Sorry for the lengthy response.
- I think it rather silly to label Felicity Jones’ character a Mary Sue. Unfortunately, there are many butt-hurt “fans” who can’t stand female characters. Their bitterness in the comment sections of various social media sites bring more heat than light to the issue. However, the dismissive way that this is treated by defenders of the Rey character is not helpful either. I think this is a real issue with the Force Awakens (but again, it is stupid to bring this up with Rogue One without having seen the movie).
- I think part of the problem is that some people take offense to the term “Mary Sue” itself (i.e, that it refers to a female). However, it was initially applied to women because it arose from fan fiction which was absolutely dominated by women writers at the time (back in the 70s). Naturally, most “Mary Sues” were women. Undoubtedly, this fact was a response to the lack of compelling female characters at the time and female fans wrote their own stories inserting female characters into their favorite story world. The term was in fact coined by a woman who abhorred these weakly written characters and parodied them as “Mary Sue”.
- More pertinently, **none of the male or female characters that you cite, whether superhero or not, are Mary Sues**. At least in the films I’m familiar with (I haven’t seen some of the YA films you cite). I take particular issue with your citing of Katniss Everdeen. Nothing ever comes easy for her. She suffers a number of failures before ultimately succeeding.
- These characters only *appear* to be Mary Sues to some because of a faulty definition of “Mary Sue”, which is too commonly used in these debates by both sides. While the aspects of the definition you cite are correct and mirror much of the discussion online, it misses the core issue with a Mary Sue, and this is absolutely crucial: *everything comes too easy for a Mary Sue/Gary Stu*. Being overpowered and otherwise having a lot of abilities is NOT central to a Mary Sue. In fact, some Mary Sues are underpowered, but in these cases, the Mary Sue just happens to be the smartest person in the room and has the answers to all the questions. Rather, for a Mary Sue, everything is too easy. There is no challenge. There is no failure. There is no struggle.
- In particular, in the case of those superheroes you mention, while they are overpowered, and would seem to obviously be Mary Sues, the crucial thing is that their adversaries also have matching abilities in some way, and prove to be *formidable* opponents, and most importantly *the superheroes and other characters you cite (again, at least in the films I’m familiar with) undergo several failures at the hands of their adversaries* in each film. It is precisely this try-fail cycle (with an emphasis on the *fail*) that is missing in the Force Awakens with respect to Rey. Try-fail cycles normally dominate the second act and most of the third act of a film before turning into ultimate victory at the very end. The reason for this is to build tension leading up to the climactic struggle. (Will the hero win? or more realistically, How will the hero get him/herself out of THIS mess?)
- In principle I don’t disagree at all with your sentiments about heroes and how they should be aspirational. My concern is that without failure and struggle on the part of a protagonist, whether male or female, tension in the narrative tends to dissipate rather than build up. (i.e., Rey will always be there to save the day, so why worry?) In the case of the Force Awakens, this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the “fail” part of the try-fail cycle is carried by the other characters: Finn is mostly a well-meaning bumbler and scaredy cat who almost dies at the end; Chewie gets shot; Han does die; Poe gets tortured and then appears to die in a Tie-Fighter crash before leading a mostly ineffectual attack on Starkiller base until his friends come through at the end giving him the opening he needs. All these failures/difficulties on the part of the rest of the ensemble cast mask the fact that the main character sails through the story too easily.
- Aside from weakening the tension in the film it also weakens the character arc for Rey herself. The Force Awakens must not only serve as a complete film in itself, it must also set up the next two films of the trilogy. But where is Rey’s growth as a character? Sure, she is becoming more powerful in the force, but is that really character growth? What’s her inner struggle? What is her flaw? That she misses her parents and is naive enough to think that they might come back? In contrast, Luke was a teenager who whines his way through the first two movies before he grew up in the third film and embodied a zen-like calm as he rescued Han Solo from Jabba the Hut and then went on to risk his own life to redeem his father. In the prequels, Anakin is this amazing prodigy who shows unlimited potential but who ultimately fails and falls to the dark side (Lucas was aiming for a Shakespearian tragedy but unfortunately ended up with a farce). As far as I can see, nothing has been set up for her like Luke or even Anakin in the prequels as far as character growth is concerned.
- This lack of character arc/growth for Rey concerns me, but I have quite a bit of faith in Rian Johnson, so I have little doubt that this will be fixed up in the 2nd and 3rd installments. Still, we are stuck with this flawed first installment of the trilogy which must stand on its own, in addition to setting up the other films. In the first installment of the original trilogy, Luke was a whiny teenager and remained one well into the 2nd installment; in the prequels, we always knew Anakin was headed for a fall and we are explicitly told (rather hamfistedly) that Anakin was vulnerable to the dark side at the end of the Phantom Menace. What is Rey’s future arc and how is it set up in *The Force Awakens*?