The following is a video I made about how “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” fixed Rey’s character and made me love her. I was inspired by an article I wrote earlier this year. I tried to expand on it in this video. Enjoy!
I love Star Wars.
I love watching the movies on a lazy afternoon.
I love talking about Star Wars with my friends.
However, I generally avoid talking about Star Wars online.
It’s a frustrating, but inescapable fact of life these days. Being a Star Wars fan online is like unknowingly entering a street fight, being given a rusty knife, and having to pick a side on the spot. No matter which side you pick, you’re going to piss off the other side who will forever claim that you’re not a true Star Wars fan. That usually comes after being hurled with enough insults to make you want to punch your computer screen.
It’s why I’ve rarely written about Star Wars. I did write a few pieces on Ahsoka Tano and the sequel trilogy, but I’ve resisted writing more. The current state of the fandom is just not conducive to meaningful discussions or criticism. Unless you’re talking about how adorable Baby Yoda is, you’re bound to get caught up in discussions about how “The Last Jedi” ruined the franchise forever.
I don’t care for those discussions. I have my opinions on the original, prequel, and sequel trilogy. I try not to share or discuss them online because it’s just too frustrating to deal with people who think Star Wars has become some liberal plot to spread hatred over anyone with a penis. There’s no reasoning with that crowd. Even Obi-Wan Kanobi would say those people are lost.
Despite my reservation about discussing Star Wars online, I’d like to share a sentiment in the spirit of “Star Wars Day,” also known as May the 4th be with you. As it just so happens, that sentiment involves one of the most controversial characters to come out of the sequel trilogies since Jar Jar Binks. It’s bound to earn me plenty of hatred and resentment, but I’m going to channel the strength of a Jedi and share it anyway.
“Rise of Skywalker” made Rey a great character.
I’ll give everyone a minute or so to fume.
I’ll give several more to those who despise “The Last Jedi” to insult me through their computer screen and claim I’m not a true Star Wars fan.
Are you done? Good, because this is something that really made the sequel trilogies work for me. It’s what elevated them above the sub-par prequels while also making Rey one of my favorite characters in all of Star Wars. She’s still no Ahsoka Tano, but “Rise of Skywalker” made her a character worth rooting for.
Since the movie has been out for months now, I’ll spoil the reveal that made this movie so powerful to me. Rey finds out that she’s not a nobody who was abandoned on Jakku for drinking money. She’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious.
It’s not the most jarring revelation in the history of Star Wars. It’s nowhere near as shocking as Darth Vader revealing to Luke that he’s his father. However, it doesn’t have to be shocking to have an impact. More than anything, this revelation gives Rey’s character greater meaning to the first two movies.
Before this revelation, I was somewhat indifferent on Rey. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t like her as much as Finn or Kylo Ren. I know she was frequently bemoaned as a Mary Sue. While I don’t agree with that sentiment, I understand why some painted her with that label.
Even without that dreaded label, which I think is a bullshit label to begin with, I didn’t find her story that interesting. After “The Last Jedi,” she became this weird anomaly within the Star Wars universe. She just happens to be this orphan of drunks who has incredible power with the Force. Even without any formal training, she’s able to use advanced skills and take down experienced Force users like Kylo Ren.
Before “Rise of Skywalker,” I thought she just didn’t have an interesting character arc. I got that she was a good soul who wanted to do good in the galaxy. I respect that. There’s certainly a place for those characters in any story. I just didn’t find it very compelling.
Then, “Rise of Skywalker” changes that by making her the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. Suddenly, that arc becomes a lot more interesting. She’s not just a sad little orphan girl. She carries the legacy of the galaxy’s most infamous despot. All that good she sought to do now becomes a lot more meaningful.
It also becomes a lot more dramatic in that it give greater weight to her journey in the previous movies. When I go back and watch the previous two movies, I don’t just see Rey as this hapless soul who got caught up in this galaxy-wide conflict. I see someone who carries the burden of being a Sith Lord’s granddaughter.
It’s a burden similar to what Luke Skywalker endured in the original trilogy. I would argue it’s greater for Rey because Darth Vader wasn’t pure evil. He was a fallen Jedi who Luke fought to redeem, eventually succeeding in “Return of the Jedi.” There’s no redeeming someone like Palpatine.
He’s not just a powerful Sith Lord. He’s the embodiment of hate and tyranny. He’s never going to see the light. He can only ever be stopped and Rey has to be the one who stops him. To save the galaxy and break free of this burden, she has to kill her grandfather. It a powerful struggle, which she even tries to run from at one point. When she ultimately succeeds, it’s as beautiful as it is satisfying.
