So the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story teaser trailer came out a little over a week ago. But, plot twist, we’re actually not here to talk about Star Wars (for once). No, we’re talking about a rather peculiar phenomenon that accompanied the Rogue One trailer: the resurgence of the Mary Sue.
Mary Sue is a term originated in Star Trek fan fiction to refer to an original character, almost always a female, who the author introduced into the story and then proceeded to take the limelight away from the actual heroes, either through hypercompetence to the point of absurdity or by suddenly gaining the adoration of every character she meets.
Since then, the term has become a stock standard phrase within fandoms that has grown in scope and meaning. The usage changed slightly over the years, but in general, it still refers to a female character who is perfect in a detrimental sense.
So what does this have to do with Rogue One, you ask?
Being only a teaser, the trailer gave away little of the movie’s plot, focusing instead on key visuals and a plethora of shots of the cast looking cool and broody, plus a few moments of our protagonist, Jyn Erso, rebelling against “the man” and shooting a blaster.
So, of course, almost immediately after the trailer came out, (mostly male) fans began calling Jyn a Mary Sue.
Keep in mind we know literally nothing about Jyn Erso at this point. Rumors and speculation abound galore, as is always the case with a movie from a franchise of this magnitude, but any concrete details on the plot, setting or who the characters even are in relation to the rest of Star Wars are locked in what we sincerely hope is a mouse-shaped vault deep under Disney headquarters.
Basically, fans are calling Jyn Erso a perfect character whose mere existence ruins the story due to three lines of dialogue and the ability to use a blaster.
Sounds unfair, doesn’t it?
Part of the problem is no one can really agree exactly what makes a character a Mary Sue. Skills and tropes that would be perfectly viable in one story are too powerful in another.
One blogger argued Jyn fulfills the tropes we associate with anti-heros, a character archetype audiences love in male characters.
Another Star Wars character to get the Mary Sue accusation treatment was Rey of The Force Awakens fame. Many found her seemingly effortless acquisition of the force to take away from the story. However, several outlets have pointed out the skills Rey exhibited in the film are on the same level as what Anakin and Luke displayed in the original films, yet Rey is the only one who gets flak.
I find it unfair only female characters are forced to undergo such a high level of scrutiny male characters are rarely subjected to. Oftentimes, a male character will receive high praise for exhibiting the same characteristics a female character is villainized for.
A male form of Mary Sue- Gary Stu does exist – but it is almost never used and only became a term after the female version came into being. Erahon from the eponymous book is often cited as an example of a Gary Stu, but a quick Google search of the two terms reveals dozens of lists lamenting the number of Mary Sues in fiction and few talking about Gary Stus.
There needs to be a clear line drawn between a character the audience merely does not like and a character actually written poorly in terms of the narrative. The intense scrutiny and vitriol these perceived Mary Sues receive are just an outlet for the poorly disguised misogyny still prevalent throughout fandoms.
“If you can change enough to realise how damaging and unfair the term Mary-Sue is when used indiscriminately and incorrectly to denigrate female characters, you might start to notice some of the damaging and unfair assumptions which are generally made about ACTUAL FEMALES in this messed up sexist world of ours,” Zoë Marriott of the blog The Zoë-Trope wrote in an blogpost about what constitutes a Mary Sue.
Becoming the center of a narrative is the very job of a hero. They are the center around which the rest of the story orbits. This doesn’t mean a female character cannot be bad: that is not the case at all. But we need to stop turning on female characters for the same actions and traits we give male characters a free pass on.
After all, a true jedi treats everyone equally.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Renaissance Neverending’s Vimeo account.
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.