May 9, 2018
Happy belated May the fourth, my good nerds!
I had an excellent Star Wars day myself, drinking good beer with good friends while wearing the physical proof that we’re not in the dark timeline after all.
But while some of us yelled about the stars aligning perfectly to give us Donald Glover’s casting as a young Lando Calrissian over Star Wars themed beverages, others chose to highlight their distaste for certain aspects of the franchise.
Now. As someone who’s spent a few thousand words detailing her own distaste for certain Star Wars storytelling choices, I’m not one to throw stones in this, the most fragile of houses.
Except people are coming for my very favourite trash sand lesbian and I will not have it.
We’ve all heard it before:
REY IS A MARY SUE! SHE’S TOO PERFECT AT EVERYTHING! THIS IS AN AFFRONT TO SPACE WIZARDRY!
I addressed this pithily on Twitter the other day because it’s the platform the Salt Gods prefer when offering up one’s internet rage.
Someone: Rey is a Mary Sue
Me: Here, on slide 74642734675 of this PowerPoint presentation in which I’ve listed all the reasons you’re wrong, you’ll see a picture of me physically fighting you using a life-size standee of Luke Skywalker as a melee weapon
— Stacey Lehane (@goddammitstacey) May 6, 2018
Except then I realised I really could list all the reasons these Mary Sue Evangelists were wrong. And I have at least three deadlines looming so right now seems like the perfect time to not work on any of them and instead write this post defending a fictional character on the Internet.
I’m a functional human adult.
What follows are all the arguments I’ve seen yelled on various platforms that supposedly prove that Rey is a Mary Sue and all the reasons those reasons are wrong.
“Rey’s Too Good With the Force! She’s Not Trained!”
It’s been established in-universe (yes, the prequels count) that “trusting the force” and being “strong with the force” are both reasonable means to pull off some high-level force use sans training. Kylo Ren himself has this to say about Rey in The Force Awakens:
KYLO REN She's strong with the Force, untrained but, stronger than she knows.
In The Last Jedi, Luke compares her raw power with the potential he once saw in Kylo Ren, before Ren discovered Hot Topic and fascism.
Like, I’m not arguing that being “strong with the Force” isn’t a potential storytelling ass-pull but it’s a canonically established one.
- Luke being able to kaboom the Death Star in A New Hope without the use of the X-wing targeting computer while Obi-Wan whispered seductively at him from the force-afterlife.
- Practically everything about Anakin from Phantom Menace which, while great for group viewings over several bottles of wine and nothing else, is still canon.
If you’re gonna be angry about Rey’s proficiency with the force, go for gold, but if you’re not equally angry about some of Anakin or Luke’s stunts then I’d invite you to sit in a corner and ponder why this lady character being so good at space wizardry has you this upset.
“She Miraculously Knows How to Repair the Falcon!”
The Millennium Falcon was on Jakku, specifically in the hands of Unkar Plutt. You know, the dude that looks like what happens when a blobfish has sex with the Michelin Man.
Blobface McGee up there also happens to be whose care Rey is left in as a child. It’s him who says, “Quiet, girl!” in her Force flashback as her parents fly away.
The fact she knows her way around the Falcon so well isn’t miraculous, it’s actually a pretty big clue that she’s the one who’d been modifying and repairing it under Plutt’s orders.
From The Force Awakens:
HAN Hey! Some moof-milker put a compressor on the ignition line! REY Unkar Plutt did. I thought it was a mistake too, puts too much stress on THE HYPERDRIVE--
Listen, if that doesn’t sound like a tech nerd being forced to implement crappy systems on orders from a shitty boss, then I didn’t spend 10 years in the I.T. industry.
As for her proficiency repairing, flying, and finding her way around ships in general, let’s move onto:
“She Knows Too Much About Star Ships! And Starkiller Base! And-”
Rey’s been scavenging the sands of Jakku most of her life. The Star Destroyer we see her pulling bits out of in the opening of The Force Awakens is part of a massive starship graveyard left over from the Battle of Jakku, the last large-scale battle in the Galactic Civil War (otherwise known as the original trilogy).
Due to the nature of the skirmish the ships Rey was scavenging from are equal parts Rebellion, New Republic, and Imperial. We see all this in the establishing shots of The Force Awakens but extra content like the Aftermath: Empire’s End novel and a Star Wars Battlefront bonus level give us more insight into the casualty ships.
See where I’m going with this?
Since Rey would have to know what parts were worth rations and which weren’t, she’d have to know her way around the ships in that graveyard and their technology exceedingly well. This is why she’s ace (though not perfect) at resetting the fuses on Han’s freighter and can later find her way around Starkiller Base (which is the modern evolution of Imperial tech).
Extra info from bonus material like Rey’s Survival Guide also tells us that she’s read every ship and ship system manual she can get her hands on, which makes the coder in me super proud tbh.
“Speaking of Ships, How Can She Fly If She’s a Scavenger!?”
After their escape from Jakku in the Falcon, Rey tells Finn she’s flown ships before but has never left the planet. My guess is Unkar Plutt would sometimes throw her the keys to the Quadjumper and tell her not to mess up the new paint job.