I went into “Rise of Skywalker” with mixed feelings about Rey. I came out a genuine fan of hers. Now, I see her as one of the best parts of the sequel trilogy. I also count “Rise of Skywalker” as one of my favorite Star Wars movies. I know that’s not a popular sentiment, but I’m not apologizing for it.
What made “Rise of Skywalker” feel even more satisfying over time was how some fans managed to figure out her heritage. Below is a video from the YouTube channel, Nerd Soup, that predicted Rey’s link to Palpatine with brilliant detail. The fact that this movie was uploaded on December 10, 2017, nearly two years before “Rise of Skywalker” came out, makes it even more impressive.
Regardless of how hostile certain fans get, Star Wars will always be near and dear to my heart. Thanks to “Rise of Skywalker,” Rey is one of my favorite characters. She’s still not my favorite, as that title still belongs to Ahsoka Tano, but she’s proven herself worthy of this wondrous galaxy far, far away. If you don’t agree with me, then that’s fine.
With that said, Happy Star Wars Day to all. May the 4th be with you.
Every now and then, a narrative trend comes along that I neither care for nor understand. I get why many trends catch on. I’ve even been caught up in a few. I remember when stories about asteroid impacts became popular, as well as romance stories that relied on best friends falling in love. Some lasted longer than others. Some burn out. I think “Friends” alone killed the whole friends-falling-in-love-gimmick.
However, certain trends seem to catch on for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just referring to the gimmicky tropes of every sitcom attempting to rip off “Seinfeld,” either. These are narratives that attempt to troll the audience in hopes of a bigger reaction, as though that can somehow take the place of a compelling story.
Lately, the trend that I’ve found particularly frustrating is the idea of subverting expectations. It’s become a major buzzword in recent years, but not for good reasons. It became a big deal after the fan reaction to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and only intensified with the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
Now, I don’t want to get into extensive discussions about those emotionally charged subjects. I’ll let the fan bases continue to debate that in whatever way they see fit. Instead, I want to take a moment to look at this trend, note how it can be done well, and highlight why recent attempts are misguided and counterproductive.
While subverting expectations sounds cunning on paper, it’s one of those concepts that’s difficult to make work. The concept is simple. You take an audience’s expectations about a story, build up some narrative tension, and then go in an unexpected direction that changes and enhances the impact of that story.
It sounds simple, but it’s not. When it works, it’s amazing. When it fails, it’s downright toxic to itself. I would argue that neither “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“ nor the final season of “Game of Thrones” succeeded in that effort. However, one movie did succeed in this effort and it did so back in 2010, long before this trend even began.
That movie is “Megamind,” a film I’ve praised before for how it parodies the superhero genre. There’s a lot more I can say about this underrated gem, but this is one element that I feel is more relevant now than it was when the movie first came out. To date, I’ve yet to see a movie subvert expectations as well as this one.
The way “Megamind” goes about this is not at all subtle, but it’s still powerful. It’s in the premise of the movie. It asks what happens when the evil genius supervillain actually defeats the handsome, square-jawed superhero? What do they do afterwards? Why did they pursue this goal in the first place?
The first 15 minutes of the movie do an excellent job of setting up the basic, generic premise of every superhero narrative since Superman. Metro Man is the hero. That’s how he carries himself. That’s how others see him. That’s how he’s perceived. Conversely, Megamind is the villain. That’s how everyone sees him. The prison warden himself says it before the opening title screen. He’ll always be a villain.
Everything is in place for a traditional hero-versus-villain struggle. Old concepts like justice, hero worship, and public perception come into play. Then, in the first real battle we see between Megamind and Metro Man, the unthinkable happens. Megamind, despite his grandiose boasting and casual bumbling, defeats Metro Man.
It’s not framed as some M. Knight Shamalyan twist. It’s not an attempt to shock the audience. It’s not some minor plot point, either. In fact, the rest of the movie is built around this sudden subversion of standard superhero stories. Every event, choice, and character moment stems directly from this subversion. It’s not just a minor element of the plot. It is the plot.
What makes it work is how this subversion helps tell a very different kind of superhero story. It’s not just about flipping the script for the sake of novelty. It makes a case that superhero narratives are capable of doing much more than simply having the hero save the day from the villain.
Throughout the movie, Megamind finds himself playing a part in every tried and true trope we’ve come to expect in a superhero movie. He starts off being a villain because that’s what he assumes he’s meant to be. He starts questioning that assumption because by defeating Metro Man, he finds himself without a greater purpose. In pursuing that purpose, he find out that those assumptions had serious flaws.
