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Hello Mary Sue, Goodbye Heart

Hello Mary Sue, Goodbye Heart

yoda-pancakes

This post contains SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet then you may want to run out and watch it first before reading this, or just do the sensible thing and skip reading this post altogether. Trust me; I’ve read my own writing and I’ll understand completely if you want nothing to do with it.

I am an active participant in geek culture in many ways–more ways than a grown man of 36 years should, probably–but one aspect of the lifestyle that never interested me was writing fan fiction. I dabbled in it once with a story of Darth Plagueis’s origins, but since then I’ve left it alone. I don’t chastise anyone for doing it; if that’s your thing, fine. I understand the appeal of telling stories with characters and situations that you are familiar with and love, and it is a great way to start honing your craft, but if writing is a dream of yours then eventually you should start coming up with your own intellectual properties.

Fan fiction writers can send hate mail to jamesh@coffeewithkenobi.com.

I only mention my thoughts on this particular form of creative outlet because Max Landis, the screenwriter for such films as Victor Frankenstein, American Ultra and Chronicle brought the world of fan fiction center stage recently when he lambasted Star Wars: The Force Awakens character Rey, referring to the lead as a “Mary Sue” persona.

“Mary Sue” is a term heard mainly in the world of fan fiction. It’s origins come from a story in a Star Trek fanzine published in the early 1970s. In the tale, a Lieutenant Mary Sue, the youngest in Starfleet, comes aboard The Enterprise and immediately captures the attention of every male on the ship. She is knowledgeable in every aspect of higher learning and is called upon to save the day whenever trouble arises. Her death has a profound impact on the entire crew.  Nowadays, “Mary Sue” has come to mean any character who is too perfect to be real, and more often than not is a result of the author inserting herself into the story as a means of wish-fulfillment. Note the word “herself.” It is typically associated with female fan fiction writers, though “Gary Sues” have come up on occasion. The implication is that a writer that utilizes a Mary Sue character is a poor writer.

So is Rey a Mary Sue?

(Warning: The above video does have some adult language.)

The short answer is “no,” but to be fair Mr. Landis makes some valid observations that seem like truth (from a certain point of view) until one makes a more careful examination of Rey’s character. Here are a few counterpoints to some of his statements:

Rey is proficient at flying the Millennium Falcon and appears to know more about fixing it than Han Solo himself.

This answer to this issue, and to most of the issues brought up by Mr. Landis, comes down to Rey’s existence in the barren sandy wastelands of Jakku. To survive she has taken up the job of scavenger, scouring the desert for wrecked ships that she can dismantle for parts. This implies that she has an intimate knowledge of vehicles and how they operate. Not only does she have to know the functionality of the parts she salvages, she has to know how to remove them so that they remain operational. Rey knows mechanics.

I was raised in the rural countryside of southeastern Ohio, where jobs were scarce, and I made many acquaintances with junkers–both male and female– that are just like Rey. They are passionate about their work, and their knowledge of how vehicles work surpasses even the most dedicated gearheads. These types of people know how things operate and they can drive just about anything on wheels. I have little doubt that Rey could sit inside the cockpit of the Falcon and fire it up without having done it before.

Rey is proficient with a lightsaber the first time she turns it on.

Worlds like Jakku, devoid of opportunities for development and growth, quickly become wretched hives for scum and villainy, the types of people who are known to bash a person’s skull and rob them of all their possessions. This is a cold hard fact that Rey probably learned very early on in her forced residence on the planet. To survive, she had to learn to defend herself from all manner of nefarious citizens. This is proven when she is attacked in the market and staves off a group of thugs using only a space muffler as a weapon.

In the past, Jedi were known to gloat that only those highly trained in the Force were able to use lightsabers, but in reality they are just glorified swords that do not require any midichlorian count to activate and swing. General Grievous was a master swordsman that could wield four at once, and he had no Force powers. Even Han Solo used one, briefly, to slice open some tauntaun flesh to keep Luke warm. Anybody skilled in hand-to-hand combat could pick up a lightsaber and use it with some varying degree of success. There is little reason to believe that Rey, a woman already equipped with melee skills, could not fight with a lightsaber. Using the same logic, it is not a big stretch to assume that Finn, a former stormtrooper with combat training, could use one as well.

