Is Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens a Mary Sue character? Does it matter? Like most semi-respectable writers, I can’t stand the thought of writing a Mary Sue, even in the (less respectable but still populated by actual published authors) virtual land of fanfiction.
At worst, I make sure my characters have at least one fatal flaw – like a permanent kryptonite that hangs around more often than Superman’s.
But what if the character’s kryptonite was just an alternate path to power? Amid this Rey/Mary Sue debate, I created my own original Star Wars character in a text-based roleplay (RP) setting and decided to be a little more open-minded than usual.
(Note: Some strong language below cut.)
Enter Galena, a Coruscanti senator’s daughter with lots of untapped Force. Her worst case scenario is really just falling to the Dark Side and using her power in a different way, i.e. becoming a badass villain. She’s got privilege. She’s got powers. And she’s got the requisite missing/evil/possibly dead parent, a kidnapping, a fatalistic love interest (or not; he’s a light side Sith) and some other issues from her past.
And obviously, she looks and sounds like Sarah Bolger with an English accent, as in OUAT, even though I don’t watch that show.
Whatever. That’s how I envision her. Don’t judge, just read!
Mary Sue: What I Mean (Sort Of)
What do I mean when I say she’s a Mary Sue? Let’s take a look at this definition from TV Tropes:
The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.She has an unusual and dramatic Back Story.
Woah, there, TV Tropes! That sounds like basically any Jedi character ever could easily be a Mary Sue…or a Gary Stu or Genderfluid Bu.
Mary Sue: What I Don’t Mean
A Mary Sue can also be a self-insert character, particularly when fanfiction is concerned (as noted in the above definition). I didn’t strive to make Galena Mary Sue-ish in that regard, although we do have one or two things in common. I find that most writers (or RPers) like to have one or two things to ground them with their character, and that’s cool. In this case, we’ll go with sheltered upbringing, white.
My thought process for this started when my RP writing partner noted how with the Force, and as a Force user, we have a great deal of liberty in defining how it does or doesn’t work for our characters. After that, I just stopped caring how outlandish the character was. If it would enhance the story and the way the characters hated or liked each other, it was on the table.
In other words, I just took a more open-minded approach to writing and didn’t worry so much about a million rules and ‘omg is she a Mary Sue?!’ because I knew my writing partner wasn’t going to judge me.
Here’s what happened:
1. She’s a Lot Less Whiny Than Kylo Ren – and Most of My Original Characters
Like any decent character, Galena has obstacles and goals in her universe. But she’s not so put upon that she’s constantly whining about things she can’t change or stuff that bugs her. She’s got lots of powers and talents despite her earnestly pathetic past issues, so she doesn’t have a reason to believe she can’t make a difference for herself in the future.
i don't know why my family celebrates wookiee life day
it's not even our heritage
— Emo Kylo Ren (@KyloR3n) December 25, 2015
In other words, by being more open minded as a writer and less concerned about Mary-Sue-ing, the character developed rather organically. Plus, that attitude could really influence me as a positive way as a person. Maybe the more I write her, the more I’ll be able to overcome challenges instead of just talking about them.
2. It’s Easier to Connect the Dots
In the Star Wars universe, it’s always fun to connect backstories and planets and all sorts of stuff. And as a fan of franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, and Star Trek, I love that cool feeling of realizing how characters, places and situations are invariably connected.
When I took a look at all the awesome civil war-related drama that was going on on the fictional planet of Ord Mantell, I thought it would be cool to involve that in the backstory. So I did. NBD. No second guessing if or how her possibly evil father might have gotten there.
3. It Will Get Ridiculous – That’s What Editing is For
Have I written some of the things that are a little over the top or silly? Yeah. Actually, some of them are too ridiculous to list and most of them involve her padawan trials. (Spinning plates…really, Tara?) Not my finest words. But were this material otherwise publishable/not set in a copywritten universe, I could just edit or change that stuff.
4. Inner Monologuing Got an Upgrade
Normally, inner monologues in text-based RP can be a pain in the butt for your writing partner. It takes a while for you to write them, but their character can’t react to what yours is thinking or feeling. Not so with the powers of the Force!
No. questions. here. Sparing use of this power actually aids in the storytelling.
5. In Some Universes, Many Protagonists May Be Mary Sues
The setting itself can set you up for some Mary Sue-ness, in a good way. Star Wars is a great example since it’s set in another time and place and there are thousands of years of history presented by established canon and EU.
I’m excited to take this ‘limitless’ feeling back to more structured, original settings and have a little more confidence in my characters – and in my own writing and RPing abilities.
There’s a big difference between a Jedi who can project an image into her Force-sensitive mother’s mind versus a half-elven LOTR character who just so happens to be simultaneously like Arwen and Eowyn and makes out with Aragorn. But let’s be real – at some point, a lot of us were writing that half-elf, and that’s okay. Awesome writing happens because you’re brave enough to write something crappy.
So whatever – I’m tired of all the rules, self-imposed or otherwise. Those killed the fun of fiction writing for me. It’s time to break some rules.
What are your thoughts on Mary Sues? Do you think Rey is a Mary Sue character? Are writers too tough on themselves when it comes to this topic? What have you learned through years of writing fanfiction or RP? Let me know in the comments!