Such assumptions weren’t inherently right or wrong. It was a matter of digging a little deeper into the concept of heroes and villains, finding out along the way that the role he thought was right for him wasn’t the one he ultimately wanted. By the end, he still dresses like a villain. He’s still not nearly as handsome or powerful as Metro Man. However, he still chooses to become Metro City’s greatest hero.
This subversion of expectation works because it’s used to build a story rather than just tweak a few details. Moments like the revelation about Rey’s parents being nobodies or Arya Stark killing the Night King had only minor shock value, but they didn’t really factor into the larger plot.
If someone other than Arya had killed the Night King, then it wouldn’t have changed much in terms of how the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” panned out.
If Rey’s parents turned out to be someone important in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it wouldn’t have substantially altered how the events that followed played out. Rey still wouldn’t have joined Kylo.
Ultimately, those subversions just felt like trolling. These details that people thought were important just turned out to be tricks or ploys meant to get a reaction. It comes off as both dishonest and insincere. They might not have been intended as such, but given the fan reactions, I can understand that sentiment to some extent.
You thought all those prophecies about Jon Snow and the Night King meant something? Well, that turned out to be a big waste of time.
You thought Rey’s parents would impact the course of the movie? Well, that was just a complete waste of time, at least until “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” changed that.
At times, it felt like the story was tempting people to get engaged and then slapped them in the face the second the plot went in a different direction. As a result, it didn’t feel at all surprising or engaging. It just felt insulting.
Contrast that with “Megamind.” At no point does the plot attempt to demean the audience or anyone who enjoys the traditional superhero narrative. The subversion is in the synopsis. That same subversion is used to build a larger story that fleshes out characters who started out in generic roles, but ultimately embraced a different role.
This shift never feels forced or contrived. It’s not done just to get a cheap thrill or to stand out. At its core, “Megamind” uses the concept of subverting expectations to tell a better story than it could’ve told if it stuck to the traditional superhero narrative. That’s why it works.
Unfortunately, that’s also why other recent attempts keep failing. Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, a comic book, or a video game, the concept has been used in a misguided effort to do something different. Subverting expectations has become synonymous, to some extent, with doing something new and bold. The importance of telling a compelling, coherent story is never more than secondary.
I get the importance of trying new things, especially when that genre has been played out in so many forms. However, doing so does not mean taking audience expectations and defying them in a way that feels blatant. At best, it just makes the story confusing. It’s just different for the sake of being different. At worst, it insults the audience and makes them feel denigrated for enjoying that narrative in the first place.
It can be done and done well. “Megamind” is proof of that. It doesn’t just subvert expectations for the superhero genre. It dares to build a story around it and even have a little fun with it along the way. It doesn’t at all take away from the genre it parodies. It just uses it as a foundation to tell a unique story.
No matter how many expectations you subvert, there’s no substitute for a quality story. “Megamind” gives us that and the undeniable charm of Will Ferrell. That’s what makes it so enjoyable.
Last week, I expressed my genuine excitement about the final season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” A big part of that excitement is due to the prospect of seeing more Ahsoka Tano, a character I’ve praised before and will likely praise again in the future. I make no apologies for that excitement. I also won’t apologize for calling Ahsoka one of the greatest characters in Star Wars.
By that, I don’t just mean the greatest female character. I know great female characters have become politically charged in recent years, sometimes for all the wrong reasons. However, Ahsoka’s greatness transcends that whole debate. I’ll go so far as saying that she’s one of the best characters in Star Wars, period.
That’s not a slight against fans of Han Solo, Princess Leia, Rey, Kylo Ren, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, or Darth Maul. I understand why those characters have dedicated fans. For me, personally, Ahsoka is the character who best reflects everything that is great about Star Wars. Between her and Luke Skywalker, they help make this galaxy-spanning saga as epic as it deserves to be.
I could write countless articles on why Ahsoka is such a great character. I doubt that would be enough to cover everything. Other than binge-watching the show on Disney-plus, it’s hard to grasp everything that makes her such a compelling character. Thankfully, others who are more talented and articulate than me have already done a much better job than I’ll ever do.
For those who don’t have time to binge-watch six seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” here are a couple of video essays from a user named XBadgerKnightX, who has made some quality Star Wars themed content over the years. However, it’s his videos on Ahsoka Tano that really stand out.
There are plenty of other articles and videos that highlight Ahoska’s journey and why she’s such a compelling character. These two are the best I could find. If you’re not convinced about Ahsoka’s value to the Star Wars mythos, I encourage you to watch both videos.
Here is Part 1.
Here is Part 2.
If, after all that, you’re still not convinced, then I don’t know what will. I can only assume you’ve been corrupted by the Sith.
