We Need to Talk About the Backlash Against Rey (Again), and Why She’s Awesome
Now that many Star Wars fans have seen The Last Jedi, it’s time for everyone to weigh in on what they think of Rey’s development at this point in the franchise. Some, like Daisy Ridley, see her as a heroine who is all the more important because she’s an average person upon whom greatness is thrust. Others, from the sexist, whiny fanboy contingent of Star Wars fandom, see her as everything they hate about the current crop of Star Wars films. Le sigh.
In a recent press junket interview for The Last Jedi, which you can watch above, Ridley talks about the term “Mary Sue” (hey, we know that one!) and how its application to Rey, not to mention its application in general, is inherently sexist. She says:
“I don’t buy the Mary Sue thing anyway. I find the term sexist in itself, because it’s Mary Sue. I don’t think there’s a thing called Ryan…Craig…”
Granted, there is such a thing as a “Gary Stu” in fandom, but that term came from “Mary Sue,” and Ridley’s point still stands. Yes, in theory there is a “male version” of that trope, but how often do people actually refer to characters as “Gary Stu”? Even when fans hate male characters, they talk about what they hate with nuance: This character was underdeveloped. I didn’t believe his motivation. That wouldn’t have happened that way. They are not reduced in a gendered way, the way many female characters are, simply for existing as women.
The term “Mary Sue” is sexist because it’s a shorthand that people are expected to understand and agree with, without giving the female character the respect of a nuanced discussion. Being a “Mary Sue” is supposed to be reason enough to not like a character.
That’s why this site uses that term as its name … ironically.
Ridley goes on to say:
“when I was doing it…playing her, I never felt sure of what was going on. It wasn’t like This is happening, and I’m so powerful, and look at me go. And essentially, all I found Rey was trying to do in the first one, was she was trying to do the right thing…It’s not a sort of self-centered power that she’s exhibiting. She didn’t ask for anything in the first one. She wasn’t asking to go on this adventure.”
Again, Ridley is a little off the mark about what being a Mary Sue actually is, in that it’s not related to the character being self-centered, but the writer creating a “perfect” character as an extension of themselves. Still, she highlights something about Rey that’s important to remember. Rey’s power comes through in spite of herself, purely accidentally, and its something that causes her to grapple and sometimes stumble.
Having rewatched The Force Awakens several times now, it’s even more clear that Rey has natural, but untrained ability. Her flying is wonky, her fighting style is raw, she stumbles upon her ability to Jedi mind-trick people completely by accident, and isn’t even sure how she’s doing it or whether she can replicate it. Kylo Ren references that throughout the film, calling her “more powerful than she knows.” He sees her as a threat, not because she’s too good, but because given time, she will be. “The longer she’s out there,” he says. “The more dangerous she becomes.”
In other words, she’s not perfect now, but the longer she has to experiment with her own abilities, the better she’ll get.
Whenever I hear people complain about that, I want to say to them, I’m sorry you’ve never been naturally good at anything before, but this is how it actually happens in life.
So we go from the defense of Rey as not a Mary Sue to the opposite reaction: that of the sexist fanboys. Some so sexist and whiny that they went to all the trouble of getting bots together to tank The Last Jedi’s Rotten Tomatoes audience score. (Yes, there are people who don’t like the movie, and that’s fine, but that’s not what we’re really seeing here.)
As reported by IndieWire, the moderator of a group called, get this, Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys, is taking responsibility for the score.
Its spokesperson out-and-out says that their major sticking point is that the franchise is “introducing more female characters into the franchise’s universe,” while also making Poe Dameron a “victim of the anti-mansplaining movement,” and that both Poe and Luke are in danger of being “turned gay.”
Thankfully, this is not most of Star Wars fandom. Whatever fans think of The Last Jedi, most fans don’t think of Rey as inherently awful because she’s a girl with girl-cooties, and don’t see the addition of nuanced men of color or an evolved legacy character as inherently bad things.
Over at The Bustle, writer Rachel Simon talks about the fact that Rey, who was already awesome in TFA, is even better in The Last Jedi, because she’s not the only woman anymore. The Last Jedi surrounds our heroine with equally heroic women—women like Rose, and Admiral Holdo, and of course the legendary General Leia Organa.
“The Force Awakens, luckily, didn’t make Rey, as the sole main woman, become a romantic interest to any character or wear clothes far more revealing than those of her male peers. Even still, it was hard not to be struck by the number of men that surrounded her in any given scene — which is why what The Last Jedi does feels so damn good. No longer is Rey the only main lady representing in the Star Wars world. She has company, in the form of several badass, complicated, compelling female characters, all of whom contribute to an equal gender balance throughout the film.”
Granted, this fact is the very thing that the sexist fanboy contingent absolutely hates. Thankfully, this is is something that most of Star Wars fandom is absolutely ready and here for.
Here’s to Rey taking the Force into the future!
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