“A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. Often this character is recognized as an author insert or wish-fulfillment.” – Wikipedia
In other words, a Mary Sue is generally a character who should not be able to accomplish tasks, and not only are they able to do so, they are able to do so with amazing results. So, for example, a Community College student who is focused on Journalism hears about a chemical formula, and somehow comes up with a better formula, much to the surprise of the scientists that have been working on it for years.
That character, the student, should not be able to understand advanced formulas, much less build upon it and outperform seasoned veterans. That’s where the character falls apart and becomes the “Mary Sue”.
That is not to say that your journalist student cannot be an experienced chemist who left the field years ago and is drawn back in later in life, but the importance here is context. If a character is given context for whatever skill is being utilized, it can often resolve any concerns of sue syndrome, as long as these fit realistically in the character backstory.
Mary Sue: A journalist college student diffuses a bomb in a tense situation by cutting the right wire. He explains how he made the decision, but no backstory explains how he could have known to do so. In reality, he’s young and inexperienced and never has he been around bombs. It isn’t realistic that he can diffuse it!
Not Mary Sue: A grizzled veteran that used to be on the bomb squad ends up becoming a journalist back home in the states. He gets caught in a tense situation and is forced to disarm a bomb like he did in the past.
The key to Mary Sue isn’t how skilled they are. It’s how realistically skilled they are. If you can fit a proper explanation into the backstory, then the character can stand on their own.
This is particularly important in Science-Fiction or Fantasy genre stories where magic is involved. It blurs the lines of the framework because magic often makes impossible things into possible things.
So, with the concept squared away, let’s talk about Rey from Episode 7.
Debunking the Mary Sue Myths in Episode 7
“The first time Luke tried out his lightsaber he was awkward and struggled with Obi Wan’s initial tests. The first time Rey picked up a lightsaber, she kicked the butt of Kylo Ren, the main villain of the movie without any training.”
Comparing Luke and Rey is probably the first mistake, especially when it comes to combat.
- Luke only roughly understood blasters and nothing about hand-to-hand combat. Rey spent every day of her life fighting for survival. She salvaged parts for food. It is easy to conclude that when she found valuable pieces, she was likely confronted by other scavengers who wanted it for themselves. Rey and self-defense go together very well. The first time she picked up a lightsaber she had literal years of experience over Luke Skywalker.
- Meanwhile, Kylo Ren is given way too much credit in this film. The only things he executes are unarmed old men and expensive military equipment. He is not fully trained, he is emotionally compromised in the final battle, and he is physically wounded too. It seems a bit of a stretch to think that Kylo was in any shape to win that fight.
“Luke had initial pilot experience which helped him in the final battle against the death star. Rey had no pilot experience, yet the first time she flew she was able to do crazy aerial maneuvers through small crevices.”
Well, here’s where things get interesting.
- Rey states quite plainly that she is a pilot, but the movie doesn’t really give us any context as to how or why she is able to fly ships. The mistake here is that the writers didn’t give her a line of dialogue like they did to Luke in Episode IV. She doesn’t get to quip about shooting womp rats with her T-16. So, I am in agreement that this one could have used a line of dialogue. Perhaps she flew the “puddlejumper” as she called it for her boss every now and again? It’s not hard to come up with context on our own, but the movie didn’t give us a line, so I yield that this is Rey’s one questionable talent.
- As far as knowing how it operates, however, it’s clear that she knows ships. She lives and works in a junkyard. She obviously knows a lot about ships, about their systems, and probably anything else you can think about. How else would she survive? She needs to be able to identify valuable components and retrieve them without damage. She’s got it together in the hardware department and she puts that to use in the Falcon. The scenes where she’s fixing or patching the Falcon make sense without additional context.
- This brings us to the final twist on this topic. We don’t let Rey off the hook for simply stating she is a pilot, but we are willing to assume that a few flights in a T-16 back home somehow prepared Luke for dog fights in space? That’s absurd. No amount of flying in the canyons of Tatooine would prepare Luke to go up against skilled pilots that do this sort of thing every day. He should have been shot out of the sky by an Imperial pilot on the first attack run. It feels a little like this one is letting Luke have a free pass, but calling out Rey.