Some things are worth waiting for. At the top of that list are things like finding the love of your life, going on a dream vacation, or having your first legal glass of whiskey. For Star Wars fans, the seventh and final season of “The Clone Wars” is likely at the top of that list.
I’m not talking about the sub-par movie that Hayden Christiansen will never live down. I’m talking about the incredible animated TV show it spawned. Say what you will about the quality of the prequel Star Wars trilogy, and many things have been said, but it still brought us the “The Clone Wars.” For me, that was worth enduring Jar Jar Binks.
This show encapsulates everything that’s awesome about Star Wars. Even if you never saw the movies or are only marginally familiar with them, this show has plenty of appeal. From the animation to the story to the voice acting, every details is perfectly refined to maximize everything that’s great about Star Wars.
It’s only flaw was that it ended abruptly after Season 6. There’s a long, convoluted reason for that. It’s not worth getting into, but it doesn’t matter now. The Disney overlords that now own Star Wars are giving “The Clone Wars“ the last season it needed to complete the story.
As someone who fell in love with this show, I couldn’t be more excited. Given that I’ve seen all the Star Wars movies, I know how it ends and where it leads. Anakin Skywalker is still going to become Darth Vader. The republic will fall and Emperor Palpatine will rise to power. However, I’m still excited and the reason for that can be summed up in two words.
I’ve mentioned her before. I’ve made my case as to why she’s one of the best characters in all of Star Wars. Everything that made her great began in this show. She became the kind of character that Star Wars fans of every generation can root for within this show. Now, she’ll have a chance to further demonstrate her strength in one more season.
Watch the trailer. See all the ominous signs of what’s to come. See the emerging darkness within Anakin. Most importantly, watch how Ahsoka sets herself up for an battle that’s sure to be another epic struggle.
Say what you will about Baby Yoda, but to see Ahsoka Tano battle Darth Maul in a light sabre duel is more than worth a Disney Plus subscription.
In Hollywood, there’s somewhat of a paradox when it comes to ego. You need to have a certain amount of arrogance to believe you can make the kinds of movies that fans, critics, and executives who love swimming in pools of cash all love. At the same time, you also need to be humble enough to know when your ideas are crap.
I’ve been writing almost daily since I was 15-years-old. I’m humble enough to know that I’ve written some pretty crappy things in that time. However, I’m also arrogant enough to believe that I have many great stories to tell, some of which I put in my novels and some of which I put in sexy short stories.
It’s a bit easier for someone like me because I’m not a famous director, artist, or novelist just yet. I can still walk down the street without body guards and not be harassed by fans or stalkers. For someone like Rian Johnson, though, I imagine it takes a very different blend of arrogance and humility to navigate the creative process.
I’m sure that blend has been more erratic than usual for the past several months for Mr. Johnson. There’s already a sizable contingent of Star Wars fans who see him the same way Batman fans see Joel Shumacher after “Batman and Robin.” To say fans had mixed reactions to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” would be the most polite way of saying that these have been the most difficult times for those fans since the days of Jar Jar Binks.
While I made my sentiments on the movie clear last year, I don’t deny that fans have some legitimate gripes about the movie. There are indeed times when it feels like the movie is trying to push an agenda and it doesn’t push it very well. There are also fairly sizable plot holes that are difficult to overlook, which may also reflect some creative upheavals that occurred behind the scenes.
Regardless of how you feel about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” or the criticism surrounding it, there’s no denying that it had issues. That was going to happen, regardless of how the movie turned out. However, it’s the way Mr. Johnson reacted to those issues that’s most revealing here. It’s also somewhat of a lesson in both arrogance and humility.
Since the film’s release, Rian Johnson hasn’t been willfully ignorant about fan criticisms. To his credit, he hasn’t resorted to name-calling or scoffing. He’s been fairly diplomatic, for the most part. In an interview with Business Insider, this was his primary response.
Having been a “Star Wars” fan my whole life, and having spent most of my life on the other side of the curb and in that fandom, it softens the blow a little bit.
I’m aware through my own experience that, first of all, the fans are so passionate, they care so deeply — sometimes they care very violently at me on Twitter. But it’s because they care about these things, and it hurts when you’re expecting something specific and you don’t get it from something that you love. It always hurts, so I don’t take it personally if a fan reacts negatively and lashes out on me on Twitter. That’s fine. It’s my job to be there for that. Like you said, every fan has a list of stuff they want a “Star Wars” movie to be and they don’t want a “Star Wars” movie to be. You’re going to find very few fans out there whose lists line up.
And I also know the same way the original movies were personal for Lucas. Lucas never made a “Star Wars” movie by sitting down and thinking, “What do the fans want to see?” And I knew if I wrote wondering what the fans would want, as tempting as that is, it wouldn’t work, because people would still be shouting at me, “F— you, you ruined ‘Star Wars,'” and I would make a bad movie. And ultimately, that’s the one thing nobody wants.
