I began writing this in response to the changing tone of Star Wars fans, which to me has grown out of control with many railing against feminism and “SJW”s. But that’s such a huge topic, and I realized that it might be more effective if I focused on a very specific complaint around which much of the Disney Star Wars criticism is based.
Rey. The term most often thrown at her is “Mary Sue.” This is because of her natural ability with the force and her lack of training. I find this argument frustrating because it ignores so much about her.
Rey is an orphan who has honed survival instincts through years of scavenging and defending herself, unknowingly aided by the force. She is truly the “raw, untamed power” that Snoke thinks he sees in Kylo-Ren. Her abilities are not unlike those of Anakin Skywalker, who as a young boy is building droids and racing pods. Luke is barely trained himself and destroys the Death Star. This is consistent with Rey, who in TFA is a proficient pilot who was able hold her own in a lightsaber fight against a severely wounded Kylo-Ren.
The fact that Rey has no formal training is not a flaw. If we can take anything away from the prequels, it’s that the hubris and arrogance of the Jedi are what led to its downfall, something that Luke specifically refers to when talking to Rey. The rigidity of the Jedi code runs counter to the fluid nature of the force. For example, Luke and Rey were both “too old to begin the training” under the old thinking.
I would also argue that many people mistake the actual Jedi training of Luke. Luke’s training has nothing to do with lightsabers or rocks. Luke’s training occurs when he fails to lift the X-wing out of the swamp because he didn’t believe he could. Luke’s training occurs in the cave, when he discovers himself to be his greatest obstacle. Luke’s training occurs when he decides to help Han and Leia, despite the protests of his Jedi masters, because he knew it was right (a point confirmed by Yoda in ROTJ). We never even saw Luke train with the lightsaber in ESB.
The point is, Jedi training revolves around character, not special powers.
Rey has a different path than Luke. She has great ability, but she doesn’t know what to do with it (a point she makes to Luke). She seeks out Luke’s help, but this is where things go awry. Luke is damaged by his failure with Kylo-Ren, which opens the door for Snoke to begin manipulating Rey: first in the cave, and then continuing with his mind-linking Rey and Kylo-Ren. Rey’s journey leads down the path of the dark side, and when Luke fails her, she almost completely falls into the trap. At her lowest point, she turns to Kylo-Ren, confesses her loneliness, and they touch hands.
Rey then confronts Luke again, where she gets the answers she needs to be able to make the right decisions about Kylo-Ren. Thus, when she’s ultimately tempted to turn after the fight in the Throne Room, she declines.
Now, there are a few of problems with the movie here. The stage had been set for a dramatic throne room confrontation that gives Rey a real option to turn and join Kylo-Ren, but the filmmakers shied away from it. That would have been a very bold direction for the story to go, but perhaps they felt it was too bold and too risky. I think, ultimately, Rey is a good person and that’s the reason she makes the choice she does.
Another problem is the Yoda scene. Yoda outright states that Rey already has everything she needs, when she barely does. It’s a little thin at this point to trust that Rey will choose the right path. This scene’s placement before the climax is also problematic. Hal 9000’s Legendary edit moves the Yoda scene to after the Throne Room and Supremacy scenes. This helps the claim by Yoda, since we’ve already seen that she made the right choice.
There’s also the issue of Luke. He basically fails with Rey. She confirms this to Kylo-Ren: “I thought I’d find answers here. I was wrong.” This is only an issue if you think Luke shouldn’t have failed. I would argue that this makes the story more interesting, and opens it up to new possibilities. If Luke is the perfect teacher, then he would set up Rey with everything she needs and send her on her way, just as we expected and have seen before. Would that really have been rewarding? With his failure, she can be tempted to join Kylo-Ren. The decision is hers to make.
Rey is a deeply flawed character. She’s a desperate loner who can’t figure out where she belongs. She clings to the thought of parents she knows aren’t coming back (and probably wouldn’t love her anyway). She attaches herself blindly to any parental figure she can find, which has almost disastrous consequences when Luke fails her. She is lost, even at the end of TLJ, when she despairingly asks, “How do we rebuild the rebellion from this?” It’s so sad for so many reasons that Carrie Fisher died. I have a feeling from the way TLJ ended that Leia was meant to finish Rey’s training, or at least serve as her mentor.
In any case, when confronted with the choice to turn to the dark side, Rey makes the same decision as Luke. I think that’s because they are both essentially good people. When Luke was tempted by Vader and Palpatine, he rejected the offer. It wasn’t Luke’s training, it wasn’t something he learned along the way, he just was a good person. That’s why we like him. The same goes for Rey. One thing we’ve known about Rey from the very beginning (when she takes in and protects BB-8) is that she’s good. Ultimately, it comes down to a moral choice based on the characters’ established traits.
I don’t think people give the writers the proper credit for Rey’s character, instead focusing on her proficiency with a lightsaber and lack of training. Yet Jedi training is not about ability, but about character. I also think that sometimes people mistake flaws in the storytelling with political agendas, and that’s really unfortunate. I wish there was something better to do, but I thought I could at least write about it.
EDIT: I tried to clean up the language a little bit, as I wrote this all on my phone rather quickly.