That good old bonus material has our backs yet again as well. Rey’s Survival Guide tells us that Rey has access to an old Y-wing computer which she used to access flight simulations that helped her learn to fly. This obviously isn’t apparent from the movie itself though, so you can be forgiven for some of the question marks floating over your head.
Aaaaaand just in case a few of you are still clinging stanchly to the idea that this isn’t enough to establish her aptitude for flying, might I remind you, again, that this little shit exists:
As does this slightly more Harlequin-esque, windswept shit:
Both underprivileged sand gremlins who grew up on desert planets. Coincidentally, both could also fly just about anything they touched first go.
If you’re saying Rey is an anomaly here, I have some hard side-eyeing for you, my good bro.
“She Can Understand Droidspeak! And Shyriiwook! And-”
Niima Outpost, where Rey is seen trading for rations and Finn has his unfortunate encounter with space hippo water is a trading outpost. This means Rey would have had dealings with a shitload of alien species.
I’m not going to get into the specifics of immersion as a means to learn a language, but it is a thing. To that end, think of Niima Outpost as a transit airport. Thousands of people passing through each day, all speaking dozens of different languages, most just trying to find coffee that won’t turn their insides to liquid at an inopportune time.
Also, that Y-wing computer we mentioned earlier? That included whatever passes as a Lonely Planet Language Guide in the Star Wars universe. Put everything together and we have Rey, my polylingual sand princess.
Now, you might have a slightly better argument on her understanding Droidspeak because, in-universe, not many organics can. It’s a complicated language.
But guess who learned it?
Go on guess.
Luke is also shown to understand binary in The Last Jedi after, I’m assuming, having nothing the fuck else to do on tantrum island for all those years. In the same movie, Poe Dameron understands a little of what BB-8’s saying which didn’t melt my cold dead heart even a little bit, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
My point here is: Rey’s a giant nerd with the means and determination to learn every language she uses in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and I will throw a life-size standee of Trumpcard Skywalker at anyone who disagrees with me.
“She Fights Super Well Despite Having No Training!”
Some dudes had issues with this one because they think that women are inherently weaker than men to which I invite you all to watch this video of Daisy Ridley training for The Last Jedi and then get in the bin where you belong.
To everyone else who doesn’t think ladies are only good for wilting into the arms of a strapping man but also thinks Rey beating Kylo Ren and taking on Snoke’s red mime soldiers were stretches, welcome to my Ted Talk.
The thing is my guys, my pals, my bros, Rey grew up on a planet whose sole economy is scavenging parts. She was also alone for much of her time on that planet. A lot of time in which she would have had to learn to defend herself or fall victim to the scavenger-eat-scavenger economy.
Wookiepedia does make mention of Unkar Plutt exerting his influence to protect her since she’s his best scavenger, but Rey obviously didn’t slack on making sure she didn’t have to rely on him.
She carries a staff and, as we see during her introduction to Finn, she knows how to use it. Which isn’t to say a staff is a lightsaber but they are both melee weapons.
Add to that the fact Luke, a literal farm boy, managed to not slice is own hands off during A New Hope, I think we can safely assume the Force can boost this skill along with piloting.
It’s also of note that when Rey took on Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, he’d taken a hit from a weapon that made Han Solo look like a woman discovering her new dress has pockets.
And while I solidly believe my scrappy sand duchess could have taken Ren at full strength, from a purely storytelling standpoint, that bowcaster was set up as a powerful weapon for a reason.
Rey’s Not a Mary Sue
But hey, if she was? So. The fuck. What.
The term Mary Sue is rife with misogynistic underpinnings. I’ve made a lot of comparisons to Anakin and Luke throughout this post and there’s a reason for that. When dude characters show an overabundance of aptitude or are given Chosen One arcs, we don’t call them out for being “unbelievable” or “overpowered”. We just call them fucking protagonists.
When men like Stephen King or Philip Roth or GEORGE FUCKING LUCAS himself write self-insert characters, they’re hailed as visionaries and small golden statues rapidly accumulate on their shelves. When women like Stephenie Meyer are accused of the same thing the internet figuratively sets them on fire.
And I think it’s a testament to how incensed I am by this double standard that I’m defending the fucking Twilight novels.
Listen, Star Wars is rife with Big Hero Moments that could stand to be set up a little better. But that’s what Star Wars is. It’s a glorious space opera that values spectacle and heart over logistics. And that’s likely why we love it so much.
Like it or not, the Force being a soft magic system gets Star Wars storytelling out of a lot of jams. You’ve let it carry characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader for literal decades. You can give Rey the benefit of the same damn doubt.
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Here’s where I recommend a book that I’ve read and loved. This gives you something cool to read and, if you click through and buy anything in the next 24 hours, then I get a kickback from Amazon or Book Depository. Win/win.
Today’s recommendation is Rey’s Survival Guide. This is a book I reference a lot because people are often wrong about Star Wars on the internet and it’s my sworn duty to tell them so. It’s also a great reference if you happen to be writing pre-TFA fic or just want to know more about everyone’s favourite sand lesbian.