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Is Rey a Mary Sue?
Yes, and it's about damn time. Let it all out. This panel is for catharsis and joy.
M: Anika Dane. Jess Adams, Becky Allen, Renee I, Suzanne Walker
[I was supes excited about this panel because I was scheduled against the other Star Wars panel and omg it was so so so so awesome.]
Becky started out saying that she's an amateur expert on Mary Sue's (not exact wording) and talking about the disparaging notions of Mary Sue (i.e. "there's a girl in this fic - ewwww!" lol). During tumblr discussions about Rey being one and people telling her she didn't understand what it means, she was like "but I do though. I know more than you."
Rey is a female protagonist! And she's good at everything! And she's awesome and pretty and has great hair! Yay! This is not a bad thing. This is a good thing!
Jess added that a lot of the derogatory uses of "Mary Sue" are when it's used to describe a self-insert character. If that's what a Mary Sue is - that's not a bad thing. People who don't get to see themselves as the protagonists in stories - they get to insert themselves into fic. There is nothing wrong with that. And seeing it happen in mainstream books and movies is a good thing. [I noted down in the margins here "we self-insert because no one is inserting us"]
Suzanne said she cut her fandom teeth on Tolkien, which is a "racist sexist cesspool" - she got hate from others for seeing herself, a Middle Eastern woman, in Aragorn and his people.
She further talked about how Leia was awesome, but never got to be vulnerable. Rey does, and so it can be easier to relate to her in a personal way over just loving her.
Renee brought up that Luke was allowed to be all of these things that people complain about Rey being. It's a lazy argument to call Rey a Mary Sue. If you're saying she was too perfect - what movie were you watching?? Oh, she was too good of a pilot? Did you see all that crashing she did at first? Jess added that we've also had a 10 year old crack pilot so...
Renee talked about how emotional this all is for her. She was about 7 when Return of the Jedi came out and it changed her whole world. However, she said, "Leia was a wonderful character - but it wasn't HER story." When playing with the neighbor boys - she was the storyteller so they were her stories - she got to be the boss.
Then Rey happened and it was Rey's story this time. She was explaining to her 21 year old son that he got to grow up with stories made for him, but this was a big deal for her. She does note that her son is multi-racial, so in that way we still have a long way to go.
Suzanne also talked about playing with other kids and how if they were doing Disney, she had to be Jasmine every time. She ended up inventing her own character when they were playacting Star Wars, and she was amazed watching The Force Awakens to see Rey doing a lot of the same things her own character did.
At this point, so many people - panelists and audience alike - were crying that people were passing tissues around.
Becky emphasized that power of play. This idea now of girls getting to grow up being able to be a character and not have to pretend to be a boy character or make up one of their own. She's now like "ugh, boys as protags? why??" She then qualifies that she's friends with lots of boys - then stops herself, that's not even true... (lol).
Becky also acknowledged that as a white girl, she is still much more likely to see herself in stories and that needs to be worked on.
Suzanne talked about how they gave us women jedis and women of color jedis - for like 2 seconds - but that opened up space in the books for these characters. Now we need an entire story about them.
Renee stressed the importance of the cartoons because they are exploring more of these characters. Also the trailer for episode 8 seems like there is going to be an Asian woman as a important character.
Suzanne brought up Queen Amidala and how it was the only Star Wars costume for girls but it was also super femme and not something all girls wanted to dress as. Rey gets this super comfy yoga pants outfit and the shoes look really comfortable! Anika interjected with "they are! I got them!" A whole conversation ensued about shoes and marketing for women, etc.
Becky talked about a moment in the movie when she braced herself - when the lightsaber goes to Finn. She was scared because she really wanted the lightsaber to be for Rey - how important it was that the narrative gave it back to her. (everyone's crying again)
There's a whole great discussion about whether the set-up is for Rey to be Luke's daughter or Ben's, or possibly not connected to any big family. When Jess talked about never having cared about Anakin, Anika said "awwww" and someone in the audience said "no Anakin shaming!" [lol - I have strong Anakin feels]
Jess talked about when Rey tried the jedi mind trick and it actually worked, and thinking "wow she must be so powerful!"
Becky brought up the moment when Leia and Rey hugged (practically the entire audience vocally responds by awwwing, oooohing, and sighing). Leia got to be a general and a total badass and in charge of everything - and then that hug with Rey communicating that intergenerational recognition.
Suzanne said she fell in love with Rey right away just seeing all the details of her daily life - especially at the end of the day back at home eating her meal and stuff. The moment when she puts the helmet on and smiles, the screen direction literally says she puts it on "just because" and how that comes across on screen.
She also talked about the moment with her and Finn in the cantina. She said she's the type of person who has to process and take time forgiving if she forgives at all, and seeing how Rey just immediately responded with "don't go" was so powerful - that immediate show of love and acceptance. And then when Finn comes back for her and she realizes it was his idea to come and get her... [now I am crying writing these notes up holy shit].
Renee spoke about Rey's moment in the chair with Kylo. She was nervous about how it was going to happen, but when Rey fights back and got into his head?!?! And He backs off!??! He started to doubt himself and she started to believe in herself and started to try the whole jedi thing out and it was amazing.
