I'm about to do something that has become a rather unpopular thing on the internet -- especially among liberal and progressive-minded people such as myself. I'm about to explain why I consider Rey to have been a "Mary Sue" in Star Wars: the Force Awakens.

I'm not doing this because I want to hate on the movies for the sake of hating them. I'm also not trying to hate on Daisy Ridley, and Daisy, if you read this, I want you to know that I think you did a fantastic job with the material that was given to you. I'm being critical because I want the movies to be better than they are. I have very high standards and expectations when it comes to Star Wars, and I feel that Disney's efforts so far have been sub-par. So much so that I often find myself using phrases like ... sigh ... "to the prequels' credit". I hate having to say that. It makes my skin crawl every time. I'm at a point, however, in which I find myself pointing out merits in the prequels as a point of contrast against flaws that I perceive in Disney's Star Wars films, as if one set isn't better or worse than the other; but rather, that they are just ... different.

I don't hate Rey. I am critical because I want these characters to be better.

So even though this is kind of old news that's been beaten to death for over two years, let's talk about Rey for a moment. And regardless of which side of this issue you fall on, I hope that you read the following with an open mind. And if you disagree, then that's fine. I'm not going to fight you over it.

"Mary Sue" is a subjective qualifier

Let's start with some background. The definition that I use for a Mary Sue is:

A fictional character (often appearing in fan fiction) who is primarily a vehicle for wish-fullfillment (usually being a self-insert stand-in for the author), and who is unjustifiably-competent in multiple fields -- if not everything.

Typically, these characters are good at everything they do. They get along with other established characters exceedingly well (sometimes even being romantically pursued by one or more of the canonical characters). They have few (if any) flaws. They are an idealized character who is essentially a "perfect" character within the fiction. They are also -- pretty much by definition -- characters who are added to a fictional setting long after its initial establishment.

The term "Mary Sue" is derived
from Star Trek fan fiction.

The term originated in Star Trek fan fiction, having been coined in 1973 after the publication of a parody story "A Trekkie's Tale" in the fan magazine Menagerie. This particular story (written by Paula Smith) was about a 15-year-old female character named Mary Sue, and it satirized the unrealistic nature of many characters in other fan fiction stories. Lieutenant Sue was the youngest Lieutenant in Starfleet and was an expert in virtually everything she did. She was "the best and the brightest" of Starfleet.

First off, I want to get one thing straight: whether or not a character is a "Mary Sue" is a subjective opinion. Whether or not any individual reader or viewer considers a given character as a "Mary Sue" is going to depend greatly upon where that individual draws the line between "justifiably-competent" and "unjustifiably-competent". That line will vary from person to person, and from fictional universe to fictional universe. I draw that line at a much different place for Star Wars than I do for Star Trek. In addition, this line is not always a hard or clear-cut line. It might be very fuzzy. The fuzziness of the line will also vary from person-to-person and from fictional-universe-to-fictional-universe. It's all on a continuum. Even within a single fictional universe, one character may be " more Mary Sue-ish" than another character.

Identifying a character as a Mary Sue also does not necessarily mean that the work of fiction (or even the character) is inherently bad.

[More]

In my reviews of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I complained about how the speed of communications and hyperspace travel seems to have shrunk the Star Wars universe. I asserted that the writers seem to have no appreciation for the size and scale of this universe, or for galactic conflict. That observation severely hurt my enjoyment of both films. Star Wars has always flown lose with its science, but even though the original trilogy got a lot of details wrong (ahem, "parsec"!), there at least seemed to be an effort to respect some scientific believability. Even the prequels stayed fairly respectful to the size and scale of the universe and conflict. The new movies, by comparison, seem completely (and deliberately) scientifically illiterate.

Keep in mind that the following analysis is coming from someone with only minimal knowledge of the extended universe. I'm more of a Trekker than a Star Wars fan (a "Warser"?). I have tech manuals of the Enterprise and the star charts of the Federation, but no Star Destroyer tech manuals or Imeprial star charts. So my opinions come from the films alone. Besides, all those novels, video games, and comic books have been de-canonized by Disney anyway. If anyone more knowledgeable of the Star Wars extended universe wants to chip in with corroborating or conflicting information, feel free to do so in the comments. Thanks to Disney's meddling, such knowledge may now be moot.

And oh, by the way, it drives me nuts when Star Trek movies make these sorts of mistakes as well. I'm looking at you, Star Trek V and first episode of Enterprise!

Hyperspace originally analogous to contemporary air travel

Let's start by looking at a frame of reference: the trip in the Millenium Falcon in the first Star Wars movie. While the Millennium Falcon is in transit from Tatooine to Alderan, Luke has time to receive some rudimentary Jedi training from Obi Wan, Han calmly relaxes and socializes in the lounge, and Chewbacca has time for at least one game of space-chess against the droids. This hyperspace trip is presented as being analogous to cross-continental (or intercontinental) plane flight: at least enough time for passengers to unfasten their safety belts and wander around the cabin.

Star Wars - lounging in the Millennium Falcon
A hyperspace trip in the Millennium Falcon offers at least enough time for everyone to lounge about.

But an estimate of hours is on the low end of the spectrum of possibilities. As far as I can tell, there's nothing in the movie that negates the possibility of this trip to Alderaan taking days. That would certainly be plenty of time for Obi Wan to teach Luke enough of the basics of Force-sensitivity to enable his "lucky shot" in the climactic Death Star trench run. It would also give the characters enough time to socialize, converse and develop some sense of camaraderie with one another. It's also enough time for Leia to undergo at least a couple rounds of interrogation aboard the Death Star...

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Star Wars the Force Awakens - title

So where do I start ...?

... With the Mary Sue-ish protagonist?

... Or the McGuffin plot device?

... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?

... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?

... Or how about the other fan-service?

... Or the shallow character arcs?

... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?

... How about the weak, forgettable original score?

... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?

Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?

Star Wars the Force Awakens - running from TIE assault
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.

Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!

So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?

And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - X-wings incoming
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?

The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. [More]

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