Star Wars: Rogue One – Another Mary Sue?

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(15/08/16 Edit: Since the release of the original trailer which I talk about in this article, Rogue One has gone through reshoots and a new trailer has been released (see below) which is a massive improvement over the last, even hyping me up to the point where I’m excited to see the film now.

I do wonder how much of that is due to the main character being less prominent in favour of showing the other characters though. The lead doesn’t seem much different from the angsty super-hero we saw in the last trailer which bothered so many people, it’s just that there’s just less of her there to make me roll my eyes at this time around. Still, here’s hoping they addressed the character concerns and Rogue One becomes a film worthy of the Star Wars legacy. Original article follows after the trailer).


From Donnie Yen being Donnie Yen to the AT-AT dominating the skyline on the beach, everything in the new Star Wars: Rogue One trailer looked flashy and exciting.

Everything except the lead character.

A sullen, attractive young woman with a sassy attitude who plays by her own rules. A character shown taking down groups of stormtroopers without a problem and outperforming all of her male comrades in battle, despite being half their size and having no military discipline.

In other words, she looks like an archetypal example of a Mary Sue, ‘a seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities.’

I’ve already seen people jump to the defense, calling out people for criticising what little you see of the character in the two minute trailer. But if you only have two minutes to show off a character, then you very quickly get across the broad strokes of who that character is. Hollywood are the best in the business at doing exactly that. How long was Donnie Yen in the trailer, maybe five seconds? But you know from that tiny snippet exactly what to expect from his character. So I don’t think the argument holds much weight when trailers are designed to give you a taste of exactly what’s in the film.

I love science fiction, and I can happily consume space operas with blasters and star destroyers and completely illogical space battles with child-like enthusiasm. But badly written characters just destroy any sense of immersion. Stories are built on characters, and I’m amazed a franchise as huge as Star Wars would employ such a lazy approach to creating them. I doubt many people can remember the plot to Pirates of the Caribbean, but no one will ever forget the lovable but flawed character of Cap’n Jack Sparrow.

So after thinking this over, I couldn’t believe it when I saw headlines praising the lead female character of Rogue One and describing the film as ‘Giving Us Yet Another Feminist Hero to Root For.’ If you switched the sex of the character, it would be obvious to anyone how tediously written the character actually is. Writers took traditionally masculine values (fighting, courage, independence etc), transplanted them on to a female character with attitude, and then the media declared it a win for feminism (Hunger Games anyone?).

If I was a feminist I would be just-stepped-on-a-lego level of annoyed, because regardless of the character being a Mary Sue or not, the film is plainly just dressing the female lead up in men’s clothing. The same thing can be seen in the all-female Ghostbusters remake, and just take a look at how badly that car crash of a trailer is being received (and rightfully so). I can’t see Rogue One flopping to the same degree Ghostbusters will though, as not only is it propelled by the weight of the Star Wars franchise, but the characterisation will be buried under all the flashy lightsabers and explosions anyway.

But come on Hollywood, if you insist on buckling to the feminist agenda then at least put some effort in to your characters and stop boring us with vapid female leads that have all the depth of a paddling pool on a hot summer day.


Photo by Eva Rinaldi licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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15 comments

  1. Generally speaking, the concept of a “Mary Sue” typically arises as an admonition to authors – “Don’t do that!”

    As an author, my main goal is to write stuff that my readers like.

    So my question is:

    You speak about Mary Sues as if that is inherently a bad thing. If my readers like my Mary Sue, is that a bad thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If characters are Mary Sues (Or Gary Stus), having no flaws or weaknesses, then their stories are predictable and unable to contain conflict. Conflict is the driving force which moves stories forward and makes them interesting to the reader/viewer. Without conflict there can be no story. Even Superman, the invincible force for good, has internal struggles and a weakness to kryptonite. If he could just snap his fingers and solve every problem without a thought, people would quickly become bored of him.

      If someone were to like a Mary Sue character, I’m sure it’s something other than their tedious ability to fix everything which attracts the reader. In which case, you can rewrite the character out of being a one-dimensional Mary Sue while still keeping those same aspects which make the character appealing in the first place, strengthening your story in the process.

