Rogue One: What’s So Wrong With Being a Mary Sue?

There was the obligatory complaining from some dudes that the lead character is a female, and that she is also a Mary Sue.
By  · Published on April 7th, 2016


Today, the first trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One dropped and brought with it the usual reactions. There was palpable joy and a feeling of excitement from fans. Social media blew up and started buzzing about how amazing it looked. Fans immediately started speculating about new fan theories and poring over the trailer to see if Easter eggs could be spotted.

And, of course, of course, there was the obligatory complaining from some dudes that the lead character is a female, and that she is also a Mary Sue.

You may have seen that “Mary Sue” term being thrown around a lot today. What is it, you ask? There’s some debate about the exact particulars, but in essence, a Mary Sue is a seemingly perfect fictional female character who saves the day through unrealistic means or abilities, often starting from a place of low rank or status, with her “Chosen One” status sometimes being related to destiny or fate. While she can be flawed, even her flaws generally make her more endearing or can be easily overlooked. It’s been used as a derogatory term to address an author’s wish fulfillment through a character, and always used in conjunction with female characters. This isn’t the first time the “Mary Sue” criticism has been tossed around in regard to a Star Wars movie, either: Rey also got slapped with the label when The Force Awakens was released last year. And there are certainly many other Mary Sues in current popular fiction: Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, Agent Peggy Carter in the MCU, Tris Prior of the Divergent series, Twilight‘s Bella Swan and the character who kicked off the modern day idea of the Mary Sue in YA literature, Anita Blake, titular character of the Vampire Hunter series, and Clary Fray of the Mortal Instruments series and Shadowhunters TV adaptation, to name just a few.

The thing is, there are just as many, if not more, male Mary Sues in pop culture: Batman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Detective John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, possibly even Spider-Man, Captain America – hell, you could toss dozens of male superheroes in here. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock also comes to mind. James Bond. Eragon. Harry Potter. Han Solo. And the biggest Mary Sue of them all, Luke Skywalker.

The difference is that you don’t see the incredulous scoffing in connection with these iconic male characters; it’s just accepted as fact that they are extraordinary. It’s reasonable, to a certain subset of fans, that men can be unrealistically, inhumanly perfect or lucky. Just not women. So when female characters are presented on that level, it’s suddenly unbelievable or pandering or – my personal favorite – catering to the politically correct, liberal agenda. But really, I’m not here to point out the hypocrisy and fragile masculinity of these dudebros. They’re doing a fine enough job on their own, and the counter to their argument is clear enough in and of itself.

My question is: What’s so bad about being a Mary Sue in the first place?

It can be the case (and often is) that a Mary Sue character happens because the writer either doesn’t have the skills to create a fully-formed, realistic character, or it’s simply a lazy deus ex machina means for the character to always save the day. But if we look beyond the narrative or technical laziness to the idea of what a Mary Sue is, it’s not inherently a bad thing.

If you pare it down to its essence, a Mary Sue is simply a character who is remarkable, heroic, inspiring. Why shouldn’t we celebrate that? Is it wrong to love characters who make us want to be better than we ever thought we could be? I certainly don’t think so. Entertainment trends, as with everything else, are cyclical, and right now, we’re mired in a love affair with gritty, grim reality, with deeply flawed protagonists, antiheroes, and bad people doing bad things. I get it. It’s a reflection of how scary the world seems right now, and it’s not inherently a bad thing that we’re exploring some very realistic, stomach churning stories in our fictional media.

Next: The Star Wars: Rogue One Trailer

Stories aren’t only meant to reflect the world as it is back to us; they’re also meant to show us the world as it could or should be. Why do we accept villains who are twisted and diabolical all the way through, but have a problem when it comes to the other end of the spectrum? We shouldn’t. We should be comfortable with the remarkable, celebrate and emulate good people doing good things, characters who can encourage, inspire, be fucking fantastic. So to the argument that it’s “unrealistic,” I say…so what? I should hope that, just as we see facets of the real world in the grimdark of entertainment, we also recognize a bit of ourselves or someone we know in every Mary Sue. My God, what does it say about us if we don’t?  I’d like to think most people believe we’re capable of doing extraordinary things, made of stardust and stories as we are, not just devolving into moral weakness and spiritual malaise. Mary Sues are the antidote to the cynicism of the world, to the disbelief that sometimes, things really do work out in the end.

Call me a starry-eyed optimist, but I can’t find anything wrong with that at all.

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Happy little nerd in a world made of words. | Editor-at-large: Moviepilot | Writer: Forbes, Marvel, and Film School Rejects | Contributor: Birth.Movies.Death.