Who have been the most memorable new film heroes of the last fifteen years? Comic staples like Iron Man and Batman probably leap to mind, but they arrived ready-made for cinema from franchises more than fifty years old. If you look to the newly created stories, there’s two modern adventure franchises that have blown up YA pop culture in the 21st century: Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Both follow a young person’s heroic journey, and both have permanently affected the landscape of pop culture. With Harry Potter we got a protagonist destined by his lineage for glory and greatness. With The Hunger Games, we got a scrappy protagonist who came from tragedy and used her skills to overturn an empire. So it’s no small feat that Rey (Daisy Ridley), the newest original hero from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, combines the best of both Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen. Frankly, she’s going to be the biggest thing in cinema for the next decade.
Since the film’s debut in December, it’s garnered intense praise from fans and critics. Although all of the fresh faced cast members have been enjoyable and talented, no one has gotten stronger reactions from audiences than Rey. Little kids adore her and want to be like her. Adults want to see her pick up that lightsaber and become one with the Force. The Force Awakens made more money in two months than anything in the world that wasn’t named Titanic and Avatar, so we know for a fact that her journey is just beginning.
Daisy Ridley’s brilliant portrayal of Rey was the emotional and physical centerpiece of the film, and we can see in her character all the traits that make for the ideal movie hero of the 21st century. Her determination and grit, her compassion and honesty, her bravery, loyalty and cleverness: Rey is one hundred percent bad ass. The film makes a wise decision to never sexualize the 19-year-old lead, which is rare enough. Of course romance does exist in the Star Wars universe, and Rey has a sweet chemistry with Finn (John Boyega), but never once throughout the film does another character comment on her appearance. She’s never given a makeover, nor is she made to endure the moment when the male lead sees her in a dress and suddenly realizes he wants to date her. The camerawork treats her like a character, not an object.
As a woman at the top of the biggest franchise revival in pop culture, Rey needed to be note-perfect: likable and flawed enough to be empathized with, yet ultimately inspiring. If Star Wars was finally going to get a female lead holding a lightsaber on the big screen, the Disney studio could not screw this up. Fans of Star Wars have wanted this, even pleaded for this, for decades. And with Rey, we got her. Watch her comb through the carcasses of abandoned spaceships hunting for sell-able parts, and it’s not a leap to imagine she could fix the engine of the Millennium Falcon. See her fight off two punks trying to steal her droid friend, and you can imagine all the times she had to fight for her dinner, her safety, and even her life as a child growing up in destitution. From the first act of the movie we know this girl. We know what drives her, and we know that once she discovers the power of the Force within her, she’ll be skyrocketing toward her destiny. Like Luke Skywalker before her, Rey is going to change the galaxy.
On Twitter, also known as the icky public swimming pool of the internet, one screenwriter with a modest group of followers compared Rey to a Mary Sue. One must assume this is because a heroic young person who pilots spaceships, can defend themselves, and has a powerful innate connection to the Force is just too unbelievable as a protagonist, right? Wrong! Not only is the term “Mary Sue” incorrectly thrown at leading women in film/TV far more than it’s ever been thrown at leading men, but even the origin of the word has been corrupted.
Mary Sue is a label created by fanfic writers and readers for their creative community, describing an original character that gets added to an existing story and shifts the focus of the story. Setting aside the discussion of whether that is even a bad thing in the first place (it’s not), by its fandom use and definition, the lead hero or heroine of a franchise can’t be a Mary Sue. If it’s her franchise to begin with, then she is the focus, because she’s the hero. By their nature, Mary Sue characters don’t exist in original films, books, or TV shows. So what we’re really seeing here is a few angry detractors complaining that for once the Chosen One is a woman. Rey is about to inherit a legacy of epic space wizard starfighter magic—of course she’s going to be amazing! Just like her predecessor was, and just like we need her to be.
In the end, Rey Skywalker-Solo-Kenobi is a hero that kids can look up to and adults can trust. She’s going to be a point of inspiration for an entire generation of children, and it’s long past time that a young woman got this job. If a few disgruntled walruses from the manosphere don’t want to see the next Star Wars film, they can stay home. It’s guaranteed that no one will notice, because the rest of us will be sitting at the movie theaters with enormous smiles on our faces, watching as she and her friends save the galaxy.