Is Rey Still a Mary Sue After TLJ?: The Secret Behind Rey’s Flawed TFA Characterization

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{By: Clara Oswin Oswald}

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The new Star Wars trilogy has gotten mixed receptions since the 2015 release of The Force Awakens, but if there’s one thing most fans and non-fans seem to agree on, it’s that Rey is a Mary Sue and TFA has a strong feminist undercurrent promoted by the ‘all-powerful’ female protagonist. I, however, don’t think Rey is a Mary Sue, just an underdeveloped character. A lot of the fault of Rey being seen as a Mary Sue comes from Daisy Ridley. An actor or actress’s portrayal of a character contributes hugely to how they come off on-screen. Daisy Ridley certainly has a feminist outlook, as is obvious in almost all of her interviews, and she played Rey to fit this stereotype maybe without realizing it. Hence, the character of Rey is already being played aggressively, so when you add her skills and force abilities to that, it’s easy to see her as a Mary Sue.

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It’s not that Rey doesn’t have flaws and insecurities in TFA, it’s just that Daisy Ridley didn’t let them show enough to make Rey seem likable and human. In contrast, Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) only had his mask off for the last half-hour of TFA, but just in that short time, he made Kylo Ren more emotional and human that Daisy Ridley made Rey in the entirety of the film.

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In the novelizations, you get a little more insight into Rey’s character. There’s one scene where Rey is angry at herself when she starts to cry in front of BB-8 after BB-8 asks her about her parents. I think the movie could have benefited from this scene. (Also, it was probably originally in the script since the novelization is written based on the original screenplay. This means this was either edited out or never filmed in the first place.)

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Rey’s identity as a Mary Sue largely streams from her rather long list of abilities. She can speak to BB-8, she’s a good pilot, she seems to know more about the Millennium Falcon than Han and Chewie, she has very strong Force abilities, she beats Kylo Ren in her first lightsaber battle, and she escapes Starkiller base without so much as setting off an alarm. All this does seem to make Rey an irritating character, but all the items on that list can be explained, and they all point towards Rey not being a Mary Sue.

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Rey faced a lot of challenges as a child. She was abandoned by her parents when she was around five years old and left in the care of Unkar Plutt, a man (or alien?? Is he really a man??) who obviously cared nothing about her as she was left to fend for herself. Rey’s harsh upbringing explains her ability to fight with her staff and her tendency to fight first, think later. Just think about when she attacks Finn with no provocation other than BB-8 telling her that Finn is wearing a jacket that looks like Poe’s. Rey’s also spent her whole life crawling around inside abandoned machines, and so it makes sense that she would be able to find her way around Starkiller base, know lots about the Millennium Falcon, and be able to talk to BB-8. On the subject of the Falcon, Han and Chewie haven’t been on-board in years, so they obviously wouldn’t be used to working around changes that were recently made, while Rey would have more up to date information on the ship.

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However, none of this explains how Rey, a dirt-poor scavenger, is such a good pilot. Well, in the junior novelization we learn that Rey built herself a flight-simulator that she practiced on for fun, and in a short line in TFA she says, “I’ve flown before, but I’ve never left the planet!”. Rey also seems nervous when she takes off on the Falcon, (“I can do this, I can do this”) and her take-off is anything but graceful. In fact, that whole scene is one of the few times in the movie we see Rey be uncertain of herself.

This brings us to probably the most important point: How did Rey infiltrate Kylo Ren’s mind and then later beat him in her first light-saber battle?

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The whole title of TFA points to the Force awakening in someone, and that someone is obviously Rey. But who awakens the force inside of her? Kylo Ren. The point of Rey’s character is that anybody can have the force, but when she begins to interact with Kylo Ren, he wakes up that ability inside of her. So in a way, her greatest ability isn’t one she inherently possesses, it’s one that’s given to her by her enemy.

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As for the lightsaber duel, there was really no way for Kylo to win that fight. He’s exhausted (remember that we haven’t seen him rest since he captured Rey, and he’s just fought Finn, who put up a good struggle); he’s an emotional wreck after just killing his father; he’s wounded (bow-caster shot from Chewie and Finn stabbed him in the shoulder); and he doesn’t want to hurt Rey. We get to see him punching his wound to numb the pain and he is very obviously bleeding into the snow.

