Rey Isn’t a Mary Sue, and It’s Time to Retire the Term

(Spoiler warnings apply.)

Since The Force Awakens hit theaters, there’s been an outpouring of love for the main character of Rey. A woman at the center of sci-fi’s most famous film franchise? A female Jedi? Dreams do come true!

And almost in tandem with the appreciation came the backlash. She’s annoying. She’s too perfect. She’s unrealistic. She’s that most dreaded of terms: a Mary Sue. GASP.

For those unfamiliar with a Mary Sue, here’s Wikipedia’s description:

A Mary Sue is an idealized fictional character […] who saves the day through extraordinary abilities. Often but not necessarily this character is recognized as an author insert and/or wish-fulfillment.

Mary Sues can and do exist in both fanfiction and pop culture, I won’t argue with anyone there. But there are points I think need to be addressed in the arguments against Rey, and what the overlooked connotations of using the term “Mary Sue” even mean on a broader scale.

Get comfy, kids.

Continue reading “Rey Isn’t a Mary Sue, and It’s Time to Retire the Term”

The Force Awakens is the Biggest and Best Fan Movie Ever Made

1*9h-2DVcJ13nLUu48iK0qfw

(Very minor spoilers.)

My first memory of watching Star Wars was on my grandparents’ couch with my dad. I was 5, maybe 6 years old, and traumatized by Darth Vader’s voice. I kept begging my dad to turn the volume down whenever he spoke, even before he showed up, but I wasn’t scared enough to stop watching. Not the tiniest bit.

I even watched them out of order. The VHS rental store didn’t have a copy of The Empire Strikes Back, but I needed more. Needed. So we watched Return of the Jedi second, and ESB third, despite my parents’ warnings. Whoops.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t remember a life without Star Wars. It’s as omniscient and influential as a movie can be, whether it was informing my love for cinema or telegraphing my personal spiritual worldview. Of course it’s only a movie, but it’s the pinnacle of how film is capable of affecting a viewer. No other piece of fiction means as much to me because of how long it’s been with me.

The Force Awakens feels like the same story I’ve loved for over 20 years.

Continue reading “The Force Awakens is the Biggest and Best Fan Movie Ever Made”

Why I’m Saying Both Goodbye and Hello to Star Wars

1*rvewgLGHKPqiv7XDPte6qg

It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. If you’re one of the masses attending the sold-out first showings of The Force Awakens (Thursday at 7:30pm for me), you know the feeling. If you’re going over the weekend, or anytime after, you still know the feeling.

It’s also a bittersweet day, in its own way. No matter how much I might adore Episode VII (I’m ready to with open arms, but I also have my critique hat screwed securely on), this is the last time I’ll watch Return of the Jedi and think “Ah, what a satisfying ending. The story’s over.” A whole new world is opening up, and we have no idea what’s coming. Did Luke become a Jedi Master? Did Han and Leia live happily ever after? How did the Rebellion fare? In just hours we’ll have at least some answers, and, knowing JJ Abrams, even more questions.

Continue reading “Why I’m Saying Both Goodbye and Hello to Star Wars”

Goodness Isn’t Overrated (Why The Force Awakens Shouldn’t Make Luke Evil)

1*VA9YUGBEeyr6Gsg3exp13Q

As the clock ticks ever closer to the premiere of The Force Awakens (less than one week!), the internet’s been aflame and afire with speculation regarding the noticeable lack of Luke Skywalker in the movie’s promotional materials.

No posters, no toys, minimal appearances from actor Mark Hamill in interviews or behind the scenes footage. The most we’ve seen (and heard) was back in April: a trailer voiceover paired with the brief glimpse of a metal hand assumed to be Luke’s. There’s a deliberate aura of mystery here from a director known for keeping his secrets, which, instead of irritating me like it has in the past, as was the case with Star Trek: Into Darkness (“HE’S SO NOT KHAN!…HE’S KHAN J/K!”), is exciting in an age where trailers give everything away and spoilers are as easy to find as a mouse click.

