The following article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters, and it should surprise no one that it is a hit. According to Box Office Mojo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already taken the records for highest opening day gross and highest single day gross. In a single weekend, Star Wars:The Force Awakens has launched into the top ten highest grossing films of 2015, and it’s poised to take the top spot away from another nostalgia fueled sequel, Jurassic World. Critics and fans alike agree, Star Wars is back, and the Force is strong.
Yet, not everyone agrees with the glowing reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and generally the dissenters have one colossal beef, the characters. The furor around Star Wars: The Force Awakens largely centers on one man, Max Landis.
Max Landis is the son of veteran director John Landis. He’s also a writer and director in his own write, penning the stories and screenplays that became 2012’s Chronicle and 2015’s Victor Frankenstein. On December 18, Landis made a series of posts to his official Twitter page, teasing his eagerness to discuss Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When Landis finally unleashed his comments, they kicked off with a tweet that set the geeky section of the internet on fire.
The definition of Mary Sue is widely debated among creators and critics, but the generally accepted definition is a character who is highly idealized, often to the point of making other characters insignificant. The term originated in fan fiction, and was initially used to describe characters created by amateur writers and inserted into previously existing works. There is a connotation of wish fulfillment attached to the term Mary Sue, which is exactly why many modern writers and audiences have such disdain for characters who fall into the category of Mary Sue.
Following Landis’ statement, a two-day argument erupted between Landis and various fans. In fact, the argument is still raging. In defense of his position, Landis released a video to back up his accusation that Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is a Mary Sue. Landis begins the video by admitting that for people who like The Force Awakens and Rey, nothing he says will change their mind, but he also acknowledges that there isn’t anything anyone can say to change his mind either.
“A Mary Sue is a character who is too good at stuff, and Rey is a character whose too good at stuff. She’s never in danger. She’s in danger once…and then she just easily escapes with the force.”
To be fair to Landis, in the course of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey is shown to be an excellent scavenger, an excellent pilot, and is the first character other than C-3PO to understand an astromech droid, BB-8, and Chewbacca, with no translation at all. By contrast, several beats of comedic relief stem from the fact that Finn, the other protagonist of The Force Awakens, can’t understand either BB-8 or Chewbacca without translation, which he usually gets from Rey.
Twitter user John Gary, who describes himself as a failed screenwriter in his Twitter bio, fired back at Landis. Gary notes that Landis’ premise stems from the idea that Rey’s story arc should be one of skill, similar to Luke Skywalker’s basic arc in the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, according to Gary, Rey’s arc stems from a need to belong, a need which is fulfilled in the climax of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The website The Mary Sue also weighed in on the controversy. While they stopped just short of labeling Rey as a dreaded Mary Sue, they did point out that if she is a Mary Sue, she isn’t the first one in the Star Wars saga. As evidence, The Mary Sue cites the actions of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy and Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy. Both characters are described as exceptionally good pilots, and are able to pilot ships they have never seen before to save the day in their respective movies. Yet The Mary Sue notes, possibly erroneously, that there were no cries about bad writing in either case.
Whether you consider Rey a Mary Sue or a timely addition to the Star Wars universe will, in the end, likely be a very personal decision rooted in taste and opinion. Far from the universally derided Jar Jar Binks, Rey is embraced by some and derided by others, but more than anything she is a topic of discussion and debate on the nature of Star Wars, storytelling, and why some things work and others don’t. That may be a bigger legacy than every box office record Star Wars: The Force Awakens manages to break.
[Image via Lucasfilm]