And let me just add that 80-90% of the reaction I’ve gotten from Twitter has been really lovely. There’s been a lot of joy and love from fans. When I talk about the negative stuff, that’s not the full picture of the fans at all.
While I agree with most of what Mr. Johnson said, it’s the bold parts that I find most questionable. It’s at that point where Mr. Johnson goes from being diplomatic to showing signs of the kind of arrogance that undercuts criticism, as a whole.
First off, the idea that George Lucas never made the original “Star Wars” with fans in mind is an unfair comparison. For one, that movie had no fan base to build from and no fans to please. Moreover, Lucas purposefully employed the kind of hero’s journey narrative that had been pleasing fans for centuries. The fact that Luke Skywalker’s story fits Joseph Campbell’s heroic archetype to the letter is not a coincidence.
Secondly, the passions of fans aren’t just built around wanting to see more light saber battles and/or Princess Leia in a bikini. Fans may be unruly and unreasonable at times, but they are the ones that make franchises like Star Wars so successful. They’re the ones who wait in line at the theaters, dress up at comic cons, and spark heated discussions on message boards.
The fans matter is what I’m saying. When there’s an obvious disparity between what the fans are saying and what critics are saying, then there are clearly larger forces at work that go beyond fans being petty. That’s when backlash becomes more than just complaining.
It’s one thing for a handful of fans to overly scrutinize a movie. It’s quite another when there’s a large contingent of fans express a wide variety of concerns, ranging from agenda-pushing to real gaps in the plot. That kind of variety implies that there were missteps beyond not making clear whether Han or Greedo shoot first.
When the criticisms don’t have to get that petty, it’s usually a sign that you should grit your teeth, thicken your skin, and sift through the anger and outrage to see what didn’t work in the final product. Doing so doesn’t mean admitting that you’re a bad director or artist. It just means that you’re willing to take in criticism and learn from it.
Rian Johnson, as well-mannered as he has been since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came out, never gives the impression that he, an admitted fan, took the criticisms of fans too seriously. It was akin to getting information from a test screening and completely throwing it out, something movies often do at their own peril.
It’s one thing to have a vision that you want to see through. I certainly felt that way when I wrote some of my novels. It’s quite another when that vision becomes so rigid that you stop listening to people trying to tell you that parts of it are flawed. Mr. Johnson seemed to ignore those flaws while listening to those who told him what he wanted to hear. Being a successful Hollywood type, that’s kind of unavoidable.
That’s also why maintaining a sense of humility is so important. I never assume that a vision that I have for a novel or short story is inherently flawless. In fact, I work under the assumption that it’s crap and needs refinement. The creative process itself is always ongoing and anyone who isn’t trying to improve their craft is dooming themselves to stagnation. Listening to fans, even annoying ones, is part of that process.
Now, I don’t know Rian Johnson and won’t pretend to understand the kind of pressure he faced from Disney to make “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” another billion-dollar hit. I also won’t pretend to understand what it feels like to see all sorts of hateful comments about how he ruined an iconic franchise. That takes thick skin that not a lot of people have.
However, when there’s an obvious disconnect between your vision and the sentiments of fans, one that is backed up by more than a handful of mean tweets, then ignoring the backlash is one of the worst things you can do. Trolls can be mean, but at a certain point, blaming trolls is no more credible than blaming the Illuminati.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Rian Johnson, it’s that there are times when backlash is an unavoidable part of the creative process and there are times when it’s a sign that there’s a flaw in that process. The signs were there for Mr. Johnson. He chose to ignore them in the name of pursuing his own vision and arrogantly believing that it would work.
That arrogance isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of creativity, but it is a major risk and the fan backlash implies that the risk didn’t entirely pay off. J. J. Abrams played it safe in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” sticking to the tried and true formula that the original trilogy made so iconic. While it also had its share of criticism, it was minor and narrow compared to what Mr. Johnson got with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
The fact that J. J. Abrams is coming back to direct the next Star Wars movie is another sign that there was more than just trolling behind the backlash surrounding “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” While I still enjoyed the movie, personally, I believe the movie would’ve benefited by listening to the fans.
For Mr. Johnson and Mr. Abrams, I don’t envy the difficult position they’re in, having to direct the path of such an iconic franchise. However, if I could offer them any feedback whatsoever, it would be this. Fans are usually pretty forgiving. If Star Wars fans can forgive Jar Jar Binks, then they can forgive the flaws in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” It just takes one solid story that reminds fans why they love Star Wars in the first place.