So it’s understandable that plenty of rumors have sprung up in the fertile speculation ground. However, the one that’s garnered a lot of attention is that Luke has turned to the Dark Side.

It’s not without merit. On an episode of IFC’s Dinner for Five in 2005 with Mark Hamill and, coincidentally, future Force Awakens director JJ Abrams, Hamill said he thought Luke would become evil in Return of the Jedi.

“As an actor, that would be more fun to play. I just thought that’s the way it was going […] I figured that’s what will be the pivotal moment.”

There’s also the Dark Empire comic book series released in 1991, which saw the resurrection of a cloned Emperor Palpatine and Luke taking Vader’s place as the Emperor’s apprentice.

Most intriguing (or damning) of all is the reason why Abrams accepted the directing chair for The Force Awakens in the first place. According to LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy, that reason was a question: “Who is Luke Skywalker?”

“We’re looking, obviously, for aspiration, for characters who are conflicted between good and evil, dark and light. George [Lucas] spoke often about that tension in everybody between what’s good and bad. He always felt that it was easier to be bad than good.”

Easier, certainly — but is it a better story?

Continue reading “Goodness Isn’t Overrated (Why The Force Awakens Shouldn’t Make Luke Evil)”

Marvel’s Jessica Jones redefines what it means to be a superhero

1*UF4YuQyWNH_4e9rxVLsovw

I’ve had two weeks to digest the latest effort from Marvel and Netflix’s collaboration. It might not be the best testament to my writing prowess, but I couldn’t talk about Jessica Jones right away. There was too much in my head to process. I have an embarrassing, overly emotional confession that will undoubtedly draw mockery from friends and strangers alike: when the credits rolled on the final episode, I watched them through a fountain of grateful tears.

Because Jessica Jones is a nigh-miracle.

An imperfect one, which I’ll get to later: but here is a female-created, female-driven narrative wholly centered around women regaining their autonomy, their bodies, and their futures; that treats sexual assault with the responsibility and gravitas it deserves rather than as a cheap plot device or the exploitive, disgusting, omnipresent trope it’s become; and it stars at its core a smart-ass, hard-drinking, emotionally shattered, deeply caring private investigator straight out of a classic film noir, who just happens to exist on the darker side of the colorful Avengers universe.

Given how even in 2015 our media landscape is so heavily skewed toward the male experience (especially considering we won’t see our first female headliner in the Marvel movie universe, Captain Marvel, until 2018, and the constant sidelining of Black Widow as a character), for a show one hundred percent devoted to the female perspective to not only exist, but be successful, is a revelation.

Hence the tears.

Continue reading “Marvel’s Jessica Jones redefines what it means to be a superhero”

“There is no God in the Badlands.”

1*-BjrdRw-9-7Sd8PO-vWPDA

Will I jinx the state of the television universe if I said AMC is unstoppable? Almost everything it touches turns to gold. The network’s newest drama, Into the Badlands, might not reach the same Emmy-adored levels as Breaking Bad or Mad Men (yet — we’re just one episode in), but not since The Walking Dead have they taken such a creative leap of faith.

Into the Badlands, loosely based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West, is a martial arts/post-apocalyptic genre mash-up set within a steampunk-infused future. After a nuclear war destroys most of the population, seven feudal Barons rule different portions of what lands and people remain. Guns are outlawed and men are tools — main character Sunny is an assassin warrior known as a Clipper, a tool of his Baron for killing, intimidation, and enforcement. Said Clippers live in cramped, poorly maintained soldier barracks, while the Barons reside richly in their Civil War-esque plantation farms, earning profits off the backs of workers. In this ruthless hierarchy of inequality, loyalty to your Baron is sacred above all else. Sunny is the most loyal, the most skilled, and the most troubled, with over four hundred deaths to his name. Killing for his lord no longer brings him joy, and a strange boy with mysterious powers (oooooo!) may lead him onto a journey of self-discovery.

