Mary Sue: Storytelling Gone Wild

I wrote a post about Star Wars The Last Jedi. It was an exploration into Why Sequels SuckThen I followed up with another post on how sequels don't have to suck.

Then I saw a Forbes' post that talked about why The Last Jedi had so much controversyHe had two points that might have contributed to the hate toward the movie: the main character, Rey is a Mary Sue, and she's a girl. Being a storyteller, I’d like to talk about Mary Sue first.

Who is this mysterious woman? Is she on Tinder? Coffee Meets Bagel? Grinder?

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That's for dudes, dude. Ooh. My bad. To put it lightly, Mary Sue is a female character that can do anything and do no wrong.

The male version is called a Marty Stu. The author pointed at James Bond and Indiana Jones as well known examples because "...both are superhuman soldiers, seducers, and puzzle-solvers, flawless individuals who are the subject of intense admiration from everyone they meet...". He shouldn't have chosen them because these two have well defined setups.

James Bond is an intelligence officer in MI6, who served in the Royal Navy. So before any James Bond book/movie begins, this history exists. Meaning, he's had training and experience.

Indy is a tenured professor of archeology in Princeton. Because of his father Indy has had extensive experience in adventuring and treasure hunting. Just like Bond, Indy has a history—the setup—that allows the audience to suspend their disbeliefs. When these two characters accomplish amazing things, we believe it because people with their kind of experience are more capable than people who have no training whatsoever.

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Rey. What's her setup? Per Wikipedia, she's stubborn, headstrong, brave, optimistic, and loyal. Oh, and she's highly sensitive to the Force. That's cool. But so was Luke Skywalker. Back to him later. In The Force Awakens, I can't recall if she had made any big mistakes or did anything wrong. In fact, she was able to use the Force against Kylo Ren, who was well versed enough to stop a laser projectile in mid-air. Kinda like catching a bullet with your teeth, I’m imagining. Also, Rey didn't know she was powerful with the Force because she was surprised when she found out. In other words, she had no history with it. Kylo had training. So either she's so talented that training is not necessary, or the training Kylo had received sucked. If that was the case, he should get his money back.

The Forbes' post goes on to say that Luke and Rey have very similar setups. Both orphans, did manual labor, left their desert homes in the Millennium Falcon, and are strong with the Force. So why all the hate toward Rey? She's female. That's why. The post then says, "The most substantial difference is that Rey hasn’t experienced the emotional torture Luke has, seeing as Luke’s foster parents were murdered and his father turned out to be space-Hitler."

Well...there's this little film called Empire Strikes Back. Many critics consider this to be the best film within the original trilogy. I agree. Within the first fifteen minutes, we find Luke on the precipice of death on the ice planet Hoth. Obi-Wan Kenobi appears right in front of Luke from the netherworld (how often does this happen?) and tells him, "You's gots ta go ta Dagobah and train with my bruh, Jedi Grand Master Y. Woot woo!" I know. I'm paraphrasing here. And half the movie is dedicated to Yoda training Luke. I mean, they spend a lot of time together. Alone time.

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At the end of the movie Luke duels his father, Darth Vader, and Luke loses his masturbatory hand, effectively losing the fight. As he should. Cause that Vader is a bad mofo.

To be fair, in The Last Jedi, Rey does find Luke. But there's very little training going on. Luke says he'll give her three lessons, but my memory barely recalls two. If there was a third lesson, then I missed it. Part of storytelling is showing the important stuff. Especially where logic is concerned. Otherwise people will be pulled out of the story, wondering how such and such happened. As a storyteller, I don't want that to happen.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't. -Mark Twain

Could some of the hate come from the fact that Rey is a female character. Sure. But that's not the reason why Star Wars fans hate Rey. It's bad storytelling. Throughout the Star Wars’ cinematic universe, the idea of training someone in the ways of the Force has been hammered into the audience. Rey has received none to little of it. However, if fans did hate Rey for being female, then they would have hated Jyn. Dude. No one hates a fine glass of gin.

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Serious? Come on! I'm talking about Jyn Erso, the lead character from the film, Rogue One. She's female. She's a rogue. She's tough. She takes no shit from no one, sistah. And that works well here. Not only did she witness her mother's murder, but she's had to hide from the Empire and survive life under that regime. By the time we see her as a young adult, she has chutzpah.

I know she has been received well because the actress, Felicity Jones, hasn't had to deactivate her Instagram account like Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, had done.

All of this is to say that storytelling done right, done well will be received in that same light. So, Jimmy, how do you explain Fitty Shades?

That ain't a real book. But...the world is big enough to have Michelin-starred restaurants and fast food establishments.

