There have been many articles circling the internet since Star Wars: The Force Awakens released in cinemas that have sparked a complex debate about its lead character, Rey. At the forefront of this discussion has been the frequent accusation that the character is a “Mary Sue”*. Just how valid is this complaint?
As is unfortunately commonplace with a lot of current media nowadays, a lot of discussions about the strengths and failings of our favourite characters are being made from very subjective viewpoints, loaded with wordplay and expression that often seem more interested in pushing the writer’s personal agenda than actually taking the time to take a critical and analytical look at these characters.
With this article, my hope is to dissect this “controversial” subject as objectively as possible, whilst also keeping my analysis free of bias and rooted within the established lore and canon of the Star Wars Universe. I will try my best not to inject any gender politics or moral bias into this article.
As should be a given, this article will contain a tonne of spoilers for the movie and the franchise in general, so consider yourself warned!
*The term Mary Sue has a number of interpretations. Originally it was coined as a phrase to describe a female character that resembles the author but is often portrayed as perfect and infallible, who is then self-inserted into a fan-fiction. Nowadays it is generally used simply to describe a character that appears to lack flaws, weaknesses or depth.
I will tackle as many of the major complaints as possible; hopefully I can make a compelling argument against the numerous criticisms that her character has received.
Rey can manipulate The Force despite a lack of training
The most common complaint that has been made against Rey in The Force Awakens is that she seems unnaturally talented at manipulating The Force, especially for someone who has presumably never been exposed to it. Some point out that she is capable of feats that go well beyond what either Luke or Anakin were capable of in their respective films.
This is simply not true.
It’s very heavily implied during The Force Awakens that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. Why is this relevant? Because she almost definitely possesses repressed Jedi abilities.
During a particularly important scene around the middle part of the movie, Rey has a Force Vision. In it, we see that the Millennium Falcon (more on this later) brought her to the planet of Jakku as a child, where she has lived ever since.
The likely reason for this, based on the other visions that we see in this scene, is that she is the only surviving Jedi from Kylo Ren’s massacre at Luke’s temple. It is very likely that that she is the last, and only, Jedi (besides Luke) left in the galaxy, having had her memories of these experiences wiped and her abilities locked away in an effort to hide her from The First Order.
It’s clear from all of this that Rey isn’t just some sudden magical hero. She simply regained abilities she already possessed, Abilities which aren’t actually as powerful as people are making them out to be…
Rey’s Force abilities are too powerful
Are they really?
The first time that we really see Rey knowingly tap into the Force of her own volition, she is being held captive. In this scene, we see her successfully apply a Jedi mind trick on the Daniel Craig-sized stormtrooper guarding her cell, convincing him to unlock her restraints and leave the room.
We’ve already established the very likely fact that Rey already has some repressed Jedi abilities, as explained in the previous point. Despite this, we see that she is initially unsuccessful at applying the mind trick on him, and only succeeds after multiple attempts and deliberate focus.
This isn’t exactly Jedi Masters level of manipulation she is displaying here.
The only other time we see her display any sort of competent Force abilities in The Force Awakens is during her battle against Kylo Ren. When people try to criticise the fact that she was able to stand toe-to-toe in a lightsaber battle against a trained Sith, they seem to inescapably ignore a very crucial part of this scene: Kylo ends up severely wounded and is bleeding out. The one hit she got in on him was pure, blind luck. He isn’t physically capable of fighting at his best, and the fight ultimately ends in a draw.
Also, Lightsabers are not a magical weapon that only trained Jedis can wield, as Finn displayed in that same scene. Though Jedi training goes a long way in helping to craft and wield them effectively, they can be used by anyone.
Rey shouldn’t be able to fly the Millennium Falcon that well
This is another common criticism, but it is also one of the easiest to explain. There are in fact two reasons why Rey’s ability to fly the Millennium Falcon so well isn’t that big of a deal.
First, we have to look at the visual story-telling employed in the first act of The Force Awakens. Through numerous character building scenes, we are explicitly shown that Rey has an interest and passion for tinkering with machines. It’s only through this tinkering that she is able to improve the stability of the ship enough to make it fly at all. It was falling apart.
If anything, this only helps to emphasise Han Solo’s ability to fly the beloved spacecraft, because he never needed to do this sort of tinkering to master her navigation. He was able to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs after all. I’d like to see Rey try and do that!
The second reason seems to be an often overlooked one, but it’s one which requires us to look outside of this particular film and into the wider franchise for answers.
If we support the idea that Rey is Luke’s daughter, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that both Luke and Anakin also displayed exceptional piloting skills in their premier films, with little to no prior experience.
Their superior hand-eye coordination skills have have long been attributed to the fact that they are force-sensitive. If we’re going to attribute this line of reasoning to Luke and Anakin, we have to attribute it to Rey as well. Within her lineage, this is not an exceptional ability. To single out her natural Force sensitive talents while ignoring theirs feels like a case of very selective bias.
Rey has no character flaws
The staple of a “Mary Sue” character is their lack of personal flaws. They project themselves as being perfect at everything, and incapable of failure or limitations. This is the crux of the arguments made against Rey… but it simply isn’t true.
The lovely Angela Night goes into great detail about this particular topic in her own analysis of the character (though she’s far more critical of the character than I am), but it boils down to this – on the surface, Rey is incredibly impulsive, reactive, and stubborn.
She deliberately keeps her distance from people, having spent her entire life on a planet where kindness doesn’t appear to be in common supply, and self-preservation is the only way to stay alive. When faced with the offer of support , she expresses the need to do these things herself, and only accepts help with reluctance. People are a burden to her.
This is highlighted not only by her interactions with Finn on Jakku, but for a good 20 minutes in a specific part of the film. During our hero’s stop at Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana, she is so overcome by her fear of the horrors she has to face that she runs away from them. This is her most defining moment of weakness in the film, and it a huge one, because it ultimately ends in her capture.
Rey has many moments in the movie where her flaws are shown to us and explored, but this seems to have been largely glossed over by most critics for some reason. Am I reading into these scenes too much, or do you think these are valid observations? Please let me know!
I do not think The Force Awakens is a perfect movie. My biggest gripe with the film is in how heavily it relies on nostalgia, retreading practically the entire plotline of the original, with only a handful of minor changes. I do not think it’s a terrible film either. It’s biggest strengths for me are the new characters that it introduces to the series, especially Rey. They are provided with interesting situations and character development that add a lot to the Star Wars universe, in a natural and compelling way.
Why is Rey being so heavily criticised? Is it because she is legitimately a badly written character? Is it because she is a lead female character in possibly one of the biggest films ever made?
I have no concrete answers to these question, only my own views. All I do know is that I genuinely enjoyed seeing Rey on the big screen, and I think there’s a lot more about her to be revealed than what we know so far. Until that happens, I will be keeping my eye on that galaxy far, far away, waiting to find out more….
What about you?
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