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Star Wars' Rey May Be a Problematic Character

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 26, 2019

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 9:46AM, Nov. 2, 2019

Abt_Nihil: Because I'm a scientist, and I don't like to speak in absolutes.

Abt_Nihil at 10:59AM, Oct. 31, 2019

Tantz: Why do you use the subjunctive phrase "may be" in your title? On what else do you think does your argument depend?

Gunwallace at 10:26PM, Oct. 27, 2019

See my "The Farce Awakens" from All Unicorns to Battle Stations for a similar point

Kou the Mad at 1:09PM, Oct. 27, 2019

And Another reason Savage Oppress was so quick in his training, was that he was PHYSICALLY ENHANCED BY THE DARK SIDE by the Nightsisters, he was not a normal individual, and as far as I can tell, Rey did not get any kind of enhancement from any Force User.

Kou the Mad at 1:05PM, Oct. 27, 2019

Rey contrasts both of these 2, as Savage isn't able to do what he needs to when he starts training Dooku 'Motivates' him (Shoots him with Force Lightning to piss him off and thus use his anger and pain to fuel his connection to the Dark Side........hence why I said Dark Side training is faster.). Ezra can do the stuff he already could subconsciously do at the start of the series, but everything else he had to be taught by Kanon (And briefly someone else (More than one.), both of which would be spoilers.), early episodes show him trying and failing to use various Force Powers. Rey just goes from 0 - 10 in the span of a few days. Rey's rise was not earned, and nor does it make ANY sense to the setting, even if we only use the Current Canon.

Kou the Mad at 1:02PM, Oct. 27, 2019

Ezra Bridger on the other hand, was trained in the Light be a Former Jedi (Order 66) who never made it to rank of Knight (He attains it during the series, but that happens AFTER he begins training Ezra.). Thing is, this show takes place over what I assume is multiple MONTHS, and the reason Kanan decided to train him was because his Force Sensitivity was obvious and I believe Ezra was probably stronger with The Force than average given some of Ezra's later feats. Most notable, Ezra was already subconsciously using the Force when Kanan found him (He used a form of Force Jump in the pilot I believe.), something Rey was NOT doing from the Start. Some people like Ezra who are Force Sensitive can tap into it without knowing about it or being trained (A Good example being Anakin in Episode 1, noting no other human can Pod-Race like him (Which I believe was one of the clues to his Force Sensitivity to Qui-Gon.).).

Kou the Mad at 12:56PM, Oct. 27, 2019

It's especially bad in that every other character in Star Wars that trains in the way of the Force and Lightsaber didn't just get it immediately. It's something that takes, at the BARE MINIMUM, weeks to get anywhere with Force Training, and it takes even longer if your not training in the Dark Side, which due to it's nature is quicker. In the current Canon, the characters I think of with the least amount of time training are Savage Oppress and Ezra Bridger. With Savage he was being trained as a Sith by Dooku, someone reknowned for being one of the most skilled back when he was a Jedi and trained at least one Jedi in the Force and Lightsaber, and as a Sith TRAINED GREVIOUS IN LIGHTSABER COMBAT (Yeah, he didn't get that good from nothing.) while he time training was brief, that was by design because Dooku had little time to train him and as he was training him to be Sith, the timeframe was quicker as the Dark Side is a short cut.

giovanni at 5:58AM, Oct. 27, 2019

well, i guess you just pointed out why the "strong female character" as envisionned recently, is so deeply flawed. instead of going the route of a strong character that happens to be female, people go the route of making a strong female first that happens to be a character second. its a very different emphasis. as such, if anyone dare critisize their "perfect female" its becauuse the critic is [insert insult here] rather than any fault of theirs. that is the "strong female character" nowaday, sometimes devoid of actual strenght, sometimes masculinized in excess.

ShaRose49 at 11:15AM, Oct. 26, 2019

I’m gonna have to agree with you on pretty much everything you just said. It’s sad. Let’s get more female heroes who are very real and teach us healthy things

El Cid at 10:47AM, Oct. 26, 2019

History has given us a tried and true blueprint for the classical male hero archetype, but I think writers today are trying to invent a heroic female archetype for our current era. That's not an easy thing to do.

Banes at 7:31AM, Oct. 26, 2019

Movies and TV and the stories we consume have a deep, powerful influence on us as children. In spite of other influences, from parents and other people, what we watch can stay with us and have a major impact on our lives. Great article.

bravo1102 at 3:13AM, Oct. 26, 2019

In no way is Rey memorable. She's just there with that stiff expression almost as if she's some puppet being put through the motions for a deeper plot. Now that would be a movie worth watching.

Wrathborne at 1:30AM, Oct. 26, 2019

Shes a static character with no flaws, screenwriting 101 says that this is a big no-no because if she has no flaws, she has no lesson to learn. Why root for someone at the start of a movie who doesn't grow/change/learn from mistakes.

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