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*I pause here to insert that I watched a hilarious video where this yahoo said that Kylo was beating his wound because it was painful, and “pain leads to the dark side”. This is a very-old pain numbing technique that warriors have been using since the dawn of time. The guy in the video obviously didn’t know jack about Star Wars.*

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Rey, however, comes to the fight fresh and somewhat rested, and intoxicated with her new Force power. She’s also fueled by her anger at Han’s death, and she has no qualms about killing Kylo Ren. Personally, I find it impressive that a wounded, exhausted Kylo Ren managed to hold off a ticked-off Rey for as long as he did. And even though this is Rey’s first light-saber battle, we know that she knows how to fight since we saw her take out two guys with her staff earlier in the movie.

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Rey is also hugely motivated by her rage during the fight. Han and Finn are her only two positive human relationships, and she just saw Kylo kill one and mortally wound the other. Rey uses the force like a Sith during this fight, and Kylo doesn’t retaliate with anger AT ALL. I mean, even after she SLICES HIS FACE OPEN he looks at her with shock, not anger. Also, at the beginning of the fight, he’s clearly in defensive mode and he lets Rey be the aggressor. It’s only after she wounds him that he realizes he is now fighting for his life, and so he starts to go after her with more serious intent.

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In TLJ Rey got a wonderful character arch that will hopefully put any lingering doubts about her being a Mary Sue to rest. We get to see much more of her character’s fears and insecurities. She connects with Ben Solo on a personal level because they both feel abandoned and lost. We also see Rey make a few more mistakes, and in her fight scenes we are always given a clear picture of her motivation. For instance, when she fights Luke, she’s full of righteous anger over what he did to Ben and when she and Ben are fighting the guards, she’s full of rage and indignation. Just think about the challenge she screams at the guard that wounds her.

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This scene also did a great job of showing how Ben is more powerful than Rey. While Ben holds off three guards at once, he still has the time to look concerned for Rey who is struggling with only fighting one.

Lots of people say that even though Rey may have had some character development she was back where she started at the end of TLJ. This just isn’t true. After Rey failed to redeem Ben, she went back to the only thing she knew: her mask of the plucky heroine. And even this is canceled out at the end when we see her holding the broken lightsaber with a look of pure heartbreak on her face as she looks at Rose and Finn. She wants that to be her and Ben so badly, and this last moment brings some much-needed vulnerability to the character.

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I’m looking forward to seeing where JJ Abrams takes Rey’s character in Episode IX; hopefully, somewhere that keeps her humanity and ushers in Reylo ;)!

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Is Rey still a Mary Sue? Were her abilities realistic? Do you think we will see more or less of her insecurities in Episode IX?

I leave you with this lovely ben gif:

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MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!
{P.S. If you liked this post, or if you’re just obsessed with Star Wars and Reylo and the like, you can read our Reylo meta posts here!}

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. RubySky says:

    I’m just gonna scream yes into oblivion.

    Fantastic post, lovelies. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Neoconservativism & the West says:

    Thank you. I have always hated the “Mary Sue” accusation because it is both theoretically incorrect and wilfully selective in plot elements. It seems to me (and I’m a conservative male) that people reacted to something they *thought* they saw in the film (like much of the reaction to TLJ) rather than something which was there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll pass on all the thanks from Clara (she wrote the post but she hates social networking and replying to comments and all that).

      I think Mary Sues can legitimately exist in fiction (just look to the YA genre, especially YA fantasy, and you get these perfect protagonists who literally have no purpose except to be Feminist icons who are always selfless and pure and romantically stubborn). The problem with calling Rey a Mary Sue in TFA is that it’s the first movie in a trilogy…and Rey’s character can’t be brought to her lowest weakest most vulnerable point in the FIRST movie. I would say we probably saw that in TLJ, and Episode IX will focus primarily on her positive arc and her growth into self-acceptance and emotional stability. And then, like Clara said, Daisy Ridley overplayed an already “underdeveloped” character…and everyone screamed *Mary Sue*!

      I honestly just don’t get all the hate toward TLJ. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not. The pacing was too fast in some parts (I think Rey’s time with Luke on Ach-To should have been over the course of days, not hours) and Finn’s character’s arc isn’t strictly necessary to the plot, so the FinnRose subplot felt sloppy. But the Rey/Kylo/Luke dynamic was PERFECT and that was really the heart of the movie, so who cares about the rest?

      Thanks again for commenting!
      ~Hermione

      Like

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