Long, long ago in theaters far, far away a film franchise surprised everyone (including the studio that distributed it). George Lucas managed to pull a fluke out of thin air and created a box office powerhouse by fusing the monomyth with space opera to create a story that would go on to create one of the most passionate fan bases around. And, for decades, this fanbase was mostly happy but continuously asked for more. Then, they were given what they wanted, and all hell broke loose.
“We want more good stuff” they cried, convinced that memories of the original trilogy weren’t colored by nostalgia. But as time went on and George kept on trying to satisfy them with new things, he grew weary of it all. Finally, George gave up and walked away, handing off the property to Darth Mouse and exiling himself to a ranch house on Dagobah. And Darth Mouse then attempted to make good on the promise to give the people what they want, a Star Wars movie that they couldn’t complain about.
But… some totally did.
Not everyone, mind you, a small but vocal minority. Some of them were really angry that the EU was being discarded. Others thought that the protagonist of the movie, Rey, was actually a Mary Sue. In their opinion, Rey was made to look better in her first outing than Luke was in his and there were no logical explanations for it. Honestly, the argument felt a bit silly in a franchise where a mystical force can drive the protagonist, but there were some arguments that could have some ground if Rey turned out to have no backstory. But since so many people agreed the movie was good, The Force Awakens was hardly scratched by angry fans and the Disney Empire continued to capitalize on the property they’d bought by releasing a trailer for the first of many planned spin-offs.
And those same people complained again because the protagonist of Rogue One was also a woman and many of them, without seeing the movie, even argued that she would be a Mary Sue as well. Disney, unfazed by these complaints, went on to admit that making the protagonists of the last two films female was “purposeful”. Heads exploded like Alderaan. But, all the while, the Wookie that writes this blog had one thought about it all…
Hasn’t Star Wars always featured kick-ass women?
Something about fans that I’ve pointed out in the past is that you just cannot change anything without pissing at least some of them off. These details mean just about everything to a fandom. But sometimes they take offense even when nothing has really been changed. This isn’t necessarily because of a specific bias but just a general feeling that superficially different is somehow different throughout. One great example of this was the outcry by some that there just could not have been a black Stormtrooper when Finn was first seen on the trailers for Force Awakens.
However, many others then turned around and pointed out some things that made their arguments moot. First, Stormtroopers were not necessarily Clones because Clone Troopers only made a fraction of the imperial army and the rest were recruited from the civilian population. Second, even if they had all been clones, since Jango Fett had been dead for some time, we could never have known they would have stuck with that original template. And, third, Finn was a Stormtrooper for The First Order, not the Empire, and there was no reason they had to be the exact same Stormtroopers as the ones the Empire had. So, after bellyaching about it for some time, many of the nerds who complained about it either shut up or revealed their true biases.
The same can’t really be said this time around.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Jyn, there’s really very little question that some complaining about this are doing so out of some sort of bias. The fact is, Rey and Jyn Erso of Rogue One are original characters being introduced into new productions and not changing any of the lore to do it. They’re not a change to anything firmly established, they’re just additions, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. In fact, not only are they not changes in terms of on-screen canon, but they’re not really even changes in terms of tradition. And this really applies in both directions. They shouldn’t be something people get angry about, but it feels strange that executives would feel like the franchise was missing strong women to begin with.
Rey and Jyn are not the first empowered women to have been featured in Star Wars. Since early on the franchise has included female Jedi, soldiers, politicians and almost every other role in the Galaxy. Many of these existed in the Expanded Universe, through games, novels, comics, and cartoons. And sure, a lot of those were removed, but even the ones that remain are still littered with these characters. And as for the films? People seem to forget that Leia was always a bad-ass.
First seen in the middle of a rebel spy mission, Leia was a high ranking politician who we first see sneaking the data off her ship before defying Darth Vader face to face like she owned the place. She’s promptly captured, tortured, and refuses to give genuine information to the Empire even under severe duress. She then, upon having people come to rescue her, takes charge by grabbing a blaster and opening up a path out of the firefight they were in. Leia was not fucking around in that first movie.