My Childhood Destroyed

It was 1984. Indy was exploring temples of doom, Beverly Hills cops received lessons in diversification, Nightmares on Elm Street were prevalent, Arnold, one of Fonz's friends, taught a kid Karate, feets were loose, a Schwarzenegger-looking robot went on a Sarah-killing spree, and a neverending story was told.

On my 13" television I saw a fuzzy commercial about a ghost movie. All I saw was electricity that transformed a woman into a satanic looking dog. "Nope. Ain't seeing that," I said to myself. Ghost movies weren't my thing because I scare easily. Even Gremlins freaked me out, despite Gizmo's cuteness.

"Hey, for my birthday," my best friend said, "we're gonna see Ghostbusters."

My mind flickered to the satanic dog. "Isn't that scary?"

My friend shrugged his shoulders. "Probably."

Being the good friend that I had been, I went with him and a slew of other brave kids and sat in the movie theater that seemed darker than usual.

The silver screen lit up, showing the main branch of the New York public library. A lone librarian strolled down a narrow hall of shelves, putting books away. As the old lady passed the card catalog, one by one, they slowly slid open. The cards flew upward like a geyser, chasing the frightened woman away. Then we see her scream from flashes of bright light. And I forgot how dark the theater was.

I saw Ghostbusters five times in the theater. Of course in the theater. There was no other way of watching movies until it came out on VHS. And no, I'm not talking about VHS the movie.

Ghostbusters became one of those 80's movies that helped define my childhood. I ran around with my friend, wearing an empty backpack, holding a small branch, chasing ghosts in a field where I used to live.

Over thirty years later, the remake has made it to the theaters. When I first heard that the four main characters would be all women, I was perturbed because the whole thing felt very heavy-handed, but I didn't put much thought into it.  Apparently there was a massive movement against the all female cast. There were rumors that Sony deleted mysogynistic comments about the new movie from their site. And a Roger Ebert reviewer said that Sony could have put more effort in making a better movie than removing those comments.

And I have to agree.

As a storyteller, I'm always itching to find out why certain stories work and why others don't. It was difficult for me not to compare the remake to the original. But in this case we should from a comedic perspective.

In the original, the comedy emanates from the situation the characters are in.

In the remake it feels like the cast is playing to the audience. When that happens, we're taken out of the story because we're forced to watch them 'talk' to us rather than enjoy what's going on in the scene.

An example from the original:

We're introduced to the first Ghostbuster, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. He sits behind a desk in front of a contraption with a few flip switches. Facing him are two students, a female and a male, who have volunteered to test their psychic ability. Venkman holds up a card without revealing the face, a star.

The male student puts his fingers on his temple and thinks. Nodding, he says, "Square."

Venkman flips the card over, revealing the star, and says, "Good guess, but wrong." He flips a switch and shocks the student with a blip of electricity.

The good doctor looks at the female student, a slight smile crosses his lips, and pulls another card. "Tell me what you think it is."

She thinks for a moment. "Is it a star?"

The male student snickers. I would too. We just saw a star!

"It is a star," Venkman says, putting down the card without revealing what it truly was.

The male student looks at the card, looks at the girl, and can't believe what just happened.

The rest of the scene is more of that, and it's funny because the intention of Peter is completely understood without telling us. Not only that, he's destroying the results of his own study for the purpose of getting some ass. And the male student finally blowing up at the doctor at the end of the scene is its climax (good structure), giving the comedy punch. None of this is played for the audience. There are several layers at work that it messes with our minds, making us laugh.

Back to the remake. It seemed that a lot of the comedy is forced. I think part of it is because they tried to redo some of the original stuff. When the first three lady Ghostbusters encounter their first ghost, Kristen Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, goes to talk to it like Venkman did with the original casts' first ghost. The class 4 entity throws up on her, covering her in more slime than Venkman ever had to suffer. It's not funny because it's not a new take on the paranormal. And much of the remake is filled with playing to the audience rather than creating situations that are funny.

The only character that seemed to be in the moment is Kate McKinnon's character, Holtzmann. Her wacky spectacles helped, but often she just sat there in her scenes and let them be funny rather than working so hard for the comedy.

I think a lot of remakes don't work because they're trying to reproduce what has worked before, rather than creating something new, a different perspective or take.

If you look at Chris Nolan's Batman, Bruce Wayne is shown as a human being with all of the vulnerabilities of a real person. There was a story arch that stretched over the trilogy, which meant Nolan wrote an origin story, progressing to Batman becoming a symbol, moving to an arthritic hero where its purpose has been fulfilled.

There are layers of storytelling because Nolan uses Batman to tell us something deeper than what we see as the Dark Knight. And that's genius.