NOTE: I am assuming you have watched every Star Wars movie ever. If you haven’t watched them, especially The Force Awakens, do so now. I’ll wait. Also, the reason I am slowly starting to hate The Force Awakens might very well be the reason you love it.
Today, January 24th, 2016, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the second time. The first time I watched it, I was happy to see it. I believed, at the time, it was a good Star Wars movie… yet something was off. Now, I have a good idea.
Thanks to a certain group (it rhymes with “tamer plate,”) I can already hear everyone drawing battle lines, preparing arguments why Rey is or isn’t a Mary Sue. If it were just that, I could live with it. After all, Star Wars has never had the best character development. Yet what some people dislike about Rey is symptomatic of a bigger problem.
Now, let us do the unthinkable (even if you edge towards the Saint John’s Whippets side of the political spectrum like I do, trust me, it’ll be fun!) and put ourselves in the position of the Tater Laters. When they say “Rey is a Mary Sue,” there are as many definitions as there are people who use the term, rendering it almost meaningless. However, there are three common definitions. The first is a blatant self-insert character. Since JJ Abrams is not a girl from the UK, this definition seems doubtful. The second definition is a character that is unnaturally skilled and/or annoyingly perfect.
If we use this definition, Star Wars has a grand tradition of Mary Sues and their male equivalent, Gary Stus. They’re called the Skywalker family. In Episode One, Anakin had only flow pod-racers, but was somehow able to fly a Naboo figther well enough to destroy the droid control ship and in Episode Four, Luke was again able to fly a craft he was unfamiliar with and destroyed the Death Star. The explanation? Natural piloting skills, controls similar to craft they were familiar with, and that giant handwave known as The Force.
Rey has a similar issue. She’s supernaturally good not only at piloting, but also at repairing things. There are skills she has that we are supposed to infer how she picks up. There are also times when she is an unreasonably fast learner or more than a little lucky. And, honestly, I could forgive it… if she were the only one.
You see, not only are we expected to believe that Rey is instantly able to instantly learn how to pilot any craft and fix any machine, but that Finn can also learn how to shoot two different types of turrets under intense pressure and is able to hold his own with an unfamiliar weapon (Luke and Anakin’s lightsaber) against two experienced opponents (a dark Jedi who has mastered The Force and a weirdly competent storm trooper.) We are also expected that Poe could survive a TIE Fighter crash, trek through Jaaku’s desert surface, obtain a ship, and somehow make it to the Rebel, sorry, Resistance base and delivers his report. Not only that, but he’s able to beat a Jedi with more raw power than Anakin, a highly trained storm trooper and the two best smugglers in the galaxy… all without a scratch.
Again, I could even forgive all of that… if entire factions didn’t do this. Seriously, The Empire, I mean, The First Order have a giant laser beam that can shoot from sectors away and destroy multiple planets at once. It is powered by sucking all the energy from a nearby star and storing it inside a planet. The Resistance is somehow able to tell how it works and guess what its weakness is just by looking at a scan from a single recon mission. Finn is able to tell them where that weakness was located because he happened to have been assigned there. Still, speaking as someone who will defend the prequel trilogy, I could forgive this except for one thing.
Before I tell you that final thing, I want to share with you the third common definition of a Mary Sue: a character that is a black hole. The laws of the movie/book/comic/whatever will bend around this character. This is why people see a Mary Sue as the ultimate of bad writing.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unique in that the plot bends, tears, and distorts around the desire to re-create the previous films. Every plot beat mimics part of the original movies. First, we have a tall, ominous bad guy with a distorted voice and a creepy mask try and intercept information vital to a group of plucky freedom fighters (A New Hope.) That information gets put in a droid who travels across a desert and runs into our hero (A New Hope.) Our hero meets a dashing, yet cowardly and self-interested stranger who helps her take the droid offworld to the secret freedom fighter base (A New Hope.) Along the way, our hero gets captured by creepy mask dude (think either like Princess Leia in A New Hope or like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.) Place we’ve never seen before gets wiped out (A New Hope.) Lovable coward decides to save the day, which involves destroying superweapon (A New Hope.) Superweapon is protected by shield which needs to be destroyed. Destruction of shield comes down to the wire. (Return of the Jedi.) Creepy mask dude tries to turn hero and fails (Empire Strikes Back.) Bad guy turns out to be whiny emo douche with daddy issues (literally every scene with Anakin in the Prequels.) He also kills elderly mentor figure (A New Hope.) Film ends on a cliffhanger and a main character heavily injured (Empire Strikes Back.)
Even more damning, for all intents and purposes, it still is the Rebelion versus the Empire. Starkiller Base’s purpose isn’t just to create drama, no. Its entire purpose is to reset the balance of power to how it was in A New Hope. Yet, for some reason, the plot tried to disguise it by changing the name of The Rebel Alliance to The Resistance and the Galactic Empire to The First Order. As a result, the destruction of multiple planets feels hollow and empty.
(By the way, asides from JJ Abrams wanting to make A New Hope again, was there any reason to just have The New Republic simply fight the First Order? Couldn’t we at least pretend things had progressed? Right now, it looks like everything that happened in the Original Trilogy was completely pointless.)
In other words, someone could marathon the original trilogy and get the exact same plot points. Say what you will about the Prequels, at least they were different. They showed you things you had never seen. They made the galaxy feel bigger. More importantly, they didn’t lift character arcs and plot points to create a Frankenstein’s monster of meh.
You see, I’m not a fan of Star Wars because I want to see the same thing over and over. I’m a fan of Star Wars because up until this point its kept showing me new stuff. New vehicles, new technology, new ideas. In fact, I would have to say that the movies pale in comparison to the Expanded Universe. That makes this even harder to swallow because the Expanded Universe (X-Wing Rogue Squadron, Tales of the Jedi, Republic Commando, Dark Empire, Galaxy of Fear, and so much more) was what I grew up on, and even the worst of these usually had something new to offer. This movie, on the other hand, is cannibalizing the past for spare parts.
Of course, that’s just me. If you love The Force Awakens, more power to you. Its got the cool effects and imitates the style of the originals, but with better acting. However, do you really want to spend ten bucks or your regional equivalent for something that’s dedicated to showing you something you’ve already seen?