I like male protagonists a lot. Don’t get me wrong. But there’s something wonderful, as a woman, about seeing a strong female on-screen kicking butt and taking names. Female heroines invite their female audience to live through them, just like a male hero does for a masculine audience. I don’t have much in common with Harry Potter, but I share a lot with Rey. We’re both emotional. We both believe in justice. Injustice makes us mad. We will help out, even if we don’t want to. And we’re both female. Physically weaker than most men, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a scrapper!
Most people love the original franchise. I do too. I also enjoy the prequels. But I’ve connected to the new series like none before it, and I think it’s owed in large part to its fiery female protagonist, Rey. A Scavenger who lives alone and waits for her parents to return, she’s soon caught up in “things” when she runs amuck of Finn, an escaped Stormtrooper, and gets drawn into the Rebellion. Oh yeah, and meets Ben Solo, aka, Kylo Ren, who is fascinated by her intense connection to The Force. Though untrained, Rey is just brimming with Force energy. But that’s not what I like about her. I like her toughness. Her “can do” attitude. The fact that she is so incredibly literal, Luke winds up smacking her hand. “Reach into the Force,” he said. So she did. Reached right out into the air. Well, why not??
Many people have complained that she’s a Mary Sue, a character to self-insert into, thus bad. First, what’s wrong with a Mary Sue? Nobody complained when the first trilogy’s Mary Sue was Luke Skywalker. He and Rey are a lot alike. Both innocent people drawn into forces beyond their control. Moralistic. Determined. Talented in the Force. So, Rey heals a giant man-eating worm thing, and Luke doesn’t. So what?
Second, Rey isn’t one. At least, I don’t think she is. She has her own hopes and fears. She has a tragic back story of abandonment. Of wanting to figure out who she is, and where she belongs, and what happened to her family. She’s afraid a lot of the time. She doesn’t want to get sucked into drama, so she runs into the woods—right into danger’s arms. She’s kind to BB8, and refuses to sell him for credits, and beats the tar out of Finn for wearing the robot’s master’s jacket. She knows somehow she can reach Ben, and pull him out of the darkness, so she takes a risk through her surrender into his care. She’s the catalyst that forces him to execute Snoke, take on power, and then face his demons when his mother reaches out to him in the Force.
I think there is always a level of “wish fulfillment” in grand adventure stories. We wish we were as cool, as brave, as strong, as the characters on the big screen. We think about what we might do in their shoes. Would we fly the Millennium Falcon? Challenge Kylo Ren to a light saber duel? Faced with terror, could we find our courage? Would we be reckless like Poe? But a Mary Sue does not have her own mind or thoughts. She’s shallow. Rey is pure instinct. She knows what she wants, and goes after it. She stands strong and firm against Kylo’s attempts to corrupt her, because she knows who she is and that is not her path. Though drawn to him, she resists their chemistry to each other, until he becomes a better man. That’s self respect.
Rey isn’t pining over someone she cannot have. She isn’t threatening to kill herself if she can’t be with her one true love. She isn’t caught in a love triangle between two vampires, or a damsel in distress who needs saved by a boy. At the end of the series, she is still her own self. Alone. She does not wind up with anyone. She chose her new last name, her identity, her walk in life. She makes her own destiny, she decides what she wants, she buries the light saber and shows us the one SHE built for herself. To go on alone. The Last Skywalker.
She’s a great role model for little girls. And big ones, too.