Creating strong female characters didn’t use to be any more difficult than creating strong characters in general. Lately, a few people seem to think that movies and TV Shows don’t include strong female leads anymore. When in fact, female leads seem to be popping up more and more and either that, there are female leads like Rey from the new Star Wars Sequels that are meant to be strong when in reality, they’re simply poorly developed characters surrounded by weak male characters in hopes that will make the woman shine that much more. And yet people claim that only white males have an issue with this. Well, I’m a fangirl – another words, I’m a female – and I have issues with characters like Rey and other Mary Sues.
So I’m here to take an in-depth look at a strong female lead versus a character like Rey, who was supposed to be a strong female lead but all she ended up being was a weak, poorly developed Mary Sue used for political agendas rather than creativeness to try to entertain us.
Mulan versus Rey.
Ironically, both female characters were created by Disney, but something went terribly wrong with Rey. What was it? Even if you’ve never seen Star Wars, it’s easy to understand the problems with her character by simply comparing her to Mulan, which is a classic Disney “princess” from back in the 90’s (man, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to, do they?) and most of you have probably heard of Mulan at some point or another. And before you assume or think I’m comparing them because Mulan’s one of the more warrior type Disney Princesses, no, that isn’t where I’m going with this.
Let me back up and start at the beginning. Quick summaries of Mulan and Rey. Mulan is a story about a woman who disguises herself as a man so she can join the army to keep her father from having to do it in his old age. She becomes a warrior and saves all of China. Rey is a lone girl who has had to survive on her own on a desert planet until she gets caught up in an adventure and realizes that Jedi are real and that the legendary Luke Skywalker is alive. She finds him and then gives herself over to the bad guys and though the Resistance is mostly destroyed, she defeats the bad guys and runs away with what’s left of the Resistance. That’s as far as we know in that story.
Now that you’re up to date on both of these stories, let’s examine them. For Mulan, I want to take a look at a specific scene in the movie. Disney with the animated movies they do, has a good way of showing time passing through songs. A man and woman can fall in love in the time of a song, and in Mulan’s case, she trained. Even if you ignore how catchy the song itself was and just examine the montage, it’s fantastic. She starts of sucking at everything that she does; she’s clumsy, picked on by the other men (which makes us root for her more), she can’t catch fish, or carry sacks, or run as fast, or shoot a bow and arrow, and she like all the other men, can’t climb a giant post. As the song progresses, she and the other men gradually get better until she can run faster than any of them, shoot better, and she’s the only one out of the entire army to climb the giant post. Just when the general told her to leave, she was determined to win and finish this. So she climbed it. There was sweat on her brow, and she struggled for every movement as she climbed. She was intelligent and figured out a technique that none of the other recruits (all men), knew and she was the first and only one up it.
Not only did this make us root for her and care about her, but it showed us that she worked for everything she had. She worked for her rank, the respect that the men around her gave her. They looked up to and admired her, even the general who was well trained. It wasn’t about who was male or female. It was about working for what we have, training, and effort, and determination. That reflects real life because we all have to train and work at things, even if we’re good at them.
Rey, on the other hand, didn’t believe in the Force or Jedi and suddenly, days later, she’s able to best an evil Sith Lord who’s trained his whole life in a Jedi mind trick. She’s able to use the Force to steal a lightsaber from him. He kills a good man in front of her and days later, she’s running off to help him. She fights these highly trained guards that are supposed to be protectors of Snoke – the evil “main” bad guy and fights them better than the trained Sith Lord does. She never once trained. Being a Jedi is something that according to Star Wars canon, has to be trained. Jedi Knights spend their entire lives training with the Force, learning how to use and harness it. Even Jedi Masters still have things they need to learn. They never stop growing. It takes time to be able to pull a lightsaber out of the snow and it certainly would be far more difficult to best a trained Sith Lord, even with him being injured as he was. Even if she was able to download his memories and use that to learn how to do the Jedi Mind Tricks – as it mentioned in the books – either 1) that needed to be showed and explained further in the movie and 2) Even with that, it doesn’t make sense. Watching and learning it and then applying it are totally separate things.
Even training with Luke for a little while would have showed that she grew naturally rather than Rey’s a perfect character because she’s a female that we’ve placed a political agenda onto. Instead of trying to 1) tell a good story 2) be true to Star Wars 3) honor Star Wars canon. Even doing a short, three-minute montage or less like Mulan did, where Rey tried and failed, then tried again, put in effort, struggled, and overcame would have showed us how strong she was. Like Mulan, we would have rooted for her and cared about her. We would have been cheering her on and wanted her to win.
Like Mulan, we would have gone on a journey with her which means that we would be more interested to where that journey ended. Like after Mulan saved China. Instead, they chose to leave Rey alone where she makes no mistakes because she’s supposed to represent this strong female character that’s perfect and knows how to do everything without learning or putting an effort or overcoming anything to be an example to young girls. How is that teaching anyone anything?
- People make mistakes. What we need to be teaching young girls is how to own up to their mistakes and how to learn from them. That’s life. Mistakes teach us how to be better, how to grow stronger
- We all love watching a character whether male or female overcome obstacles. We want to see them fail so that when they struggle and try again, it’s that much more powerful when they succeed.
- Who wants to watch a character who always wins and beats everyone around them? No one. Yes, we may want a happy ending – like how Mulan saved China – but that would have been less enjoyable had she never been found out to be a woman, had she not been forced to struggle to get the men to believe her when they saw her as weaker. Proving herself to be stronger wouldn’t have meant anything had the men not rejected her when they learned the truth. Then, when they all agreed to help her, it meant so much more because Mulan did that, she overcame that.
- Purposefully making all the male characters around a female character weak just to try to show the female character as strong DOESN’T WORK. It only proves to us that you can’t write or show a strong female lead on your own without making everyone around her weak. Look at Mulan. She’s the strongest, best-developed character in the movie Mulan and Shang is a strong character. So are the other men in the army. They grow and develop – they’re hilarious – but they all have their strengths and their determination to be soldiers no matter what makes them strong. Yet Mulan naturally outshines them because of her determination and how she overcomes so many obstacles and how well loved she is.
Sorry, Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson, but Mulan is a stronger character than you can make and guess what? She was a kid’s movie and yet, still watched and loved by adults – both females AND males. Yes, white males included in that.
Alright, guys! Let me know what you loved about Mulan in the comments below. Please visit my About page to subscribe to my newsletter for new writing tips and advice, free book recommendations, new free short stories every week, and for a chance for your book to be chosen as Book of the Month and promoted across my social media – for free. Sign up now!