WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens below. Proceed with caution.
Greetings and salutations, fine readers! It has definitely been a while since my last post. I sort of blame school and my writer’s block – but I’m back! I hope your holidays were fun and full of adventure.
The last time I posted here was when The Force Awakens trailer was shown during Monday Night Football all those months ago. The film was finally released almost two weeks ago, and I had the opportunity to watch it on opening night (unfortunately not at 7PM because those tickets sold out like wildfire at my local theatres – but I did manage to see it at 9PM with one of my best friends)! The feeling of watching a Star Wars film with an incredibly enthusiastic bunch of people is exhilarating. Everyone cheered, clapped, and gasped at the same moments – from the Lucasfilm logo to the “Long time ago…” card all the way to the end credits. The world didn’t seem as big as usual for those two hours. The film was magical.
I ended up watching it three times* in theaters.
(More on that later.)
In the week and a half following the release of the film, many pieces picking the film apart have been published by various outlets and blogs. Many of them have provided great theories and character analyses. I’ve decided to jump into the fray and write my own piece about one of my favorite characters from the new trilogy: Rey.
(Here is where the spoilers start. Read at your own risk if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens!)
The day after the second time I saw The Force Awakens, I found this article on The Verge. I was sort of taken aback by its title: “With Star Wars’ Rey, we’ve reached Peak Strong Female Character: and there’s nothing wrong with that”. It analyzed the backlash of The Force Awakens from people on the internet. These internet’s target this time? Rey. Yep, Rey.
Here are a few examples posted by The Verge:
Rey sucks as a character. It’s a stereotype that only exists in liberal dreams. NO ONE will go see these movies because of her.
— The stove (@stactandstaw) December 16, 2015
Star Wars: The Mary Sue Awakens *spoiler* pic.twitter.com/Ov54eHcsNf
— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) December 19, 2015
Oooooooookay! Let’s get down to business (toooooo defeat/ the Huns–*clears throat*, okay).
First of all, let’s define what a ‘Mary Sue’ is. Hit it, Google! *heavy drum ditty*
Thanks, Wikipedia! Yes, there are people out there calling Rey a Mary Sue. I’m going to be honest here: I don’t see why this is happening. Of course, a movie belongs to its audience once it is released, so people are bound to have their own opinions regarding things.
Here’s mine: she’s not a Mary Sue. Let’s break it down by some the points of criticism.
- She’s a super scavenger/too perfect of a mechanic/pilot | Rey was left on Jakku when she was five, and became one of Unkar Plutt’s indentured servants, forced to scavenge to earn her portions each day. She learned how to climb and rappel – you have to when you’re navigating old, junked Star Destroyers and other large equipment. Rey’s a fantastic mechanic because she always has to pick through these ships – she built her own speeder. You have to be resourceful on a planet like Jakku. RE: the pilot thing: did you see how many times the Millennium Falcon almost crashed when she piloted it for the first time?
- She’s fluent in so many languages! What the hell? | She’s lived on something that was pretty much like a trade port since she was five. You’re bound to learn a bunch of languages in an environment like this – Han knew how to speak Wookiee, but no one questioned that!
- She’s a blaster user and perfect shot | Pure chance. She isn’t even that much of a perfect shot (did we watch the same movie?). She didn’t even know how to use a blaster until Han explained it to her.
- Force User/Lightsaber Dueler | I’m not even going to get into theories right now, but just because some random person from a random desert planet came across some random droids and found out they had mystical powers beyond explanation, doesn’t mean–hey, wait doesn’t that sound familiar?
Whoa! Not familiar at all! I know Luke was not the best lightsaber dueler at first – but he managed to take the Death Star out with one shot using the Force he had just begun to learn how to use (one should also note that Obi-Wan had died before he could fully train Luke in person), which I guess does tie into Point #3. A lot of her knowledge of Force powers seem to stem from stories she’d heard growing up (e.g. Jedi mind tricks, moving things, etc.) – and from this knowledge came application when the time came for her powers to be awakened.
Those are just some of the main points. Contrary to the Mary Sue definition, Rey definitely does have flaws. She sometimes acts without thinking – the scene where the rathtars are released on Han and Chewie’s freighter is a great example. After coming up with her plan to trap the gangs behind the blast doors above them, she just starts pulling levers and ripping cords – only to find that she released creatures capable of wiping out countries/cities on the ship. Another example – she ran away from her problems after the force-induced vision she had at Maz Kanata’s palace without facing them directly.
I feel a lot of the criticism thrown at Rey is stated by those who cannot accept the fact that a female can lead this franchise. For a long time, the Star Wars universe was primarily filled with men. Female X-wing pilots were supposed to be a part of the team that destroyed the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, but they were cut out and any voice-overs were re-recorded by men at the last minute. We had Leia, and she was absolutely perfect, but she couldn’t be powerful without being taken by Jabba the Hutt and put in a gross metal bikini to prove she “wasn’t a prude” (more on this some other time).
The men in the franchise didn’t have to take off any clothes or explain their super abilities – we accepted than Han was a perfect shot and got with a Princess, that Luke was an ace pilot and mechanic. Hell, we do this with a lot of male protagonists in popular media. We don’t complain that James Bond is pretty much a suave spy stereotype, or that most superheroes we see on screen appear to not have any flaws. We don’t cry, “LOOK AT THESE GARY STUS!”
When media reflects reality – in this case, the fact that a female character can rule the galaxy – there is a lot of backlash because we are conditioned to believe these spaces are the worlds of men. When a woman takes up space and is at the level of these male characters we have grown to love, we cry out that she is the “Peak Strong Female Character” or a Mary Sue. Why is there a limit to the growth and perfection of female characters when we allow male characters to run like crazy and embody all the stereotypes we know?
Just some food for thought. All in all, Daisy Ridley does an amazing job at portraying Rey. The subtleties in her expressions are beautiful and give the character a lot more depth than people think. Rey is quickly becoming an iconic character of this generation thanks to Ridley’s fantastic portrayal and a great script.
Until next time, and May the Force be With You.
*I am up to three viewings of the film as of this writing. Highly recommend IMAX 3D.
*The scene where Rey finally wields Luke’s lightsaber against Kylo Ren with the Force Theme playing in the background brought tears to my eyes because, yes, ladies can rule the galaxy. You destroy that bastard who destroyed Han Solo.