      So yeah, I think Mary Sues are inherently a bad thing because they are so anathema to storytelling. They kill the interesting and unique parts which draw us to stories in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would argue that Mary Sues always influence the plot negatively, because they encourage lazy writing when there’s no problem the protagonist can’t solve. But then all writing is subjective, and many people enjoy the power fantasy of those types of characters. If it works for you, then by all means keep writing them. Just be aware that it will draw criticism from a lot of people because they don’t make particularly engaging characters.

        If you have fifteen minutes, I recommend listening to this Writing Excuses episode where the authors talk about the subject more eloquently than I can. Specifically, they cover the aspects of competence, proactivity, and sympathy when it comes to creating characters, and how when those sliders are all too high the character becomes a Mary Sue.

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      2. I have two big problems with the whole Mary Sue thing.

        1. A lot of newb authors seem to think that any powerful character is a Mary Sue. That’s not the case.

        2. In order to sell books, an author needs to please his audience, and that’s the only people he needs to please. If someone isn’t my target audience, I couldn’t care less about that person’s opinion. No author can please everyone. If a particular audience likes what some newb author considers a Mary Sue, it would be idiotic to write something different because of “criticism.”

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      3. You should always write for one person, because you’re right that you can’t please everyone. If you’re writing for someone that you know wants a Mary Sue protagonist, then it makes perfect sense to give them that. I don’t criticise children’s fiction for having one-dimensional characters and simple plots, because it’s written with a target audience in mind.

        The person I write for is myself, and I have no interest in reading about a tediously perfect character in fiction, so I do my best to avoid writing them. In adult fiction where you have space to create deeper characters, creating a Mary Sue is a disservice to the character and a wasted opportunity when the writer could add in more humanising flaws and interesting traits while still keeping the same essence of the character intact. I can’t think of anything a Mary Sue adds to a story which can’t be achieved by a more well-developed, better written character, hence the level of criticism they receive.

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      4. You’re coming across as a bit condescending. I’m an adult, and there’s plenty of adult fiction out there with powerful, unchanging characters. I happen to like some of that.

        Sometimes, reading about a kick butt character doing kick butt things is fun. It’s entertaining. I like it.

        Just because you don’t like something doesn’t make your way “better” or the other way of doing things incorrect.

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      5. I put my arguments forward with my reasoning, so I’m not sure where you think I’m being condescending. Was it for using the children’s genre as an example? Because the definition is quite broad in the publishing world (eg. young adult actually falls under children’s, which I was surprised to learn) so I wasn’t just referring to two polar extremes.

        You said yourself that powerful characters aren’t necessarily Mary Sues which I agree with, and I enjoy ‘kick butt characters doing kick butt things’ as much as anyone, so I’m not sure what your argument is there. Maybe we’re just working with different definitions of a Mary Sue. At the end of the day everyone has a preference, so if you like reading and writing certain types of fiction then go for it, no need to let anyone stop you from enjoying it because they don’t share your opinion.

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      6. Maybe the problem is that I think you’re too quick to call a character a Mary Sue. And maybe that opinion is based on the fact that you declare a protagonist to be a Mary Sue after watching a trailer. Not an entire movie. A trailer!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. ‘A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities.’

        That’s the definition I use. I think it’s pretty concrete and summarises the character we see in the original Rogue One trailer pretty succinctly. There’s clearly something jarring in that trailer for the protagonist to receive so much criticism from so many people, and not just because of worries of a repeat of Rey from The Force Awakens. And as for forming an opinion on a trailer, I already explained the thought process behind that in the post above.

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    2. And if your readers/viewers are entertained by an hour and 15 minutes of buttocks flatulating who are you to deprive them?

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  2. There were better female leads in the 80’s and up to the mid-90’s until the whole Girl Power thing took off. Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton were great female leads for action movies. I don’t remember anyone complaining about them because they were actual characters and not shoehorned in for SJW messaging.

    With TFA, the complaints mainly weren’t that Rey was female. It was that her skills were absurdly overpowered. What wasn’t she good at? Poe had the same problem of being so good a pilot that tie fighters were dying like moths in a flame.

    Here we have a Mary Sue taking out a squad of storm troopers. It’s just more of the same. And can anything get more stereotypical than having an Asian guy good with swords and the black guy speaking sagely?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, I loved Ripley’s character in the Alien films, and it had nothing to do with her gender. When the SJW crusade shoehorns diversity in just because, it’s painfully obvious that no thought went in to the character. And any criticism is automatically dismissed as racism or mysogyny. It’s a sad state of affairs really, but I’m glad more people are waking up to the misguided agenda.

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