Musings on Mary Sue (TFA spoilers)

Musings on Mary Sue (TFA spoilers)

Postby sunnyside » Tue Jan 12, 2016 5:13 pm

It seems we've never had a thread on this, and I've been musing about it after some of our discussion on Rey.

First, I suspect the core "issue" that most people are bringing up with "Mary Sue" characters in fan fiction is just that the main characters are being overshadowed in a fan fic. I mean imagine if Star Trek was about the adventures of Pike and Spock, and then someone wrote a fan-fic with some "Kirk" character who was a bad boy who rolls into the academy, bangs some chick, cheats on a test, and then worms his way into the captains chair. That would have been intolerable and we'd have hated it. But it works with an original character.

Otherwise a Mary Sue describes a particular set of character traits that were popping up too often in fan fic for Paula Smith, so she wrote http://fanlore.org/wiki/A_Trekkie%27s_Tale

However some are common traits in OCs and others at least aren't "worse" than traits we see in many characters who, like Rey, walk through Disney's twelve step hero's journey. http://thewritersjourney.com/hero's_journey.htm#Memo

Basically I'm saying "Mary Sue" is a reasonable acceptable archtype for an original character.

Although I do think they tend to being more distasteful in the science fiction genre, which is probably why the whole thing started. One of the Mary Sue traits is being good at pretty much everything, or at least everything important.

It's easy to give a character in a fantasy setting a pass on that because it's entirely reasonable for a teenager to be a world class gymnast or archer because teenagers manage to win those competitions. Also they're skills that are easy to pick up even with a typical Mary Sue tragic/challenging backstory.

The highly technical nature of sci-fi makes that more challenging, because the world class leaders in those areas tend to be older and more experienced and required specialized training and experiences. So while I could accept a lot of things, and would have been fine with her having mastery of that speed she owned, the whole bit where Rey is a scavenger who is established to have not left Jakku, yet she's an excellent hyperdrive mechanic, left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm sure one can rationalize it any number of ways, and I appreciate why Disney did it, but, well, bleh.

Still, I think we all liked Rey and the movie. And would forgive something similar in Trek.

Any thoughts on the Mary Sue thing? Not necessarily having to do with Star Wars.
Last edited by sunnyside on Tue Jan 12, 2016 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Musings on Mary Sue

Postby Graham Kennedy » Tue Jan 12, 2016 6:41 pm

As I understand it the Mary Sue concept is somewhat fuzzy, with different people having different interpretations/definitions of what exactly makes for one.

The common definition I've seen is that a character is a Mary Sue if :

1) It comes across as an author avatar, usually an idealised version of what the author sees themselves as or wishes they could be.

2) Usually, a new character put into an existing setup.

3) It's a character who is excellent at everything. Typically each existing character will have some trait or skill they are known for (Spock, logic; Kirk, awesome Captain; Bones, great Doctor). Generally the Mary will be good at everything, and often better than the existing characters at the things they are good at.

4) Along with that, the Mary will have few if any flaws. She will never stumble, never fail, never misjudge anything or do anything wrong.

I doubt Rey meet 1) at all. She is arguably 2, though that aspect is really necessary given these are sequels - she's not coming into the old character's world so much as just being part of the larger whole Lucas/Disney is creating.

She does go a long way to meeting 3) and 4) though. Does Rey need anybody's help at any point in this movie? Does she fail at anything, ever? Is there anything anybody else is better at than she is?

She's better at hand to hand combat than Finn, a man trained from birth to be a Stormtrooper, is.

She's more determined to help the Rebellion defeat the First Order than Finn, a man whose entire character arc is about rebelling against the First Order, is. He goes from "I have to help you, it's the right thing to do" to "I must run away, the First Order is so scary!" - a complete reversal of his character growth, inserted purely so she can be the more noble one urging him to change his mind.

She's better at running the Falcon than Han Solo is. Han Solo!

She's better at the Force than Kylo is, the man whose main character trait is that he's powerful with the force.

I think she gets away with it, mostly, because the actress playing her is very likeable and the story doesn't really browbeat you about how fantastic she is all the time the way most Mary Sue authors do. And since she doesn't meet 1), and doesn't really meet 2), it really doesn't come across as a film-killing thing to me.
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Re: Musings on Mary Sue

Postby Captain Seafort » Tue Jan 12, 2016 7:05 pm

It also doesn't hurt that Star Wars has already had a couple of individuals who also have most, if not all, of Rey's Mary-Sueish traits. The Skywalkers.

EDIT: Also, moved to SW, given that the topic is entirely about TFA.
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Re: Musings on Mary Sue (TFA spoilers)

Postby Graham Kennedy » Tue Jan 12, 2016 7:52 pm

Which Annakin is a Mary Sue? Certainly not Luke - he fails often in ways both big and small, and certainly isn't the greatest at everything.
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Re: Musings on Mary Sue

Postby sunnyside » Tue Jan 12, 2016 10:52 pm

Captain Seafort wrote:It also doesn't hurt that Star Wars has already had a couple of individuals who also have most, if not all, of Rey's Mary-Sueish traits. The Skywalkers.

EDIT: Also, moved to SW, given that the topic is entirely about TFA.


For clarity I was hoping to open up the topic in general, The Force Awakens is just a recent movie where the subject has come up.

However no stress, I think we have a community that looks for activity anywhere, and maybe this will turn into just talking about Star Wars.

Back on topic I think it would be hard to claim any of the Skywalkers had particularly Mary Sue traits at least as I would characterize them. Luke isn't good at everything (and gets zapped in the butt trying to learn even a little force stuff) and isn't liked right off the bat by other characters. He has a rather hard time of it in Empire and only really catches his stride in Return of the Jedi. In the prequels Anakin perhaps skirts the trope a little, but about the time he really gets good he's starting to spiral into dysfunction.

Graham Kennedy wrote: He goes from "I have to help you, it's the right thing to do" to "I must run away, the First Order is so scary!" - a complete reversal of his character growth, inserted purely so she can be the more noble one urging him to change his mind.


My impression was that he started out with that talk, but Poe quickly figured out that he really just wanted to escape and needed a pilot. Similarly he fronted with Rey a bit, but again was still just trying to escape. Only going after Rey (and a bit of stopping the planet killer) got him turned around.

I find Finn a really interesting character that way, he's kind of like the opposite of a Mary Sue in that he's cowardly, not so well liked by others, and seems to be unable to do anything other than advance the plot, like a C3PO without the humor. For the most part he's just a foil to Rey, getting beaten to demonstrate that various forces are dangerous or scary (shot down in the escape, clobbered by Rey, captured by a Rathtar, beaten by the storm trooper, beaten by Kylo Ren, and when he wasn't getting beaten down he was generally running away (or pushing a button to shoot a tie fighter Rey lined up with the locked up quad laser).

However I think they're trying to make him into a heroic main character. I'm curious to see how that will be handled.
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