We’ll see how everything unfolds over a season, obviously, but it shows a lot of promise. The mythology is dense and refreshingly original in a mediascape overrun by both apocalypses and swords-and-horses fantasy, and although it indulges in several cliches, it seems self-aware enough to underplay them. In fact, it’s overall a restrained effort; although the cinematography is sweeping and the visuals superb (sets that were built! Green grass and poppy flowers! What a blessed change from too much CGI and barren dark colors, respectively), it’s not trying anything too fancy. Just good old-fashioned quality.

The style’s clearly rooted in the Bruce Lee 1970s movie tradition, with fights filmed and choreographed as dance pieces performed by actual artists. The action carries the, well, action, rather than relying on fast cuts only to create energy. Everything is solid, from concept to acting to aesthetics. It doesn’t overplay its hand, although hell if it doesn’t have fun, too. After massacring a group of renegades, Sunny literally dusts dirt off his shoulder. And who doesn’t want to watch a slo-mo, close-up, eye-poppingly gorgeous fight scene in the rain? Bueller?

As for the women, we haven’t seen enough of them in action to decide my feelings on their writing. I have a suspicion they’ll go the “trapped women fighting against patriarchy” route with their futuristic world, which I’m more than a bit tired of when it’s used for exploitation and violence. So please do the opposite. There’s potential in the three leads for certain: the Baron’s wife Lydia seems the strategic power behind the throne, the Widow has taken over her dead husband’s title, and Jade has ambitions for power brewing behind those sweet eyes. I’ve been a fan of Sarah Bolger’s since The Tudors, so I’m particularly interested in Jade. Bolger’s a underrated actress and I’d love to see her land a meaty role.*

If you’re looking for a more entertaining, visually scrumptious show to indulge in this season, you won’t find it.

_____________________

*(My affection also stems from the fact she’s my dream actress to play the main character in one of my kinda-sorta book ideas. She and Mads Mikkelsen would make a fabulous romantic pair, don’t you agree?)

The past is the present in Spectre, and that’s not a good thing.

1*aMvlYdjArUydu2IAMVipEQ

I’m not really a Bond fan. Let’s get that out of the way. Thanks to my dad, a die-hard, holiday-TV-marathon, Sean-Connery-is-king, we-survived-Die-Another-Day-in-theaters fan, I’ve seen every movie at least once growing up. I knew Honey Ryder and Blofeld, Scaramanga’s third nipple (somewhat traumatizing for a sheltered girl) and Shirley Bassey’s crooning. But unlike other childhood influences on an impressionable mind (Star Wars, The Avengers — no, not that one, the British series), Mr. Bond never stole my heart. I had a limit in my search for redemptive qualities, and that limit was testosterone-infused male fantasy with a side dish of mortifying sexism. (Not that wee Kelcie knew what sexism was. She just wanted the women to do more than be naked.)

That all changed with Craig’s reign, one of the rare dark ‘n gritty reboots I’m 250% okay with. It gave Bond a soul. A bleeding, beating, tangible heart and soul. Classic fans cried foul at the loss of their camp while I rolled around like the proverbial kid in a gourmet candy store. Sure, it was candy, but with actual stakes that bred actual drama, character flaws, the dark underbelly of a post-911 world (albeit still in a flashy superspy way), and a self-awareness that deliberately walked back the weaknesses of its history, it was the best candy.

(Here’s a spot for you to insert your Daniel Craig as eye candy joke. I’m thoughtful like that.)

So there’s my bias, upfront and clarified. And here we are, nine years and four films down the road, and Spectre is the most like the films of yore. This is no longer a Bond who snaps “Do I look like I give a damn?” when asked “shaken or stirred,” or one who spends months playing dead so he can do some soul-searching about his life’s purpose. This Bond has grown into his legacy and there’s no question as to his relevance. He struts his fine suits and quips his improbable one-liners with a knowing smirk that’s as much an aside to the audience as an internal reflection of his own arrogance.

This is James Bond, after all; we know who he is as much as he does. Who could compare? Who can beat him?

And there’s the rub.

Continue reading “The past is the present in Spectre, and that’s not a good thing.”