Since the announcement of Star Wars Episode VII some people have been decrying the movie as a piece of social justice propaganda. The two lead characters are a woman and a black man, Heaven forbid.
The movie came out to receive a generally positive reception but one argument that I continue to see is that the character of Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is a Mary-Sue. Mary-Sue is a character trope that shows an idealized fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities, a woman who is good at everything and everyone important likes.
While elements of this certainly apply to Rey, I feel that the entire idea of the Mary-Sue is outdated and limits creators. Male characters in works of sci-fi and fantasy are often built up in a similar way yet nobody bats an eyelid. I am not going to get into gender politics here as I actually feel that most of that is bullshit but just keep in mind the fantasy trope of young farmhand who is destined for greatness.
So yes, Rey is a scavenger who turns out to be an ace pilot, handy with a blaster, stands toe to toe in lightsaber combat with Kylo Ren and is chosen to find Luke Skywalker despite only meeting the Resistance for like five minutes. She is an instant master of the force and everyone likes her. Mary-Sue, right?
She does develop as a jedi faster than Luke, there is no doubt about that, but I think that a lot of her skills can be explained. Like Luke, Rey grows up on a harsh desert planet and is said to be a pilot. Luke though works on his uncle’s farm, lives with his family and has friends. He is pretty much a normal dude without any special skills. Rey on the other hand lived alone and had to learn how to survive. She does a physically demanding job of scaling crashed star destroyers for salvage and is surrounded by aliens who can do the job so much better, as shown by the giant guy hauling a bundle many times the size of her own. She has to push her limits just to get enough food rations to survive. We can also assume that she has no social life and is a very lonely character. In her entire introduction scene she does not speak. She is a lone soul who is unwilling to give up despite everything that life has thrown at her.
She describes herself as a pilot yet we never see or hear of this until she flies the Millennium Falcon. A single line of dialogue could have cleared this up easily enough but she clearly knows her ships. She spends her days inside crashed ships so would be familiar with their components and layout while she is also salvaging parts to sell. Knowing the important parts of a ship that would fetch the highest price would be an important part of the job. Plus we know that the Force helps in being an above average pilot, demonstrated by young Anikin.
All said and done, her lifestyle compared to Luke’s would mean that Rey is both physically and mentally stronger than Luke. We are also shown that she can fight in melee combat, beating two men with fair ease. Again, this is reasonable since Rey is a lone girl on dangerous word and would have to have learned how to protect herself. She carries her staff around with her everywhere so uses it a lot and is comforted by it.
This comes out well against Kylo Ren. Remember, he has just killed his father so would be mentally shaken however much he may have wanted it and has been shot in the side by Chewie’s bowcaster, a weapon shown multiple times throughout the movie as being a powerful tool of devastation. Finn also scored a hit on Ren’s shoulder, (which is a whole separate debate). He is injured, shaken and bleeding. When Rey fights, notice how she lunges so often, mirroring the fighting style that one would develop when using a spear or staff. It is not unreasonable for a moderately trained warrior to hold their own against a superior but injured foe. Literature is littered with great heroes being felled by peasants with pitchforks.
None of this is even mentioning Rey’s potential past or development in future movies. It can only be judged fully in the context of the full trilogy, something that we obviously cannot do at this point in time. Remember, in A New Hope, we had no real idea about Luke either. In one brief lesson he can deflect lasers with his lightsaber and uses the force, not to mention pilots like an absolute boss, to blow up the Death Star, outperforming the best pilots and targeting systems that the Rebels could provide. Later we learn that he is Vader’s son which explains his above average skills. Rey will more than likely have a similar moment in the coming movies.
So far we have seen relatively little of Rey. Her character will be expanded but I think that from what time they had to develop her a relatively good job was made of it. Never forget that Star Wars is designed to be fun entertainment. It is a space fantasy. Everything doesn’t have to be explained or make since. So many things in it don’t. Don’t try to be a literary critic about a movie with space explosions, glowstick swords and highly trained soldiers who can’t shoot fish in a barrel.