The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both receive ample criticism. The first new film was panned for being just a retread of A New Hope with fresh paint, while The Last Jedi was panned for being “too different” from all previous Star Wars installments. I won’t pretend that either of these movies is without flaw, but I liked that The Last Jedi felt challenging and self-critical. Not to mention stressful, with the Rebellion constantly a hair’s breadth away from total annihilation.
But one criticism that remains consistent with both films is that Rei, the main character, is a Mary Sue. Guys everywhere love to hate on her because she’s just so perfect and talented, whereas Anakin and Luke had to work to master their Jedi powers.
Well first, how does one define a Mary Sue? According to Wikipedia, “A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience.” As a connoisseur of bad fanfiction, I would also add that any flaws, imperfections, or tragic backstories displayed by a Mary Sue are usually exploited as ploys for sympathy, or pithy attempts to hand-wave away complaints of said perfection. And to be clear, the perfection is often relative to what other characters in the story think of the character; ex. the only people who don’t like the Mary Sue are either villains or portrayed as being bitter, immature, what-have-you.
I would argue that if Mary Suedom is true of Rei, it would be equally true of Luke and Anakin, but whatever. I’ll play your game.
Rei is impulsive, impatient, and honorable to a fault. She is also somewhat naïve regarding the First Order, while Finn is presented as something of a grounded coward. He knows the capabilities and cruelties of his previous employer, whereas Rei does not. Rei has an immediate, admittedly somewhat questionable aptitude for the Force, but the only difference between her and the Skywalkers, confirmed by The Last Jedi, is that she is a nobody. Her abandoning parents don’t pay off as great Jedi warriors; she’s not part of the grand space soap opera that somehow always designates Skywalker descendants to be chosen ones who are great at everything.
Personally, this makes Rei a more compelling character for me, and it makes sense that the Force would be less picky, and possibly more hurried, in this new Jedi-less era. Just like the darkness keeps coming back, the light side needs to regroup and come back as well, with or without practiced, spiritual trainers. Maybe Rei’s talent is all her own, or maybe the Force feels a sense of urgency in keeping the light’s influence from being effectively snuffed out forever, what with the First Order constantly bearing down on the Rebellion.
Either way, at least Rei’s not being hailed as a Messiah, and especially not before she’s even really done anything yet. *cough cough* Anakin *cough cough*
In the expanded universe, there exists the concept of the Light Sith; members who still supported the Sith cause while also caring about light and balance. There were also the Gray Jedi, who toed the line between light and dark without falling to the dark side or sucking up to the Jedi Council. Now in the movies, we are seeing a “good” character who can also lean towards the dark side, similar to Luke, and a “bad” character who struggled with being called to the light side, similar to later films’ Anakin. I like that it feels a little more fleshed out than the previous films’ general take of “light always good, dark always bad.” Not completely new, but heading in the right direction.
I think people get upset about Rei, Finn, Rose, and the trajectory of the new Star Wars films in general because they’re becoming less of a “boy’s club.” Outside of the expanded universe, female and other minority characters in the movies didn’t get a lot of lines or things to do, and now they’re taking the center stage away from overpowered white boys, who are basically there by the providence of Divine Right. The Skywalkers are cool because they just are, damn it, and no one else can be cool unless they know or are related to the Skywalkers in some way!
…Except for Leia, I guess. And sure, Leia saving herself from being blasted into space was kind of weird and awkward, but she’s a Skywalker and has been established in previous films as having a strong gift as well, even if it wasn’t really shown. Couldn’t Luke have given her some pointers before he ran off to be a hermit? Couldn’t she have possibly trained herself, or at the very least, have her great power triggered by distress or pure survival instincts?
I’m not saying that implying things offscreen can’t be cheap and lazy. I’m just saying that it’s odd and somewhat suspicious how so many people immediately got upset by a woman, even of Skywalker blood, displaying a mere moment of powerful Force ability, as if this came from absolutely nowhere.
Speaking of coming from nowhere, there’s a line in Rogue One about hyperspace tracking becoming a future possibility, so that wasn’t just a dramatic asspull either.
The prequel films, for all of their terrible writing, dialogue, story structure, direction, and overreliance on CGI, at the very least continued the story of the Skywalkers, and praised the Jedi blindly despite their many, many flaws while portraying the Sith as unambiguously evil and corrupt. The new films are still trying to capture the magic and fun of a galaxy far, far away, but they are being more inquisitive and critical of their own universe, and asking the audience to think a little bit. And also to be less exclusionary, guarding their precious franchise from newcomers and Disney! Oh, the horror!
So Luke made a mistake and became an old, grizzled bastard hermit to try and escape his failures. People try to downplay or escape their failures in real life all the time; it’s not just a dramatic plot device. So what if the casino scene ended up amounting to nothing? Not everything in life gets rewarded, even if you try really, really hard. So what if Porgs are annoying? They’re no more or less distracting than the Ewoks were.
At least the dialogue isn’t cringey. At least the new main characters only really whine when they have a reason to whine. At least Jar Jar Binks is gone.
So to those who say the prequel films are better than The Last Jedi, I’m going to have to disagree. Vehemently. Those things are terrible, and I can only look at them now as a cautionary tale about making men bury their emotions. Anakin’s whiny teenage impotence and sudden transition to violence is almost understandable when you look at it that way.