I’ll admit that I loved The Force Awakens. Yes, I acknowledge that it’s essentially a reboot of A New Hope but still, they could have gone a lot of bad ways with it and they didn’t. I like the feel of the universe, that grungy backwater feel that is Star Wars. It was so awesome to see the Falcon back. It did suck to see Han die but I kinda saw that one coming, especially if you know anything about Harrison Ford’s history with the character.
I personally like the direction of the new movies and I like the core characters that they’ve established. Rey, Finn, Poe are going to be great characters to watch. I love that the Rey character as the new ‘Jedi protagonist’ if that’s a term. At this point, it doesn’t appear that she’s a Skywalker which I hope is the case. It’s nice to see other Force users outside that one family.
I know not everybody loves the new movies or the new characters but everybody has their opinion. I have read comments by some suggesting that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue Character’. From what we know of Rey, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rey does not fit the definition of a Mary Sue in any fashion. She is a fully formed character with a convincing backstory that provides reasonable explanations for her skills and abilities.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
The term “Mary Sue” originated from “A Trekkie’s Tale”, a parody story by Paula Smith in 1973. The main character was one Lieutenant Mary Sue (“the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old”). The story was meant to satirize such characters who had popped up in fiction like Star Trek. This character would often be portrayed as younger than her colleagues (even being a teenager), extremely talented and knowledgeable in a number of disciplines, and usually having some kind of relationship with an older male officer.
Mary Sue stories—the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship. [ Byrd, Patricia (Spring 1978). “Star Trek Lives: Trekker Slang”. American Speech. 53 (1): 52–58. JSTOR 455340. doi:10.2307/455340.]
Another character aspect common to the Mary Sue character is one of idealized wish-fulfillment. The character will be poorly developed and their skills unaccounted for. The character lack realism and dimensions. They’re so idealized, they fail to be interesting.
DEFINING THE TERM
From how the originators of the term describe the main aspects of Mary Sue, I’ve boiled down the character definition to the 3 criteria:
- She is younger than her colleagues and/or she has attained skills impossible for her age.(example: Doogie Howser, Dr. Christmas Jones, or AKA: The Wesley Crusher Syndrome)
- She’s in a relationship(s) with an older officer(s). (example: Rachel Dawes)
- Her character reflects some strong sense of wish fulfillment. (example: Bella Swan)
01: SHE IS YOUNGER THAN COLLEAGUES/YOUNGEST TO ATTAIN SOME GREAT STATUS
Rey is obviously around the same age as both Fin and Kylo Ren but she has not attained any great status over either of them. In fact, she’s really behind the curve having been marooned on a backwater this whole time.
Rey does not possess ‘unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology…”. Her skillset consists of physical agility and strength and piloting her ability. Both of these can be clearly accounted for in her backstory. Further, they are completely reasonable to expect, given her circumstances. Early, we see how she must swing and crawl around wrecked ships, in her job as a scavenger. And just like her harsh life, what better way to train your Force abilities than to train physically. If you look at Rey’s typical day at the office- swinging around, running, climbing. That seemed a lot like Yoda’s training regimen for Luke on Dagobah.
She’s also a good pilot but again, that comes from her circumstances. Unkar Plutt clearly collected ships like the Falcon for a reason. Growing up around him and working as a scavenger, she have had to know all the parts of a starship because she had to find them in massive hulks, just earn enough to eat. Also, in this universe, every other person and their mother is called “a skilled pilot” or “exceptional pilot”. It’s like being a good driver here. So, her being a good pilot is also explained by the rules of that universe.
Rey is nothing like young Anakin in The Phantom Menace who has a lot of almost impossible, abilities at a very young age. Nor does she Resemble Wesley Crusher who seemed to have amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of multiple subjects and told people how to run the ship. Rey is never portrayed ever some inexplicable child prodigy, with advanced degrees and incredible abilities at an unreasonably. She’s a competent pilot who knows her way around a ship and has Force abilities that she’s just now tapping at age 19 or whatever.
03: SHE HAS A RELATIONSHIP WITH AN OLDER OFFICER(S)
The implication on this one is a romantic relationship that allows the Mary Sue character “sleep her way to top”. There is no such relationship, nor does Rey seek one. Nobody gives her a break because of who she’s in a relationship with. Han only offers her a job/protege type position after seeing her skill and knowledge of the Falcon, which again is clearly accounted for.
