There has been a lot of online discussion over the last six months on the question of whether Rey is a Mary Sue (a term for a–usually female–character for whom everything comes ludicrously easy) in Star Wars Episode VII. Max Landis, a really great writer, director, and YouTuber, is the originator of this theory. And there are accusations that this is a sexist charge, and it probably is for many individuals on the net. Here’s Max’s point: all Rey does is succeed. She never fails and beats everyone up and is an expert at everything and beats a more experienced Sith lord in a lightsaber fight. Max thinks that this removes all the tension from Rey’s story, and to a certain extent I think he’s right. We don’t ever worry about whether Rey can do it in any situation in the movie. This makes the story not very compelling.
I’m not so sure. I won’t talk about the in-universe explanations that make her being good at stuff make sense because this isn’t Max’s point. Max doesn’t think the story doesn’t make sense, he just think that the story as written doesn’t contain enough tension. He thinks it doesn’t get us invested in the action.
But I’m not sure that the action is supposed to be what gives rise to the tension in this movie. Rey’s story is about emotional growth and acceptance of oneself. We are fairly liberal with Rey’s abilities (relatively easily explainable in universe) so that the action doesn’t distract from Rey’s emotional journey. Fundmentally, Star Wars Episode VII is a coming of age story that takes place in a world paying homage to the original Star Wars movies. It’s a story of a girl who is having trouble coming to terms with being a magical space wizard. And believe me, this is difficult to come to terms with. She’s also struggling with letting go of ever seeing her family again. There are two parts of Rey struggling within her. There is the part of her that just wants to live an ordinary life, waiting on Jakku for her parents, but there is the other part of her that longs for something more than her ordinary scavenger’s existence. The movie is about her finally coming to accept her power and her being extraordinary.
Now, there are other characters that some accuse of having too little to do in Episode VII, but we’ll discuss these at a later date.
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Peace be with you.