James Bond is Dead. Does that sound like click-bait? It sure does. But it is true…from a certain point of view. Let me explain.
James Bond kicks ass. No, really, he kicks ass big time. He doesn’t stop. He stealthily kicks ass. He openly and obnoxiously kicks ass. He kicks ass from the side of mountain. He kicks ass over a mountain. He kicks ass inside a mountain (or maybe that’s Austin Powers). He kicks ass on a train, in a car and on a plane. He kicks ass in the rain. He never, ever stops kicking ass. Throughout 26 movies he has been an unstoppable killing machine. From the more subdued Connery, to the what-is-this-Rambo? Pierce Brosnan, James Bond dodged every bullet, survived every fall, escaped every elaborate execution, and disarmed every bomb. He has succeeded against impossible odds, and he, somehow, managed to get the women, despite being, quite frankly, a patronizing douche most of the time.
This is about Star Wars, just bear with me.
And they keep making the movies. And people keep watching them. There are fan-sites and podcasts. There is no doubt that James Bond is a pop culture hero. He is the go-to reference for anyone who is suave and confident and possesses the skills to back it up. We willingly suspend our disbelief and accept every unrealistic scenario that filmmakers can throw at us. Why? Because it is fun. It’s exciting. It gives us a vicarious sense of adventure. And because he is a man. Well, technically, 7 men.
Last December, a new kind of Star Wars was released. Sure, everyone says it is a reboot, but I don’t buy it. It was new because of the protagonist, Rey, played by Daisey Ridley. What’s so special about that? Like James Bond, she kicks some serious ass, but unlike him, she is not a man (or a group of men). For one thing, she can fly the Falcon reasonably well, though she has never flown it before, based on some simulation training. Then there is her ability to defend herself on Jakku. This makes sense given she is alone and makes her living scavenging parts. Also, there is her power with the Force, going from barely knowing about it to battling Kylo with a lightsaber. Clearly, she’s tapping into a hitherto unknown potential. Are all of these things realistic, given the likely or stated explanations? To some degree yes, and to some degree no. Certainly there is some stretching of reality, based on most of our experiences as reference. But guess what? That’s the point. She is our hero. Also, it is fiction. And a space fantasy. She better be freakin’ good at stuff. Otherwise we would all fall asleep during the movie. If Rey was “realistic,” it wouldn’t be Star Wars. No one is as lucky in real life as Han Solo and Luke saved the galaxy without much experience. We love Rey, like the other characters, because she is more than what we are. Which is exactly the same thing as James Bond. People got upset because Rey was a women. A women presented in a capable, strong way and dependent on no man. She succeeded because she was tough and talented and the screen writers, director and actress all had the good sense to make her operate in our imaginations. We were able to watch her slowly find and act on her potential and thus we got to rise a little outside of ourselves. Furthermore, she is not only awesome. She is other things too that help us relate to her. Like the modern portrayals of Bond, Rey’s character experiences sadness and has her vulnerable moments–her own fears and insecurities. Through the course of good storytelling, she gets to overcome these things to succeed. This is far from the Mary Sue label applied in some circles. In some little stupid circles. Circles filled with men with small hands.
I’m not expert on that term nor am I that familiar with its history, so I don’t know if it originated innocently as a descriptor of a certain character type. However, now, clearly it is pejorative. I first heard of a “Mary Sue” when reading reviews of TFA and clearly recognized it as an insult and not simply as an archetype. This character, whose actions are reasonable responses to adversity and whose prior life experiences and natural talent (and maybe family lineage?) allow her to serve as our hero and our guide through the new Star Wars experience. To denigrate that fact because of her gender is quite silly and supremely unfair. It shows a lack of understanding of the character and the film. It also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the capabilities of women when compared to men. A lack of understanding that is, I’m sure, willful and based solely on sexist notions of the role of women. We are more ready to accept female heroes that find a man at the end, or have the right proportions to please men. But in Rey we get a character that is successful and heroic in a way that is pleasing to people. A role model for all, and especially to young girls who have to sort through so many mixed messages that society throws at them.
So, to put down Rey and label her a Mary Sue is to finally kill off our action hero. If you stick to the notion that Rey is unrealistic and far too good at things, then yes, James Bond is indeed dead. If Bond was an ordinary spy, however talented and well trained, he would be dead. Hell, if Indiana Jones was a normal archaeologist I don’t think Raiders would be one of my favorite movies. We love these characters for overcoming ridiculous odds. We love them because they take punishment and rise to the occasion. Something we all hope to do. So enjoy Rey and her journey and let James Bond live to fight another day.