In the Star Wars universe we accept that the Force guides people through these events. The Force is literally with them. Episode 4 shows us very clearly that the destruction of the Death Star happens because the Force was with Luke on his run through the trench. It’s fairly safe to say young Rey had the Force guiding her as she flew the Falcon in Episode 7.
Additionally, with recent insight into the Force from Rogue One, it’s also possible to say that Luke and Rey may not have been hit by lasers if they’d tried. If the Force wills these events, are they simply vessels for it?
“Luke’s initial forays into the force where laborious. Rey learned mind control on her own out of nowhere and successfully manipulated a storm trooper.”
This is actually a fallacy for a few reasons:
- Luke’s laborious struggles with the Force weren’t fully explored until The Empire Strikes Back. In Episode 4, Luke embraces the Force, if not a little hesitantly on the Falcon, and it rewards him with a giant explosion. We witness a farm boy with no military experience as he successfully engages and defeats a massive Imperial assault. This would put him in the Mary Sue framework if not for the context of the Force. The same should apply to Rey.
- Rey and Luke approach the Force differently, but not until later. As we see in Empire, Luke struggles with the idea that he can let the force flow. After watching Yoda lift his X-Wing from the swampy waters he says, “I don’t believe it.” Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.” Luke’s story of the Force becomes one of reluctant duty. He hesitates at every step of the journey.
- Rey does not resist or doubt as Luke did. She dives right in. Yoda would have told her to lift the X-Wing and she would have said, “I can do that?!” Yoda would nod, and then Rey would lift the ship. She didn’t doubt. She didn’t struggle. She accepted it and immediately starting testing her abilities. To accept something as truth, to put your faith in it and believe in it, that is Rey’s character.
- The mind control thing is something my wife and I discussed as we watched it this last time. Honestly, I’ve decided it is a scene that best demonstrates the difference between Luke and Rey. After each failure, she works harder. She believes she can do it, she just has to do it. Luke would have given up. It defines the point I made above. The story question, of course, is how did she know to even try doing that? The answer is stories. The Jedi are mythical, but mythical stories still persist. Let’s not forget that in Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt is fully aware of Luke’s ability to mind control people and informs him it won’t work. I suspect Rey always heard stories of such an ability and thought to herself, “I can do this!”
“In the new trilogy, we already know Rey can whoop Kylo Ren. So what’s the training with Luke for? So she can beat him harder the next time?”
A few points on this one too:
- Kylo wasn’t fully trained. It’s clear that facing his father was part of a test to join the dark side. It was very similar to how Luke was supposed to kill Vader and then join the Emperor. Han was the next step. I suspect Kylo Ren will be much stronger when we see him again. Perhaps a little calmer, a little more calculating, but still angry and unstable because that’s how the dark side works.
- I’m not sure we’re going to see any training right away. Rey went to get Luke and bring him back. There’s nothing in the movie that implies she is there to become a Jedi. I do expect that to happen at some point, but that wasn’t listed as the reason she went to the planet. In my head I assume that Luke will have to be like Old Ben, trying to convince Rey that she should be a Jedi rather than going back to Jakku.
- And yes. We do want her to beat Kylo harder next time. When Darth Vader, the Dark Lord, got taken out by a cheap shot from Han, he went spinning off into space, seemingly defeated in every way at the end of the film. I think most of us would agree that we want to see Rey and Kylo fight again as much as we wanted to see more from Darth than the washing machine shot.
At the end of the day, Rey’s character doesn’t fit in the Mary Sue framework. She hits a few checkmarks, sure, as does Luke or Anakin Skywalker in their respective trilogies. It would be hard for a character that can literally manipulate our thoughts and physical universe to not at least hit a few of the indicators of an overpowered individual.
The majority of issues around Rey appear to revolve around her exponential growth of power with the Force rather than a slow gain of power through years of meditation and training. To that I say, remember that Luke defeated Darth Vader (who failed to kill Luke in the trench) and blew up the Death Star just a day or two after learning about the Force.
If you still think all of this is nonsense and that Rey really is a Mary Sue, feel free to comment and let me know why! Most importantly, may the Force be with you all. Here’s to the future and the excitement that will be Episode 8!!!