There has been a lot of talk about “strong female characters” over the past several years. I know because I’ve contributed to some of that talk. I also put that term in quotes because it’s one of those terms that people love to throw around, but don’t quite know how to define. The only time most people use it is to complain.
This has been an especially hot topic among “Star Wars” fans lately, a conversation to which I’ve also contributed. It was fairly obvious from anyone who saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that the producers at Disney wanted to promote more strong female characters. The extent to which they succeeded is debatable, but the fact that someone made a “defeminized” edit of the movie should tell much of the story.
Now, I can understand why Disney and other big movie studios would make a push for strong female characters. I think it has less to do with their commitment to inclusivity and more to do with improving their brand. They could probably care less about gender politics. They just know that a brand that appeals to more than half the population is a brand that’ll make more money. That is, at the end of the day, the primary goal.
With Disney and “Star Wars,” though, that effort almost seems desperate. Characters like Rey and General Holdo were portrayed as so strong and so capable that they didn’t always come off as interesting or very likable. The movies just can’t seem to get any female character not named Princess Leia correct.
The real irony is that “Star Wars” already created an amazing female character who was more compelling, more likable, and more endearing that Rey or Holdo could ever achieve over the course of a single trilogy. In fact, they created her back in 2008 and put her through a journey that endeared her to men, women, and those of unspecified gender.
Her name is Ahsoka Tano and if the term “strong female character” is to have any meaning, she deserves to be the new standard by which all others are measured. She’s not Rey. She’s not Holdo. She’s not Princess Leia either. She’s very much her own character and it’s a character that we need more of in these fragile times.
To those who only know “Star Wars” through the movie, they probably don’t know much about Ahsoka and that’s a true shame because her journey is very much in line with the larger themes of “Star Wars.” I won’t go so far as to say it’s on the level of Luke Skywalker’s journey, but that’s okay because Ahsoka’s journey is compelling in its own right.
In the lore of “Star Wars” that extends beyond the movies, Ahsoka’s story takes place primarily between “Attack Of The Clones” and “Revenge Of The Sith.” She was a young, immature Jedi who was assigned to a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker shortly after the Clone Wars broke out. To say she had the makings of a great female character at that point would’ve warranted a billion Jabba the Hutt laughs.
From the beginning, Ahsoka was not capable or likable. She wasn’t even that crucial a part to story surrounding the Clone Wars. She wasn’t that well-received by the fans either because she came off as annoying, immature, and distracting. That was somewhat forgivable since she was a kid, but she didn’t drop many hints that her journey would be that compelling.
That changed considerably over the course of five seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a highly underrated and very well-done TV series that only got better with each successive season. While this series didn’t really affect the movies that much, it is recognized as official canon. That helps make Ahsoka’s story more meaningful.
That meaning takes time to develop, though. Yes, she starts off as childish and annoying as most would expect of someone so young, but she steadily grows and matures. She becomes an integral part of Anakin Skywalker’s story in that he now has this kid sister to look after that he never asked for. Considering what a whiny guy he was in “Attack Of The Clones,” he really needed that.
What makes Ahsoka’s story most compelling though, especially with respect to strong female characters, is how so much of it is defined by the hard choices she makes. Ahsoka is not like Rey, Holdo, or even Leia in that she often finds herself caught up in situations she doesn’t seek out. Ahsoka is an aspiring Jedi knight. She charges into those situations, making for some pretty dramatic moments.
She’s given no special treatment. Just being a female Jedi who happens to be the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker gets her no passes. She’s held to the same standards. She’s expected to rise to the occasion, which she does time and again. She doesn’t have to be forced into that central role. She becomes part of it like any other non-droid character.
What sets her apart, though, isn’t how well she plays the part of an aspiring Jedi. It’s how she’s allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and make tough decisions along the way. She’s like Luke Skywalker in that she guides the story through the highs and lows of the conflict. There are times she learns a hard less. There are times Anakin Skywalker learns a lesson too. She both complements and supplements those around her.
In that sense, Ahsoka directly contradicts the Galbrush Paradox that often hinders a female character’s ability to struggle, fail, and mess up without becoming a trope. She’s allowed to be a little flawed while retaining a healthy level of femininity. She gets emotional, but not in the same way as Anakin or other male characters. She’s like an alien Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with a light saber.
Ahsoka accomplishes all of this without relying too much on sex appeal. Granted, she’s not desexualized in a way that feels overt, which other franchises have tried too hard to do, but her looks are always secondary to her skills and the choices she makes. Yes, she’s cute in ways that men with sexy alien fantasies appreciate, but that’s never the primary appeal to Ahsoka.
