So, oddly enough, just days after being released, already fans of one group have decided to come out against fans of another. Or rather of the general whole of the plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I would argue that this is being done through a whiny need to belittle the fact that arguably the strongest lead in this new movie is Rey, the new female cast member. …And not, say, Kylo Ren the cool new dark jedi, who had a legion of followers before he even spoke a word of dialogue.
I mean, just look at that costume! What a look!
Anyway, minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched, but it’s been out for like at least three days now, what have you been doing with your life?!
Okay, the general argument going around is that Rey is a Mary-Sue character because she is TOO GOOD. Too good at piloting. Too good with the force. She beats Kylo Ren, after all!
I call bullshit. On basically all of this. And I’ll start at the beginning of what we know about Rey’s story, which isn’t all that much.
- Rey was abandoned on the planet of Jakku at as a young child. She might have had some sort of guardian, maybe, but we know she’s been caring for herself for a long time. We’re shown a wall where she scratches off days, and there are a lot of scratches.
- Rey can pilot, at least on land. She says this, and we’re shown this.
- Rey has guts. We’re shown this based on how she gathers her goods when savaging (holy crap, her climbing!), and how she faces down what’s his name to save BB-8.
- Rey has morals. She gives up food, lots of food, in order to protect BB-8.
- Rey has calm and focus. She’s shown sitting alone, basically meditating behind a helmet. Staring off into the distance. Waiting. She doesn’t whine. She doesn’t complain. She has patience. Patience that has lasted years.
- Rey can fight, and do so with a long weapon. We see this when she fights off thugs in the market with her staff.
- Rey has joy. Though there is sadness in her in the loss of her family, and worry and fear in her need to get back to Jakku, she is also joyful at the experiences of being out and about. In experiencing the galaxy. In meeting new people. She is, in essence, light in this way.
In these things, I would argue that unlike Anakin or Luke or “Kylo”, Rey comes to the Force as an adult. She is not whiny, self-absorbed, or entitled. She is calm, focused, and moves only with need. Primarily a need to protect and survive, never one to hurt others or to endanger the balance of the Force in any way. (And I would also argue that the Force is currently unbalanced and it’s possible that the Force is reaching out to Rey specifically, but that’s not entirely necessary for my point, a more active Force, which is seen more in the EU and fan-theory.)
Also, in the fight scene in particular, we need to remember that Kylo Ren is injured (and has been pounding on that injury because…sure, why not), and has already battled Finn. He’s not coming to this fight fresh. We need to recall that Rey is on the back foot for at least 90% of the fight. She gets in a few good hits, and SkB splits, separating them so they can’t finish their fight. She didn’t win, their fight is unfinished. Granted, he wasn’t doing well, not at all, but I wouldn’t call that over. If he’s not dead, it’s not a win.
Moving on to the pilot thing. I cite Luke and little Ani. Luke had never flown off-world either, but he was put in the main battle, and ended up being in the final position. We don’t know what he flew when he was a kid. All we saw him drive is a speeder. We know he fired at small targets, and someone else says he’s a great pilot, but that’s all we get. We get roughly the same from Rey. She drives her speeder, says she can fly. And yet, when she does fly, suddenly she’s not supposed to be able to.
This is a question of the times, I think. If the internet were a thing in ’77, Luke would have been called out on his piloting, too. This bothers me slightly less.
Then we have the final direct Force use. The mind trick. We already know she’s heard stories. She and Finn both have, and Han confirms these stories to be true. Maz Kanata gives her a bit of a crash course in the Force, and she’s briefly haunted by an old lightsaber, which calls for her using the voices of dead jedi masters. It’s no surprise to me that she’d try the trick. And that it would fail at first. And that she would then center herself, based on what Maz Kanata told her, and based on her own focus and calm, her own experience being alone and taking care of her own self in a harsh environment (god knows what she went through as a young girl in that place, can you imagine?), and pulled what needed to be done out of her in her time of need.
Luke did it, at the end of Empire, calling out for Leia. Possibly at the beginning of Empire, calling his lightsaber to him, though maybe he’d done that before.
Anakin might have done this in the prequels, but I don’t remember much from them but the whining and the child murder and the flips.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the heck out of Kylo Ren. It was awesome seeing a person doing the “(dark) jedi in turmoil with the Force” right. But he was still a whiny, self-entitled little shit, who lost his cool at the drop of a hat. Even though he thought he had cemented himself by the time he faced Finn, his actions clearly showed that he had not, and he unhinged a little more by the time he came against Rey. He was not focused. He was not one with the Force. Were he against a competent jedi, whole and trained in the ways of the Force, they would have put his ass down, totally limbless.
Star Wars characters tend to be fairly simplistic, and a tad trope-y. The naive hero, the bad boy with a heart of gold, the female with a tough exterior, etc, but that doesn’t make them mary-sue characters, or characters there merely to serve as wish fulfillment or author inserts. (Though the entire movie is a bit of wish fulfillment, if it comes to that…)
Yes, Rey is the quintessential ‘strong female protagonist’, but she’s also our naive hero. And our reluctant hero. Which crosses over with Finn, who is a reluctant hero (and for a brief second, our naive villain) as well. Leia is still our female with a tough exterior, Han is still our bad boy with a heart of gold, but Luke is no longer our naive hero. He’s learned and changed. He’s taken Obi Wan’s place, and now our story needs characters to fill that void in the classic path of the hero’s journey. Because the wise teacher can’t really pass on his wisdom without a student. The naive hero is necessary to the plot. That hero doesn’t need to fumble and be ridiculous for whole periods of time. Star Wars is about hope. Promise. Not grand tragedies. The prequels gave us grand tragedies, and we – as a fandom – rebelled against them (granted, there were more reasons than that, but the lack of hope was certainly part of it). We want characters who are whole, and who reach for goodness, and Rey (and Finn) does that. Through that reaching she finds the Force and wields it.
Stop being butthurt that she doesn’t suck at it. She’s the main character. The hero in the first film. The first act. Of course, of course, she comes out with some measure of success. You don’t break a character just yet, or she might give in, give up. She’s only just begun. She has faced hardship, and weathered it better than many others could have, but still harder trials likely wait in her future. You want to see her fail? Wait for VIII.
(Though the injury to Finn certainly had a pretty powerful affect on her… as well as the other…)