Recently, Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, quit her Instagram account after being bombarded with fanboy hate for daring to play a strong female lead in a cult classic film series. Among the slew of articles that followed to defend Tran and shame the fans, many insisted that Tico was no Mary Sue, a term used to describe an all-too-perfect female character.
Screenwriter Max Landis threw the jibe at Daisy Ridley’s character Rey, and his followers followed suit (as followers are wont to do). Rey is too capable, too intelligent, too beautiful, too good for this world, they argue. That’s right. The same guys that fell hard for the impossibly skilled Skywalker and the idealized rogue Solo can’t wrap their heads around a woman with equal prowess.
Personally, I’ll be glad when we stop treating the name Mary Sue like it’s a slur. Let’s start with a history lesson.
Paula Smith gave the world the original Mary Sue in her 1973 story “A Trekkie’s Tale.” She and her descendants had a short, three-year run in the Star Trek fanzine Menagerie, daring to go where no man had ever gone before – into the fantasy lives of actual women.
At 15, Mary Sue was the youngest Lieutenant in Starfleet and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry, and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood for her feats of derring-do.
She could pick a lock with a hair pin and navigate the Enterprise just as well as Captain Kirk. Unlike (apparently) every other woman in the universe, she was immune to Captain Kirk’s sensual mojo, preferring to keep it above board and focus on the mission at hand.
In 1976, Menagerie’s editors decided they’d had enough of these outrageously impressive girl heroes.
Mary Sue stories—the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.
First, the good grace to die at the end? WTF?
Second, the nerve! Captain James Tiberius Kirk much?
Kirk was perpetually saving one planet or another while finding time to pick up alien babes. He single-handedly stopped a Doomsday Machine and fought Nazis, for Pete’s sake. His best friend from the Academy called him “a stack of books with legs,” and he captained the fastest ship in Starfleet because who else would be worthy of such an honor? (Mary Sue, that’s who. Kirk did let her steer the ship after she proved her worth by not succumbing to his wily erotic spell-casting.)
What I’m saying is: don’t give me any bull about Mary Sue being too good to be true. Mary Sue’s main failing was being a girl that was too good for a man’s world. Y’know, that place where only a fella can be too good to be true.
We’re all perfectly comfortable with men saving the world, beating the bad guys, and seducing everybody. But when a girl does it, it’s unrealistic wish fulfillment.
OK. Yeah. She’s wish fulfillment. But so is Kirk. So is Skywalker. So is Solo. So is Bond. So is Beowulf. So is Gilgamesh. So is just about every. other. dude. written by dudes for dudes.
We all need wish fulfillment, and a woman’s wish isn’t always to be saved by a strapping man in a uniform. Often, women and girls wish for the ability to save themselves. That’s one reason Mary Sue is important.
Another reason is that the dismissal of badass girl characters as unrealistic while their male counterparts are perfectly acceptable is that it teaches girls they should hide their own badass awesomeness.
That’s why we need to keep Mary Sue’s lineage going strong. Bring on the Wonder Women and the Charlie’s Angels, the Buffys and the Storms. Bring on the Cleopatra Joneses and the Alices and the Meis and the Lara Crofts.
We need to populate the worlds of fiction with girls who can kick ass, drive expertly, pick a lock with a hairpin, and still make all the men swoon because girls need ridiculous role models, too.
P.S.Actually, Mary Sue did have one main failing – her inner dialogue. All the karate skills in the world don’t make up for her refusal to just say, “Holy shit!”
“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet—only fifteen and a half years old.”