Mary Sues and Our Fear of Capable Women

SPOILERS for many works, including Star Wars, Hawkeye, Loki, and other things.

I wrote a blog in the first half of 2020 about how Rey and Captain Marvel aren’t Mary Sues. Since then, I’ve seen people call other recent female characters Mary Sues. This is particularly true for Sylvie in Loki. I think this phenomenon goes on because our society is afraid of capable women and we want to separate ourselves from fans who like those characters. Also, I think many of us just can’t wrap our heads around the concept that female characters can fulfill fantasies for women, not for men.

I began thinking about this topic again after I watched the first two episodes of Hawkeye. During those episode, I found myself really enjoying the character of Kate Bishop. She’s wealthy, pretty, clever, funny, and extremely capable in combat. All of sudden, I began to worry: Are people going to slap the term “Mary Sue” onto Kate Bishop and use that term as an excuse to dislike her?

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Rey and Captain Marvel Aren’t Mary Sues

For the unititiated, “Mary Sue” is a fandom term for original female characters that pop up in fan fiction and who are too ridiculously perfect to be believable. A Mary Sue is often incredibly beautiful and talented, with an incredible singing voice, and back when I started out in online fandom (circa 2005), she often seduced Legolas or the Phantom of the Opera. Mary Sues are reviled in fandom because they are signs of bad writing. However, I have recently realized that this hatred for the Mary Sue character type is sexist, especially since I’ve seen the term applied to two mainstream aspirational heroines: Rey and Captain Marvel.

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Why Star Wars Doesn’t Need to Make Logical Sense

SPOILERS for Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. ALL OF THE SPOILERS.

I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. In fact, I loved it. However, I know that the Star Wars fanbase won’t like it because not all of their questions were answered, and because it won’t make sense with the continuity and backstory laid out in various tie-in materials that only the most hardcore fans care about. It also doesn’t give logical explanations for certain things that I’ll mention below the cut because SPOILERS.

But you know what? I think that’s completely acceptable because Star Wars doesn’t need to make sense to be an effectively told story. Why? Because Star Wars is a modern mythos.

Okay, we’ll get into the spoilers after the cut, and just so I don’t spoil anyone before the cut with images, here’s Baby Yoda:

Anyway, I want to talk about why Star Wars has stayed culturally relevant for the past 40 years. It’s not because of any internal logic or strict adherence to continuity. Only a vocal minority of Star Wars fans care about those qualities and judge the stories by them. No, Star Wars has stayed relevant because it taps into both universal storytelling strengths and cultural anxieties, which is what all good myths do.

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