Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, by just about any yardstick, a giant success: record-breaking opening weekend, enthusiastic fan response, rapturous critical reception, faith in franchise restored. Yessiree bob, you’d have to hunt high and low to find much of anything to complain about with this one, I can’t imagine you coul – what’s that? Some dudes on the Internet are mad that Rey, the new protagonist played with charm and pizzazz by Daisy Ridley, is so capable, skilled, and talented? Huh. Imagine that.
Unsurprisingly, the mouthpiece for these mouth-breathers is one Max Landis, the screenwriter of American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein whose Twitter feed prompts the Superman-paraphrasing tagline “You’ll believe a turd can type.” On December 18, release date for The Force Awakens, he tweeted:
they finally did it they made a fan fic movie with a Mary Sue as the main character pic.twitter.com/gwO5PatXYc
— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) December 19, 2015
Three hours later, he followed up his original missive with the irrefutable back-up of an anonymous internet commenter:
If you’re lucky enough not to know – and seriously, kudos – “Mary Sue” is a phrase with roots in fan fiction, describing a female character who’s basically flawless. The Mary Sue (which is often presumed to be some sort of author avatar/wish fulfillment) can do everything well; she’s remarkably gifted, usually attractive, and saves the day. And you could, I supposed, apply that label to Rey, the female scavenger who proves herself adept at piloting the Millennium Falcon, wielding a spear and lightsaber, and kicking ass. I mean, you’d have to be a raging asshole, but you could do it.
The fundamental flaw in Landis’ argument – and, frankly, in much of the conversation around this particular trope – is the overwhelming number of male characters in the pop culture sphere who exhibit the same traits, with relatively little pushback. “We wouldn’t be worrying about Rey’s excessive coolness if she were Ray, standard-issue white male hero with all the skills and all the luck,” notes Tasha Robinson at The Verge, and she’s right; sure, you’ll hear the occasional “Gary Stu” grouse, but rarely with the same volume and viciousness. I’m chasing down the corridors of my memory to recall anyone sneering that Jason Bourne or James Bond were just too good at shit. “Yes, but they were trained,” goes the counter-argument; true enough, but it also seems fair to assume they came into that training with a natural gift. You know who else did? Luke and Anakin Skywalker. As Carly Lane writes over at (hey, look at that) The Mary Sue, “Was there the same amount of agonizing over a young slave from Tatooine who was equally proficient in constructing a protocol droid from spare parts as well as building and flying his own podracer – all at the mere age of nine? Or when his offspring, who possessed little to no X-wing flight training, managed to take down a moon-sized space station with one shot guided by his use of the Force?”
Of course not. And Landis’ response to that argument (of Luke, he eloquently insists, “He was a whiney, ineffectual bitch who sucked at almost everything except piloting”) doesn’t hold water; we’re not talking about personality, but skills. And seeing’s how (LIGHT SPOILER) Rey is revealed as a Jedi-in-waiting, the Force being strong with her and all that, it’s not exactly a stretch to grant her a natural ability and solid mechanical gift or two. (END LIGHT SPOILER)
And as long as we’re discussing the Star Wars universe: what kind of a rancid garbage person watches one of these movies and decides this the improbable thing we’re going to raise a fucking ruckus about? Ah yes, walking carpet being who communicates in roars, sure, makes sense; space stations that can destroy entire planets, got it; tiny sentient teddy bears who sing, absolutely; WAIT HOLD ON THAT GIRL IS TOO GOOD AT TOO MANY THINGS I’M NOT BUYING IT.
Is Rey a perfect character? Of course not, but c’mon people, this is a series borne out of Buck Rogers serials; we’re not exactly looking for gritty antiheroes. If there’s a complaint to be made about The Force Awakens and the gender of its new hero, it’s that by the end, the frequent references to it (I’m specifically thinking of Han Solo’s “Girl knows her stuff”) feel a bit patronizing.
Then again, considering the resistance that burbles up in the ugliest, stupidest corners of the Internet anytime a beloved property gives us a hero who isn’t flipped to the default white-male setting – witness the gross racist furor surrounding the reveal of John Boyega when the first Force Awakens trailers hit, or the current hullabaloo over the casting of a black actor as Hermoine Grainger – maybe a little bit of explicit head-patting isn’t a bad idea. After all, Landis’s complaints don’t put him too far from the knuckle-draggers at Breitbart (“Is it my age speaking when I say why even bother to create female characters who are only going to dress and act like men?” writes John Nolte, while longingly caressing his Slave Leia doll), and that is what should give him a stroke. That, and the grosses for American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein, ZING.
Is Rey too good to be true? Maybe. And so are countless other protagonists in comic book, fantasy, action, and sci-fi cinema. That’s part of what we’re there for; in genre movies, particularly as a young viewer, the true joy comes from seeing these protagonists as heroes who can quite literally do anything, and who we can thus imagine ourselves as. And the joy of the original Star Wars is the universal notion of discovering something magical within oneself, of realizing one’s gift and manifesting it. In Star Wars, that happened to a young man, and in this film, it happens to a young woman. Maybe the neckbeards and schmucks and hack screenwriters are upset about it, but y’know what? My daughter is two years old, and these are the movies she and her friends and the rest of her generation are gonna grow up on. I keep thinking about that, and I can’t stop smiling about it.