I don’t mean to say that she is without flaws. Batman has flaws too. That’s not what I mean when I say she’s a Mary Sue, and I don’t think that’s what Landis meant either. The point was that she is flawless as an action hero. There is no point in the film where I am sincerely worried about her.
Look at it this way. In Empire, the best of the films, Vader and Fett toss Han in Lando’s freezey hole and you’re like “nooooo….. not Han!!!” and by the end of the film he’s still frozen and you kind of worry if he’ll be ok (this was actually a practical matter. They weren’t sure they’d be able to get Ford for Jedi). Granted, Han isn’t a main character. But when Luke leaves Yoda after 4 days of training, Yoda basically tells him “kid, don’t go… you’re gonna get your ass kicked” and as an audience member, you worry that he will. And he does. Even in Jedi, when Luke goes off to face Vader and Emperor, as an audience member I feel like “wow, this might be too much for him. He might not make it this time.” And basically, once again… he really doesn’t. He survives because Vader saves him.
With Rey on the other hand, there’s no point in the entire film where I’m really worried about her. She gets attacked by a bombing run. “Eh. She’ll be fine.” She get kidnapped. “Eh, she’ll be fine.” She has to fight Kylo. “Eh, she’ll be fine.” I had total faith in her for every second.
That doesn’t make the movie, BAD though. I just thought of another good Mary Sue example. A perfect one, actually. Brian Mills. There is no point at all in Taken where I am worried that Mills won’t get his daughter back. “He has a very particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career. Skills that make him a nightmare for people like them. If they let his daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. He will not look for them, He will not pursue them. But if they don’t, he will look for them, he will find them, and he will kill them.” Twenty eight minutes in and Neeson literally explains the remaining hour of the movie in that ten seconds. Yes, he has problems (he is such a workaholic that he has destroyed his relationship with his wife). Yes he has stakes (if he fails, his daughter dies). These things make him engaging. But he is a Mary Sue. Everything he does works out. He is the best there is at what he does. And I fucking love that movie. But I’m not looking at it as a great literary expression. It’s not good writing. Its a simple premise designed to hang an amazing set of action sequences off of. If it were book it would be like 5 pages long.
The problem is the internet likes simple. Mary Sue is a “bad term” because that’s how it was intended originally. It was derisive. Since the geeks like the movie, she must not be a Mary Sue because geeks hate Mary Sues. There’s all kinds of flawed logical thinking here that comes from not really understanding how critical analysis of literature (including film) works, but wanting to do it anyway.
And it’s also Star Wars. So by deriding it, Landis committed a cardinal sin to geekdom. He shit on something they like. He doesn’t like the movie because it doesn’t do they things that he wants out of a movie (and actually he never said that… in his actual review he said he liked it fine. He just didn’t love it because…). Star Wars is sacred. So in geekdom it gets more of a pass than other similar movies do.