Why Rey is not a ‘Mary Sue’

One of the most frustrating criticisms that I commonly hear about the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that Rey is a “Mary Sue.”

The determined scavenger from Jakku ⁠— who is revealed to have Jedi powers in “The Force Awakens” — is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters. I have three (yes, three) different Rey cosplays that I enjoy wearing to cons, and I even have a portrait of Rey on my desk at work that I picked up from an artist at Dragon Con a couple years ago.

I believe that calling Rey a “Mary Sue” is both an incorrect statement and a misread of her character journey, which plays an important role in the Star Wars saga as a whole.

But what exactly do people mean when they call Rey a “Mary Sue,” and why is it inaccurate to use that label?

What is a ‘Mary Sue’?

First things first: I actually don’t like the idea of calling any character a “Mary Sue,” because I personally believe that the term has some underlying sexism and is used far too often to dismiss female characters.

The simple Google definition of a “Mary Sue” is “a type of character who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses.” I’ve heard it used in reference to male characters before too (“Is Superman a Mary Sue?” is one of the other frequently-asked questions that popped up when I Googled this topic).

Yet before we discuss why characters get stuck with this label, it’s worthwhile to dig a little deeper and see where this term originated.

According to Dictionary.com, the term dates back to a Star Trek work of fanfiction in 1973 that was meant to parody self-insert characters in fanfiction who are unrealistically attractive and capable. The term has gained popularity since then, and it has picked up more and more negative baggage.

As mentioned before, I’d like to see this term go away (there are better, more accurate ways to talk about a character’s development and/or effectiveness in a narrative). However, even if you do look at the definition, Rey does not qualify as a “Mary Sue.”

Chosen by the Force

“Mary Sue” initiated as a nickname for self-insert characters, but I haven’t heard people claiming that Rey is a self-insert for Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, or Michael Arndt (who co-wrote “The Force Awakens”). Criticism regarding Rey’s character tends to revolve around the perception that she is supposedly “too perfect” or “too flawless.”

Rey does have a natural aptitude for the Force, but that does not make her a Mary Sue. The Force has never been about training or requiring people to “level up,” like characters in a video game. When the Force needs you to have powers, you’re gonna get powers.

If Rey is a Mary Sue, then Luke also must be classified as a Mary Sue, since he blows up the Death Star after super-minimal training. This scene in “A New Hope” doesn’t bother me, though, because the Force has clearly chosen Luke to return balance to the galaxy (and save his father).

And now, in the new Star Wars films, the Force has chosen Rey.

It also makes sense that Rey has so many skills, because she’s had to survive alone for so long. Of course she knows how to scavenge and fight and fly ships and fix things; if she didn’t, she probably wouldn’t be alive today.

While Luke grew up under the care and protection of his aunt and uncle, Rey did not have that on Jakku. She had to learn all the raw skills that are required to be a Jedi; she just had to wait for the Force to awaken in her.

Drawn to the darkness

Rey is idealistic and optimistic, but she is not perfect. Both “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” have given her challenges to face, and “The Rise of Skywalker” may pose her most dangerous challenge yet: facing Palpatine without succumbing to the dark side.

Rey doesn’t always succeed, and she isn’t without fear. When she first touches Anakin’s old lightsaber and feels a spark of the Force, she runs from it. She doesn’t want to accept this destiny yet.

Her Force powers blossom when she and Kylo share a mind link for the first time; Snoke claims to be the one connecting them, but I think it’s the Force itself, bringing the two of them together. (My theory is that this connection will pay off in “The Rise of Skywalker,” when Rey and Kylo team up to defeat Palpatine.)

Pretty much all of the main characters experience failure in “The Last Jedi,” and Rey is not exempt from this. She tries to motivate Luke to train her and return to help the Resistance, but she fails. She tries to turn Kylo Ren back to the light side, and she fails. She is too quick to assume that simply going to Kylo will be enough to convince him to leave the First Order.

Rey experiences grief when Kylo fails to live up to the hopes she had for him. She grieves over her parents, who abandoned her and left her constantly searching for belonging. We also see that she struggles with anger, verbally lashing out at Luke.

Daisy Ridley brings so much nuance to the role, and even if Rey doesn’t speak about her feelings, we can tell by the look on her face that she is struggling. She and Adam Driver play two of the most complex and interesting characters in the entire Star Wars saga.

I don’t know how Rey’s character arc will end in “The Rise of Skywalker”; maybe “Dark Rey” is just a vision, or maybe Rey actually will turn to the dark side for a time. But I’m confident that whatever happens, the story will be thrilling and thought-provoking.

It’s time to stop calling Rey a “Mary Sue” — and it’s also time to stop using that term altogether.

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The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the Story Geeks Star Wars podcast series. [Listen Here: AppleStitcherPodbean]