at the end of the film even though she had no formal training with the Force or a lightsaber. I suppose it would be an understandable complaint if not for a couple of things. For one, Kylo Ren had just been gut blasted with Chewbacca’s Boltcaster, a weapon shown multiple times in this very film (as well as in past films) to be severely overpowered. This weapon blows Stormtroopers off of their feet and can easily kill folks with one well placed shot. Kylo Ren, who is a bit emotional after just killing his own father, is shot directly in the side with this weapon before ever fighting Rey. The next time we see him he is sweating bullets and pounding the wound with his fist while the camera pans to blood dripping from the wound into the snow. This is no minor wound, to say the least, and it’s made abundantly clear that he is in pain due to it. This is important because clearly being injured in such a way would drain someone’s strength in battle. Rey isn’t paired against a healthy, dark side wielding warrior. She’s going up against an injured, mentally exhausted guy who is in the middle of a long-winded temper tantrum.
Secondly, Rey had a bit of help softening Kylo Ren up before she ever faces him herself so it’s not as if he was in full health and then fought her alone before being beat, thus making Rey a Mary Sue. Finn, one of the film’s other main characters, takes a stab at fighting Kylo Ren with the lightsaber first. He gets a few good jabs into before ultimately being struck down by Kylo. Afterwards, in one of the most awesome scenes of the film, Rey is seen using the Force to bring the lightsaber to her before Kylo can grab it himself. Regardless of her Force abilities, Kylo starts the fight off by kicking her ass due to her inability to accurately wield a lightsaber. We only know her to be trained with a staff and her fists at this point and she is obviously not very good at wielding a sword-like weapons as she simply thrusts it around haphazardly for a while before being pushed to the edge of a cliff by Kylo Ren. But then the plot (you know, that part about the Force awakening) makes itself very clear through Rey seemingly channeling the Force, granting her the ability to begin making headway against Kylo in this fight. She begins pushing back on Kylo, who appears surprised by her newly found strength and is still in a lot of pain, ultimately knocking him down after a good slice along his face. To summarize: Rey is learning to use the Force, Kylo Ren makes note of this then gets shot in the side with one of the most powerful guns we have seen in all of Star Wars, Kylo fights Finn and wins, Kylo fights Rey and wins for a bit then Rey channels the Force (plot!) and overpowers the injured, tired and angry Kylo Ren.
I’d like someone to explain to me how that, the thing that most people are complaining about and using to support the argument that Rey is a Mary Sue, means she is absolutely perfect or somehow unbelievably extraordinary. If this happened in a film without the Force then I might be able to see where the connection between these incidents and the Mary Sue label could be made, but it would still be stretch. Given that it does take place in the Star Wars universe and that the Force is a dominant factor, I don’t see it. Either way, her enemy was severely injured before fighting her and even then Rey didn’t just pick up a lightsaber and duel Kylo a la Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar. Here is where I get to the biggest and most glaring reason as to why Rey isn’t a Mary Sue: she doesn’t actually save the day. All she did was fight one person and barely win. The thing that saved the day was the destruction of the Starkiller base which she literally had no part in. That was all done by Han, Chewbacca, Finn, Poe Dameron and the rest of the Resistance’s fighter pilots. This shows all the films main characters working together, not a Mary Sue character being better than everyone else and doing it all by her lonesome because she is just that awesome. So there goes that. The only thing she could be a Mary Sue for is her use of the Force and the Kylo Ren fight, both of which were explained via the whole “Force awakening in Rey” plotline that this film is basically based upon. If the plot is something you take issue with then so be it, you are entitled to that opinion, but that’s simply not enough to accurately label Rey a Mary Sue. If she defeated an uninjured Kylo with no struggle and blew up Starkiller base with no real opposition then I’d allow the term “Mary Sue” to flow freely as a description of Rey.