A related debate concerns the likelihood of Rey being able to defeat a trained and powerful Force sensitive like Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel. Under different circumstances she would have lost. At the time of the fight, Kylo Ren was grievously wounded from Chewbacca’s shot and was not functioning at full strength. Also notice that he was not trying to kill her, as evidenced when he pleaded for her to come train with him. Rey did not win the battle; she merely won by handicap.

Rey performs feats with the Force on her first try that others could only do after years of training.

This is the most difficult to debate because Mr. Landis makes a solid argument. It seems that five seconds after learning she can use the Force, Rey is able to block Kylo Ren’s mind probe, use his own skills against him, and mind trick Daniel Craigtrooper into letting her go free. These are all highly advanced skills that even Luke Skywalker had difficulty mastering. How on Hoth does she come by them so easily?

My only answer: She’s a quick study.

I think we should just let that one slide. After all, we’re talking about a series of films that had a ten-year-old wander onto a fighter jet and blow up a heavily armed space station, and a fresh-faced young man step straight off a moisture farm and lead a crew of battle hardened rebels to victory over the largest military in the galaxy. In the Star Wars universe, anything is possible.

I would like to point out that I do not think that Max Landis is the sexist narcissist that people have tried to make him out to be. I’ve spent the past few days on YouTube watching him discuss Star Wars, and he is just as passionate about the saga as anyone reading this blog. I would in fact love to see him as a guest on the Coffee With Kenobi podcast. The conversation with Dan and Cory would be fascinating.

-James Howell “Yoda’s House of Pancakes

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4 Comments

  1. Kimberly Laux
    January 10, 2016 at 14:11 Reply

    Nice piece, good points.

    We don’t know Rey’s backstory so some of the assumptions made about her knowledge of the force and the Jedi are being made in a vacuum. I agree Rey isn’t a “Mary Sue,” she’s afraid and runs off at moments. What many people miss is that she has dolls and other items implying a kind of fascination with the stories of the Empire’s fall. She may have thought they were myths, but she did know the stories. And she would know what a Jedi mind trick was. Also, Kylo Ren might have been inadvertently dumping all kinds of knowledge on her without realizing he was doing it. He doesn’t seem like the most disciplined Force Sensitive in the Outer Rim.

    That said, there are all kinds of questions brought up by “The Force Awakens” and it might be nice to leave open some doors of possibility before prejudging. I thought Luke’s father died in the Clone Wars until a certain movie came out.

  2. Manuel Cruz
    January 12, 2016 at 08:08 Reply

    She is a Mary Sue and a poor written one. The sooner you acknowledge it, the better. You will mature as a writer and will acquire taste. You might even become a good writer, someday. I confess I didn’t read your whole article because it was terrible. Even your rebuttals read as if they were written for the sake of not wanting to accept the hard truth, and the best you can do is grasping at straws.

    There are plenty of people with terrible taste that enjoy Mary Sues and Gary Stus, such as Peter Jackson’s Legolas and Wolverine. But unlike you, those people are honest and will not deny the obvious.

    1. YHOP
      January 12, 2016 at 14:59 Reply

      Hello Manuel,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply today. I would like to extend an invitation to you to write a full critique on my article to help me advance in my skills as a writer. I also politely request that you dredge through my blog post in its entirety before informing me that I am grasping at straws, even if my crappy word building skills are a chore to read.

      Many happy blessings for the new year,

      YHOP

  3. Kimberly Laux
    January 12, 2016 at 11:38 Reply

    If we’re talking about good taste and quality – it would be a “poorly” written one, first sentence above. If you didn’t read the entire article and find character flaws with whom might see something differently, “maturity” may not be your strong suit. Be honest and don’t deny the obvious. The “hard truth” is, it’s a movie, they are all movies you reference. Did you make a billion and half last month?

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A wannabe author with big goals and little talent, James spends most of his waking hours dealing Blackjack, crushing gamblers' dreams and robbing them of their mortgage payments.

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