Nor does Rey have familial connections on which ride. Unkar Plutt seemed to have raised her more as a slave or an employee than a family member. Rey had nobody really, and had to make it on her own. Rey does not come close to fitting this criteria for a Mary Sue. Rey certainly looks up to Han as a father-figure but it’s clear there will be no hanky panky and she doesn’t use that relationship to get anything.
04: THE CHARACTER REFLECTS SOME STRONG SENSE OF WISH FULFILLMENT
There are a lot of lazily written characters. When one has this idyllic life and somehow falls ass-backward into success, fame and fortune. There’s no wish fulfillment or undeveloped character here. This a very capable young woman who’s lead a hard life and can handle herself. The character is as fully developed as any of the others in the film.Rey has a hard-knocks life that’s not ideal by any means. She has real skills, developed from a real life. In the end, she’s not the singular savior of the day. She just continues the mission.
Besides her physical abilities- fighting/agility and piloting, she also quickly develops Force skills throughout the movie. Again, such a quick acquisition of some Force skills has been shown before. It’s also been established that Force ability can be passed down, it just needs to be accessed. When you consider the harsh conditions, with no real parental care, eeking out a living by scavenging; if one had hereditary Force ability, such an existence would certainly help develop them.
Contrast Rey’s background with Luke’s. Both are abandoned on their respective homeworlds, both harsh, desert worlds. Luke is left with in-laws, who lead a moderately comfortable life. Rey is left with Unkar Plutt, who seems to raise her more as a slave than as family. Rey had nobody really, and had to make it on her own. He probably trains her to be a scavenger almost immediately. Luke on the hand, doesn’t have a harsh life at all. This is confirmed by Yoda who says of him, “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away to the future, to the horizon…” [The Empire Strikes Back, 1980] While Luke’s existence is sparse, his main complaint is boredom.
Imagine 10 year old Rey swinging dangerously around the hulk of star destroyer, while Luke is sitting around playing with his model of a T-19, hoping he doesn’t have to do chores on the moisture farm. Meanwhile, Rey doesn’t have any time to complain about her life under Unkar Plutt and argue about leaving. Luke is able to quickly develop Force powers after learning some focus exercises from Ben. By the end of TFA, Rey hasn’t really shown any more force ability than Luke did after one day of hanging out with Obi-Wan.
Rey’s background and life made her much more likely to be the hero than many other hero characters. In The Last Starfighter, Alex goes from a teenager who’s good a at video game to a galactic hero. In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker goes from bratty junior moisture farmer to Savior of the Rebellion almost overnight. Rey on the other hand, played a part in the finale but wasn’t the main savior of the day. She didn’t even get a medal, just sent on her mission to find Luke right after seeing her new father-figure murdered. No glory, no wish-fulfillment; apart from the general wish-fulfillment of any heroic character.
Rey is not portrayed as some kind of wunderkind who has advanced knowledge in a plethora of fields, often putting higher ups to shame. Rey’s Force powers and impressive agility, physical acumen, etc are all very clearly accounted for in her hard life on Jakku.
When you look at Rey’s skillset: physical agility, piloting, and Force ability; they be accounted for in her life experiences or the rules of that universe. She has not accumulated knowledge in obscure subjects nor was she hailed some kind of wunderkind.
I think maybe that was the purpose of her exile there. Just as luke was hidden from the emperor, Rey needed a hard life to develop her Force skills. Just making it to the age she has probably involved more Force sense than she’s even aware of. Whoever left her there knew that she would someday be the only jedi to face Kylo Ren and had to be essentially training her whole life. By the time both leave their homeworlds, Rey is much more savvy, experienced, and physically trained than Luke; who seems almost lazy in comparison.
Further, Rey never relies on her ‘feminine wiles’ to accomplish goals, nor is she sleeping her way through the ranks, as a Mary Sue character would do. Her character is fully capable and independent, which is a complete reversal from the MS who relies on her relationships to help her out.
Lastly, just as a precaution, I decided to take the Mary Sue Test for Rey here:
Your character is 19% a Mary Sue!
Original characters at this level could probably take a bit of spicing up, but fan characters are probably pretty good. Please remember that the traits listed in this test are not in themselves bad, but can be be bad when added up. I am not trying to bash your character.
Only 19% Mary Sue. Not that bad. Hey, if you can’t trust a quiz you took on the internet, then what’s the purpose of anything?