My second issue with the use of the term Mary Sue to describe Rey is that if it were true, if she really was a Mary Sue character, then she’d honestly fit right in alongside past Star Wars film protagonists. Remember in Star Wars Episode I when Anakin was a small child slave living in a run down junk yard on a crappy planet yet went on to win a Pod Race against all odds allowing him to be freed from servitude into the care of two Jedi then after a ridiculous series of events ended up flying a ship into the Trade Federation headquarters and blowing the whole thing up alone? That is what I would call a great description of a Gary Stu, the male version of a Mary Sue. Also, do you remember in Star Wars Episode IV when Luke, the teenage nobody who helped at his Uncle’s run down moisture farm for his whole life on the same crappy planet as Anakin, found the last Jedi miraculously and was then sent on an extraordinary journey that led to him saving his sister from a torturous death and then blowing up the Death Star pretty much singlehandedly, thus saving the day? Another great description of a Gary Stu. Of course both characters were able to do what they did due to being Force-sensitive and because they were the main characters, which is the whole point of these films and the Force in general as it allows people to do extraordinary things. It’s science-fiction not science-fact and these films are fantastical no matter how unrealistic they seem, that is what makes Star Wars so entertaining. There is no real reason to criticize these two characters despite their flawlessness because they are the heroes. Yet when Rey does something similar yet nowhere near the level of over-the-top, save-the-entire-day-singlehandedly heroism as displayed by her predecessors, she is heavily criticized.
I wouldn’t bring this up with as much fervor as I have if not for the fact that Anakin and Luke are rarely, if ever, criticized to nearly the same extent as Rey for their Gary Stu-ness. When people call Rey a Mary Sue, they mean it negatively. This is a character flaw to them and something that is unbelievable, which has ultimately made them think negatively about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens as a whole. If that isn’t how they mean it, then they don’t understand the term Mary Sue. While I am no stranger to calling out sexism I don’t like to shoot straight to that as a label of people’s behavior in regards to criticism of female characters due to the fact that it is a strong accusation and isn’t always accurate. That being said, I can’t put any other label on this criticism of Rey due to the aforementioned reasons. If Anakin and Luke were equally criticized for being Gary Stu’s then I wouldn’t call it sexism to claim the same of Rey, but given that they simply aren’t I can’t help but assume that the only reason it’s a problem for Rey is because she is a female. It’s no secret that many people have qualms about women taking on leading roles in action/fantasy/sci-fi movies due to some sort of ill-perceived inability for women do lead a film in the same way a man could. Apparently the fact that the Force, an invisible force of nature in a fictional world that allows people to do ridiculous inhuman things, exists isn’t an issue but a woman using it in lesser ways than her male predecessors definitely is. Given what I’ve already gone over in regards to Rey not even being a Mary Sue to begin with, there is no other conclusion to come to: the people calling Rey a Mary Sue are doing so out of either blatant or subconscious sexism. I feel as if this shouldn’t even be a conversation I need to be having given Anakin and Luke’s storylines in previous Star Wars films but sadly it is and I can’t help but feel that the only reason I’m even having to talk about this is because Rey is a woman.
Lastly, I said my final issue with this turn of events is that it isn’t really a movie ruining flaw. I enjoyed Episode IV despite Luke’s ability to save the day with no real experience because I knew that he was able to do those things thanks to the Force, which is the point of the film. I didn’t care for Episode I but that wasn’t because of Anakin’s ability to save the day through unbelievably extraordinary means. The point again was the Force and how it was strong with him. Why is Rey doing a few things with the Force in Episode VII a “movie ruining flaw”? Is it because it’s unbelievable? Maybe, but if you feel that way I have no idea why you bothered seeing the film because you probably hated all the other films for the same reason or have yet to see them, which would be another issue entirely. Given the existence of the Force, the past usage of the Force in previous films and the Star Wars universe in general I don’t see any of what I have discussed, true or not, to be film-ruining. You either enjoy the film(s) or don’t. It’s entirely up to you. I simply urge you to keep in mind what I have talked about here, because it’s important to consider it all before criticizing the entirety of a character due to something that isn’t all that outrageous in the universe she exists in. Among all the misinformed opinions surrounding this whole “Rey is a Mary Sue” debate, I can’t help but think that there are some people who simply want to hate Star Wars Episode VII and are thus grasping at straws to support their stance. At the end of the day the best I can do is attempt to inform and my hope is that this article does just that. So if you read through all of this and still think that Rey is a movie ruining Mary Sue character then I think you may be the one with the problem.