In this day and age of instant access information and opinion, any creative endeavor will come under incredible scrutiny and has to weather a firestorm of criticism as never before.
When The Empire Strikes Back arrived in movie theaters in May of 1980, the only criticism and nitpicking that found its way to the fan-base was through newspapers and magazines or video review segments from the likes of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. Either that or you got the latest skinny from friends who had seen it before you, dropping hints and spoilers wherever you happened to be hanging out – at home, in class or in the lunch room.
The internet allows for any and all opinions to be expressed, for any work of fiction or creativity to be examined and dissected in minute excruciating detail.
I posted the other day some thoughts about the new chapter in the Star Wars saga (Episode VII: The Force Awakens), and because the fan-base is so huge for this franchise, the inter-webs and office cooler talk has been all Star Wars, all the time – so it’s at the forefront of everyone’s news or twitter feed… and it has generated quite a lot of online opinions both positive and negative about the film.
Just today for example – I came across this piece on Comicbook.com from Max Landis, who has some strong and passionate opinions about The Force Awakens and most specifically with the character of Rey.
Max Landis is a talented writer, and also the son of well-known film director John Landis. He wrote Chronicle, American Ultra and also Superman: American Alien. It is his claim that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue‘ character – one who is young and incredibly good at all the things – that has drawn fire from fans.
Film-making is an incredibly complicated business and there are so many details involved in every aspect of it that any film really is a technical miracle, and even more so that they make it to the movie theater for us to enjoy. We in the audience didn’t suffer through the decisions and compromises that had to be made in order for the finish product to spool out on the screen in front of us while we sit in the dark and watch it.
And so, is Landis incorrect in his assertion that Rey is a badly drawn character? Is he sexist for saying so? Yes… no… maybe? The choice is yours.
How much can a writer and director cram into 2 hours and 16 minutes that’s going to satisfy anyone? Simple answer: you can’t. You make choices and decisions based on what you feel is right for your vision.
While I was watching The Force Awakens, I too was struck by how easily Rey manage to pick up on her Force sensitivity and to do amazing things without training… and looking back at how capable and competent she was at a number of things, I can see Max’s point about her being ‘too good’ at stuff… just because. But does that mean she is poorly written?
I get where he is coming from as a writer… we all want our heroes to be well-rounded and believable. I think there is a bit too much of Luke-love in Landis’s rant, and his assertion that Luke wins by failing is in itself an interesting topic for discussion. In that regard it could be taken that his complaints about Rey are sexist, but I don’t think they are – he’s complaining more about how easy things are for Rey… and how she isn’t really in any danger. She will win because, well, she’s the hero.
The thing I was trying to get at in my previous post about this film, is that these films are attempting, in a fashion, to tell these stories through a mythic lens. Luke had been touted as the epitome of the mythic hero, called as such by Joseph Campbell because he follows the monomyth/hero cycle path – humble beginnings, call to adventure, refusal, supernatural aid… the whole shebang.
I would argue that Rey is on this path as well, she too matches the criteria of the monomyth hero. But is her journey or ability any less than Luke’s? If the film or character has a fault in this regard, it could be argued that audiences today won’t stand for too slow of a character progression. We want our heroes and we want them now.
And so if Rey is a Mary Sue it may be as much our fault as it it is the filmmakers… we expect so much of these films, these characters. We demand that they live up to our expectations because we want them to be something we already know and are familiar with… we nitpick and tear to shreds anything that we feel doesn’t live up to what we know or feel or want.
The maxim has always been: It is harder to create than destroy.
How many discussions and re-writes did they go through to arrive at what we’ve seen on the screen? How many conversations happened on set? Discussions about motivations and reasons, how many ‘help me understand what’s happening’ moments we won’t ever be privy to simply because there isn’t enough disk space on the Bu-ray for the special features section…
Its easy to beef about things you don’t like about a book or a movie. Its in our nature to gripe and complain.
What is harder these days, is to watch a film with child-like wonder and grin like a fool when a moment happens that intersects perfectly with your expectations…
That happened at least once for me in The Force Awakens, and I thank the people involved with the film for giving that moment to me… that one moment will wash away any faults the film has, at least for me.
Because, while I don’t feel the need to rush out and see it again, I am content with what was created.
Is Landis wrong in his assertions about Rey? As he says in the video, its just his opinion.
It is no more or no less valid than yours or mine. In the end, you will enjoy something or you won’t.
Me, I’m going to choose to enjoy.