And the thing is, when people crunched the numbers they found that Leia was actually the best shot of anyone in the original Star Wars trilogy, hitting 2 out of every 3 shots she took (a trait that Padme also had in the prequels). Sure, she was the only hero ever actually hit by blaster fire, but even then she took the opportunity to take someone down with her. And the fact she was hit at all doesn’t say a thing about her ability, shooting Han or Luke would have been good, but for a Stormtrooper shooting Leia was a matter of survival.
The same held true for a lot of characters to follow her. Counting just the characters introduced in things still cannon we have Asajj Ventress, Ahsoka Tano, Hera Sendulla and Sabine Wren. All of these were major players in their respective properties and all of them made a major impact on their stories. So when you look at Rey and Jyn standing as their own women, you’re not looking at something out of the normal. The only thing new to this equation is that they’re established specifically as the protagonists. But, even then, Rey’s role already has precedent within the Expanded Universe.
When you look at the EU, the same EU that a lot of people were angry about disappearing, you find the likes of Mara Jade Skywalker and Jaina Solo. Both of these were force sensitive women who became Jedi (though Mara Jade came to it through round about fashion after some interesting adventures). Jaina even had to deal with her twin brother, Jacen, falling to the dark side and becoming a Sith. This wasn’t just some random story out of nowhere either, the Solo twins were the deuteragonists of a great deal of the EU and once Jacen went to the dark side it was up to his sister to stop him. So when you take a step back and really look at that, it’s clear that The Force Awakens at least, in part, drew inspiration from those books when establishing Kylo Ren and setting him against a female Jedi in his age group.
So when we look at that, what exactly is the critique to have against these characters? Some would argue that Rey is a Mary Sue because she just happened to figure the Force out without any training, but I place the blame of that on JJ Abrams and his god damn mystery box. We honestly have no idea what her background is and several times Kylo Ren implies he knows more about her than he should if she’s some random stranger. We have no idea that she’s actually coming to the force for the first time ever and not just resurfacing buried memories and, even if we were, there’s no reason to see what she does as extraordinary.
Consider for a moment that the tricks she learns are all things she sees demonstrated or gets a hint on along the way. And beating Kylo Ren? How is that scene any different than Luke shutting off his targeting system before destroying the Death Star? He feels the force, he makes the shot. She feels the force, she overwhelms the dude who has the sloppiest looking lightsaber of the entire franchise and a blaster wound in his side. These are not the marks of a Mary Sue, this is the marks of a character existing in a JJ Abrams production so all of her backstory and the details are obscured by his belief that movies aren’t good unless they leave you confused. I mean, let’s consider that we actually know more about Rey than we know about any single character in Cloverfield and acknowledge that’s incredibly sad.
Which brings us to Jyn Erso, we literally know nothing about the film besides what was in the trailer and people are already claiming that she’s a Mary Sue. I could imagine this if the trailer had her acting as the person who really destroyed the Death Star or showed her single handedly killing dozens of Stormtroopers. But so far what we know of her is that she has a criminal history, she’s got a bad attitude, and she’s being assigned to a mission that we know from previous films to be a suicide mission at best. This does not scream Mary Sue, this screams “disposable”.
I may be proven wrong and she may come away as somehow the master of everything, but I’m not going to discount her just because of her gender based on a trailer. What trailer doesn’t make their protagonist look like the best person ever? Could you imagine if trailers for The Transporter simply made him look like this boring chauffeur who was really OCD about rules? Hell no, you saw the trailers where he single handedly decimated rooms of people. Could you imagine a Fast and the Furious trailer where they didn’t look like Car Jedi? No, you see them jump supercars, defying all physics and logic, as if it were so easy you could learn it from a tutorial on the internet.
So ease up. This is not threatening anything. Women have always had a place in Star Wars and the protagonists have always had an edge on everyone else. It’s the monomyth and half of them are the chosen one of their particular generation. We can’t condemn Rey for being in a JJ Abrams movie and we can’t condemn Jyn for being presented well in a trailer. They’re not breaking tradition, they’re just building on it. Building on a tradition…
Where women can get in (and cause) just as much shit as men.