She also added that she personally hated the Leia/Rey hug because of the context/placement of it. Chewie just walks by Leia and that was a 37 year friendship (yes she counted!) where in canon Chewie is basically a father to Hans - there should have been a moment there between these two characters. Having that hug there missed something important. An audience member points out that JJ admits he messed that up [I'm like JJ admitted he messed anything up ever?!?! wut?]
Anika talked about taking her 10 year old daughter and her response to Rey using the jedi mind trick was "Rey is even better than Ben because HE has to wave his hand!" [ahahahaha]
The discussion came back to who Rey might be related to and why. Jess talked about the post about Rey being a Kenobi being very convincing to her. The symbolism of a Kenobi being the one to bring the lightsaber back to Luke. She also doesn't want Rey to be leaning on the Skywalker history and baggage - be her own thing.
Becky counters that the Skywalkers have fucked up the universe and having Rey be the one to fix it, if she's also a Skywalker, is also pretty symbolic. Star Wars is an opera and it's essentially about the Skywalker family.
Jess rebutts with "but what if it's been about the Kenobi's all along??"
Suzanne stresses that it's important to her that she be unaffiliated with any family - it diminishes it for her if Rey is Luke's or Han and Leia's daughter because how can you forgive any of those characters for abandoning her like that? She also really likes the idea of Rey being "no one" and what that can mean for the audience.
[I think it was in here someone suggested she could be both a Skywalker AND a Kenobi and a bunch of went "oooooohhhhhh"]
Romance-wise, Suzanne is okay with any match-ups besides Kylo/Rey, but she *wants* Finn/Poe with Rey being single. In her own life, her love life has not been a big part of the narrative, but she never gets to see that happen for other female characters.
Renee said she had issues with the prequels, but one thing she did love about them was the vastness of the jedi universe. It's hard for her to reconcile that with only Skywalkers surviving. The only way to the force is if you're a Skywalker? What about other force sensitive kids? Do they have access?
Renee and Suzanne discussed their headcanons of Rey being asexual, but Renee said her heart is telling her that Hollywood won't do it.
Becky said she ships Rey and Finn. [I stage-whispered from the audience "OT3" and Jess kinda nodded "yes" at me lol]
Jess said "I never thought I'd say this, but props to JJ for getting something right" in regards to having a whole movie with no obvious romantic plots save for already existing ones (Leia/Han). There was a clear bonding of friendships that are so far platonic - but shippers are gonna ship.
She stressed this idea from the protags of "I was alone always, but I'm not anymore" and the impact of that. These characters are learning that they have people who have their backs.
Suzanne hopped in saying that it's sort of a metaphor for a lot of our experiences with Star Wars over the years - our love of SW and sci-fi/fantasy has been isolating but now we've found one another, and we're getting more representation now.
Renee talked about how people were saying it was so unrealistic how quickly Finn and Rey bonded and her response was "have you never nerded out with someone before?"
Jess expanded on that talking about how Finn and Rey were total fans of jedi's and Han, the Millennial Falcon, etc.
An audience member asked how much of this disbelief over their bonding was because Rey is white and Finn is black. Another audience member asked if it could be related to this idea of boys and girls not being able to be friends.
Anika said "I will ship anything" - but she sees Finn and Rey more like siblings, like Luke and Leia - this feeling of likeness and sharing something with someone who you've found is similar to you.
An audience member talked about that moment in adventure stories where the characters realize - we can keep being friends and/or have this romantic relationship outside of this quest we're on.
Suzanne talked about how Daisy had posted a picture of Finn and Rey holding hands and got a disgusting amount of racist hate thrown at her for it.
She added that we still need a woman of color hero in Star Wars. She advised that we "keep celebrating WHILE demanding more" [which is a sentiment I'm gonna repeat all over the place].
Suzanne said she also has hopes for a romance story between two men of color in the next one.
Renee spoke about the money made and the popularity of this movie as being huge. Don't let studios forget this. Encourage them to keep going!
Becky talked about franchises that have the clout to add more representation and just don't do it - well, this one took some steps in the right direction and it's been successful for them.
An audience member linked this whole "implausibility of friendship" thing with the Mary Sue notion - friendship as just one more thing Rey is "too good" at.
Becky - "but why wouldn't everyone love her??"
Jess said "I have a note here that just says - droids." She talked about droids as people and about how BB-8 was the First one to recognize Rey's abilities and to trust her.
Renee talked about these negative connotations of Mary Sue's being people thinking women shouldn't be good at a wide variety of things.
She also talked about celebrating different types of female protags in a single franchise - for instance the pilot in the trailer for Rogue One.
Suzanne added that she didn't want the new Star Wars series at first, especially since it was cutting out the EU since that's where she was most represented. Then she saw the trailer for TFA and it all changed.
Some panelist and audience conversation about the idea of "just let me have this. is it a Mary Sue? who cares." and also "not just let me have this but - YOU CAN'T TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME anymore." Becky told a story about a little girl coming out of the theater and saying "daddy - she had a lightsaber!" The amazement that girls can do this now, too, officially.
Talk about how JJ seems to understand SW in ways he doesn't Star Trek.
Aaaaand that's all I've got besides just how awesome it was to watch all of these women crying about the importance of being represented in this way. Powerful stuff.