I know you are probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking I'm about to rant about the Star Wars sequels again. I'm not.
Ok, I might a little, but not in the typical manner. And I'm inviting you to hear me out because this isn't a ‘hot take’ or some kind of new ‘hopping on a hate wagon’ for a character that I actually feel has been wasted.
I've made it clear time and again that I believe the Star Wars sequels are badly written with several breaches of what constitutes script writing 101, story writing 101, and character building 101. However, what I didn't really think was that the Star Wars sequels were potentially dangerous or toxic. Superficial and forgettable, yes. Disruptive of the world building, yes. Problematic? Nah, not really.
But then it hit me, when we were recording Quackcast #449, that it can be. Not for everyone, hopefully, but definitely for children, when it comes to Rey. Rey is a pretty textbook Mary Sue- there are arguments against that, but in my opinion at least, they are simply rationalizations of the fact that she is a Mary Sue, rather than that she is not. And it wasn't until this week that it hit me that this is a major problem for a character promoted as an example for young kids.
Before I explain why, allow me to let you in on a truth that we in the field of Educational Psychology know about the learning process and the key to success: it's knowing that on the road to success, there will be failures, and these failures are the tools, the weapons, with which you will gain the experience you need to succeed.
People who cannot handle failure and fear it, often simply cannot succeed. It's as simple as that.
There are many reasons for fear of failure, but some of it often stems from a faulty and toxic preconception that you are supposed to just appear on earth knowing exactly what to do and perform it perfectly at the first try, otherwise you will be untalented or unworthy. If you don't get the math problem from the get go, or if you make a mistake, it must mean you're stupid- you shouldn't need to invest effort and tons of trial-and-error cycles to get it. It should happen almost magically, or you're a loser.
The above is, of course, a dysfunctional thought that at my field we work to dispel and replace with the healthy thought- that in order to become a master at something, you need tons of practice and time, and you will start off being a newb. And newbs are called that for a reason: they fail, and need to try again.
So with that said, what is the problem with Rey?
The problem is that she's a character intended to be an example to children, and especially girls. She's supposed to be the ‘strong female character’ that they can look up to and aspire to be.
And what does Rey do?
When she tries something for the first time, she succeeds beautifully as if she'd been doing it for years.
Flying a spaceship for the first time? Success.
Using a lightsaber for the first time? Success.
Fighting a sith for the first time? Success.
There is no failure. She's already perfect, without any reason to be since she's introduced as the rookie. The new Luke Skywalker of the new generation. She's not introduced as a seasoned jedi or even fighter or pilot to be able to do these things. At best, she's a good spaceship technician (since she knows and collects parts and could plausibly also know what to do with them). As any plane mechanic will tell you, they will not be able to fly a plane just because they can repair it well.
This sets an impossible standard for little girls. Rey is teaching them that The One, the Hero of the story, the Protagonist, is flawless from the get go. Even as a novice, they will be expected to succeed at a skill level that is normally reserved for the experts.
This, of course, is unrealistic. Adults, hopefully, recognize it and dismiss the pattern. Children, however, are less likely to be able to realise that what Rey is doing, immediately being awesome in everything she does, cannot be achieved.
The training sequence she has in The Last Jedi (as far as I remember, I only watched it once) is horrid for a second reason: she trains with the lightsaber ON HER OWN. No teacher to correct and improve her stance, no teacher to stop her from being foolhardy with a weapon that can cut off a limb at the blink of an eye. And this, supposedly, is actual training that levels up her skill.
Being a rookie and training on your own is catastrophic in real life. Not only are you unlikely to improve, you're highly likely to attain bad habits and routines that will hamper your progress if you don't hurt yourself first.
But will children be able to understand that? Especially young ones?
This is why Rey is problematic. And it's unfortunate because it's not the character's fault. The character is actually trying desperately to go through the moves of the hero's journey. It's the writer's fault.
In trying to empower young girls, they're ironically, potentially pushing them into one of the most common and most hampering mental traps there are.
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 26, 2019
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