Her biggest appeal is how she navigates the same story as Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kanobi in her own unique way. That story is full of choices and actions that really set her apart. This is best exemplified in what I feel is the most defining and heart-wrenching part of Ahsoka’s story.
At the end of the fifth season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Ahsoka is accused of taking part in a secret attack against the Jedi Temple. As a result, she is imprisoned, but escapes to prove her innocence. She eventually succeeds and is even welcomed back into the Jedi Order. However, at that point, she decides that she has no place in the Jedi Order anymore.
It’s a sad, but bittersweet moment. It’s a moment that breaks her heart and that of others, but one that those who saw “Revenge Of The Sith” knows is the right choice. She chooses to leave the order that she did so much to serve. In doing so, it makes for a truly emotional goodbye between her and Anakin, which also doubles as another sign of his eventual fall.
It’s easy to tell in that moment how much it pains Ahsoka. It pains Anakin just as much. That kind of heartbreak in the face of so much struggle is the kind of impact that helps define a character, regardless of their gender.
It’s that same impact that makes Ahsoka’s later role on “Star Wars Rebels,” another show that takes place before “A New Hope,” every bit as meaningful. In that show, Ahsoka continues following her own path, fighting her own battles, and proving her worth along the way.
It’s in “Star Wars Rebels” where Ahsoka Tano officially outgrows the part of being the snippy side-kick of a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker and becomes an integral part of the larger “Star Wars” mythos. She’s not hardened or jaded like a Sarah Conners type character. She’s still full of heart, hope, and love, doing her part to make the galaxy a better place. Honestly, what more could anyone want of any character?
Whether you found Ahsoka annoying at first or didn’t care for the female characters the movies tried to push with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it’s hard to look at the person she became and not be impressed. She has complexity, personality, and even a little sex appeal as an adult. In terms of quality female characters, she checks most boxes.
After the recent finale of Star Wars Rebels,” which left fans like me drowning in tears of joy, Ahsoka’s story is far from over. It’s a story that offers unique appeal through a remarkable female character from which little was expected. In the end, that ability to transform from that annoying side-kick to a truly endearing character that makes Ahsoka Tano the kind of female character that appeals to everyone, regardless of gender.
There are a handful of character types that tend to evoke a collective groan from most audiences. Being an ardent comic book fan, as well as a general fan of sci-fi, romance, and fantasy, I’ve listened to those groans and even contributed to them. At a time when it’s easier than ever to share opinions and/or voice frustration, these frustrating characters tend to be more vulnerable than ever.
Chief among those groan-inducing characters is the dreaded Mary Sue. Chances are you’ve heard that cute little colloquialism after browsing gaming and sci-fi message boards for more than five minutes.
Usually, it applies to a female character, but can just as easily fit apply to a male character as well, often in the form of the equally groan-inducing label of Gary Stu. Sometimes it’s a criticism of a character. Sometimes it’s a flat-out insult. In most cases, it rarely has a positive connotation.
It’s for that reason that characters slapped with the Mary Sue label tend to be either controversial or destructive to an underlying narrative. Many writers, myself included, go out of their way to avoid crafting characters that might attract that label. I certainly made that effort when I wrote “Skin Deep” and “Passion Relapse.” I doubt I’m the only one who tries to avoid it.
These days, though, there’s one particular character getting slapped with that label and it has been generating discussions for a couple years now. It comes from “Star Wars,” one of the biggest franchises in the history of modern fiction and one of many productive cash cows for Disney. The character in question is Rey and I know that discussions about her tend to bring out the dark side in any “Star Wars” fan.
Now, I personally really like Rey. After seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she solidified herself as one of my favorite “Star Wars” characters of all time. I wasn’t entirely sold on her potential after seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I’ve since been convinced. Rey is a great character and one of the best things to come out of this new generation of “Star Wars.”
That said, I’m aware of the criticisms levied against her. She is very much at the center of an ongoing debate about female characters, in general, and what constitutes a Mary Sue. I tried to avoid those debates after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I feel comfortable entering the fray now after seeing Rey develop over the course of two movies.
Before I offer my assessment on whether or not Rey deserves the label of a Mary Sue, it’s helpful to highlight just what a Mary Sue is. There’s actually not any clearly-defined criteria, to date, and that criteria is constantly evolving. According to TVTropes.org, the simplest definition of a Mary Sue is a character that’s just too good to be true. More specifically, those traits include the following:
- A bland, shallow personality that’s overly pure, overly good, and incorruptible
- Flaws that are forced and only ever meant to glorify her purity and goodness
- Beauty that is either flawless or idealized for any given world, fictional or otherwise
- Physical skills that are exceedingly good to the point of never facing any real challenges
- Mental acuity to the point where she’s never wrong, never foolish, and always on the moral high ground
- Unlimited and contrived access to every tool or resource, be it something mundane or a Deus ex Machina
- Always ending up with the perfect romantic partner and/or forging friendships with every meaningful character
- Being at the center of every plot and sub-plot by default
Again, these are just a few traits associated with a Mary Sue and there are likely more. There are far more thorough insights into the traits of a Mary Sue, one of which was done by the YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Production. After their wonderful breakdown of strong female characters, I would put their assessment far above my own.
Whatever the criteria, the Mary Sue is such a fluid concept, which is part of why it’s such an empty criticism. However, it has become a more serious criticism and since it’s being applied to “Star Wars,” it’s definitely carries more weight than usual.
With all that said, does Rey fit that criteria? Is it a valid criticism to call Rey a Mary Sue whose portrayal is weighing down the overall narrative of “Star Wars?” It’s a debate I’m sure will continue for quite some time, but here’s my definitive response, for what it’s worth.
No. Rey is NOT a Mary Sue…for the most part.
Now, I’m aware I’m being somewhat vague by adding that little caveat at the end. However, there’s a reason for that and I’m fairly confident that they qualify as reasons and not excuses.
For one, Rey’s story is not complete. That much needs to be said from the beginning. It’s something that I find many debates involving Rey tend to overlook. Yes, her story is lagging a bit more than those of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo did in the original trilogy. There are other reasons for this, but they’re unrelated to the debate at hand.
Even with an incomplete story, I believe that Rey has done enough over the course of two movies to prove that she’s not a Mary Sue. I think she established that shortly after her appearance in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
In terms of appearance, she comes off as someone who could put on a set of clothes from Wal-Mart, walk into a typical high school, and not generate much reaction. She doesn’t radiate the kind of beauty or royalty that often defines a Mary Sue. Even if she later proves to have a special destiny, that basically puts her in the same category as Luke Skywalker and every other legendary hero.
In terms of personality, she’s not exactly gushing with love and likability, which is another key trait of the Mary Sue. In many respects, Rey is somewhat cold and detached when she first shows up. She doesn’t whine or lament about her less-than-extraordinary life, nor does she eagerly jump at the chance to join the resistance when she encounters Finn. Hers is a more complex journey.
In terms of skill, this is where I think most of the Mary Sue accusations come from. I admit that I thought her excessive skill with the Force, flying the Millennium Falcon, and defeating Kylo Ren pushed the bounds of her character a bit too much. Even I was tempted to throw that label on her after seeing her accomplish so much with so little training.
However, when I step back and look at the larger plot, as well as incorporate the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I see that those traits aren’t enough to warrant calling her a Mary Sue. They are a flaw in her character. That much, I don’t deny. Just having that flaw, though, doesn’t make her a Mary Sue.
I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did a lot to help distance her from that label. It did so by having her make a few bad judgment calls while also not winning her battles quite as easily. When you look at the sequence of events in that movie, she didn’t actually succeed in most of what she sought out to do. Most of the success in that movie came from others, namely Kylo Ren, Finn, and Poe Dameron.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rey failed miserably in her efforts, I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” established that her skills have limits. She has all sorts of natural talent, but she doesn’t always apply it effectively. That’s not unusual for real and fictional characters. You could even make the argument that her missteps help really help to improve her likability.
A Mary Sue is supposed to be sickeningly perfect and hopelessly ideal, so much so that there’s no need for a plot since they just fix everything with their charm. Rey isn’t like that in either movie. In fact, the final battle in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” didn’t really involve her. More than anything else, her role really complemented all the others by the end of the movie.
Now, I’m certain there are more than a few ardent “Star Wars” fans with X-wings tattooed on their chests who will claim I’m dead wrong. Those arguing that Rey is a Mary Sue have more than a few points to make and I don’t deny that some of those points are valid. I just don’t think they’re sufficient.
Rey is a great character, but one with some obvious flaws. I would call her overpowered and over-skilled, but you could levy that criticism against other iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Batman. Unlike those iconic characters, though, Rey is very new to the cultural landscape and her story still has room to unfold, as director Rian Johnson has pointed out.
I don’t doubt that debate over whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue will continue for quite some time. While I don’t think the next “Star Wars” movie will definitely resolve that, I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be at this point. I think Rey has done enough to subvert this dreaded label.
She’s still a great character with a number of conceptual flaws. I think she has a bright future in our culture. She’ll always have her critics, but all great characters do. It’s just a matter of how they navigate that criticism. Given the cultural weight “Star Wars” carries, I’d say she’s handled it much better than most non-Jar Jar characters could ever hope.