Welcome to my first ever 2 part discussion post. I’ve had this idea for a post in the back of my head for a long time but it wasn’t until my review of How not to Summon a Demon Lord that I decided to put it into action.
Today I’m gonna be talking about the cursed term, Overpowered. The term is pretty self-explanatory, it’s when a character is so unbelievably strong that they remain unmatched by all. OP characters have gained a reputation for being a pretty shallow character archetype, with many OCs and other self-written media being full of such things. However, there are those few OP characters who are actually compelling and interesting, despite their power otherwise prohibiting such. In this discussion I’m looking at what makes a bad OP character, followed by a part 2 where I talk about what makes a good OP character. I’ll be using one character per post who I feel represent both good and nad OP characters. Please note that following opinions are mine and mine alone, so take these statements for what they are. With that said, let’s get into part 1.
Here’s a fun game, take a shot for every time you read the words physical and mental.
Yeah, I’m talking about Rey from Star Wars. No this isn’t going to be a The Last Jedi or a general Star Wars rant, lord know that dead horse has been beaten something fierce already. There are people who say Rey isn’t as bad as people say, but I happen to disagree. Quick note, this is talking aboiut the character Rey and not her actor Daisy Ridley, who does a good job in these movies. Now I do think The Force Awakens is ok and The Last Jedi is bad only because of the negative press surrounding it and the studios childish response to backlash tainting my opinion of it. But in both movies I believe Rey is the worst part, mainly because she is an OP, boring Mary Sue. Another cursed terms in the writing world, a Mary Sue is a character with no weaknesses or flaws. Rey has gained this reputation because of her near perfect use of a Lightsaber despite never wielding one before and having near perfect control over the Force despite never knowing she had it. Rey is physically unmatched and will continue to grow more powerful as the franchise progresses. Overpowered characters are often associated with physical power, and cannot be beaten physically. When this happens, the best way to make an OP character interesting is to abandon the physical journey and instead switch to the harder journey, the mental journey.
What is the Mental Journey?
The mental journey is where the character is tried mentally and needs to overcome a challenge set by their mind. When this journey is conquered, the character comes out with a new outlook, often discovering some great new purpose or power. While physical challenges can be a task, those that are mental are always the hardest to overcome. The mental journey comes in many forms, and each one needs to have some semblance of acceptance behind them. A common example is sacrifice, where the character must get rid of a certain thought or let go of a thing they hold dear in order to grow. This is always a compelling journey since it forces the character to make a decision that they don’t want to, creating a conflict that they cannot overcome. There is no greater enemy than the one you yourself create, and the concept of sacrifice reflects this with the object or thought in question acting as the adversary the character needs to overcome. When this sacrafice is defeated, the character suffers from loss, and can often be found at their lowest point from which they will need to climb back up. While a physical threat may not be a problem for an OP character, a mental threat can be much more deadly since no amount of physical power can overcome it, it’s an internal problem that they must face without any of their power. At the end of it, when the character has overcome their mental journey, when their sacrafice has been conquered and they’ve climbed up from their lowest point and risen above that what they previously thought couldn’t be surpassed, then they’ve had a full arc. The physical journey can factor into this, with Road to Glory stories like My Hero Acadamia and superhero origin stories having the characters realise their physical limits and overcoming their fears and concerns to move past those limits. But when your character is physically unmatched, the mental journey is unsupported by the physical one, and need to stand on its own.
Why Rey has no Mental Journey
Now that we’ve established the mental journey, lets talk about why Rey has none. The most glaring example is that she has no sacrifice. She starts out as a loner, her parents are gone and she has nobody, but this is never expanded upon. She does make friends, but there’s not enough time spent with these friends and her together since she goes off to train with Luke is episode 8 while Finn goes off to Canto Bight with Rose Tiko. Rey comes to understand the concept of light and dark while training with Luke, but is never challenged by it, she never feels compelled to move to the dark side like Luke once did. Luke nearly killed his father, and wanted to do so, but he overcame that, knowing there would be no way back once he’d done it. Rey on the other hand, forever opposes the dark side and is never once incentivized to join it, instead trying to persuade Kylo Ren to join her instead. Rey’s mysterious past and lack of family or real friends means she has nothing to sacrifice, and therefore has nothing to overcome and grow past. If I was in Rey’s position, no family, living on a desert planet and barely scraping by, I’d feel pretty resentful to the world and would maybe be tempted with the concept of belonging and power in the dark side, but Rey never has this ideology. She’s a goody two shoes all the way, and is seemingly capable of overcoming any task regardless of the challenge being physical or mental. Many OP characters do change personality wise, either coming to accept others, understand their own limits and work on them or come to accept a certain factor of life they’d previously resented. But Rey doesn’t change, two movies in and her personality (if she has one) has remained unchanged and unchallenged, with her cold, smug and justice fueled attitude still in full force. Another problem is that Rey’s OPness (totally a real word) isn’t earned in any way. Which brings me to my next point…
Some characters are introduced OP and end OP, Rey is no exception to this trope. However, what can make such a character is finding out how they became so OP. Maybe a tragedy in their past, a hidden desire to be above all others, or some sort of mysterious power-up that granted them such power. But Rey has none of these, instead she’s just powerful because the story dictates so. I get the idea of keeping Rey mysterious, so that episode 9 can maybe reveal the source of her power, but this is too long. People wanted to know why Rey is so strong so as to maybe come to accept it, but two movies in and there’s nothing new about her except her parent being nobodies, which I don’t believe for a second. An example of an OP character who earned their power is One Punch Man’s Saitama. He trained every day for a whole year, becoming so powerful by sheer perseverance and determination. Now Saitama isn’t the best example to compare Rey to since she’s a serious character and Saitama is a gag character who doesn’t really have any kind of journey. Here’s another example of earning OPness, Luke Skywalker.
Luke starts out as a nobody, no powers, no heritage, no nothing. He’s thrust into a story where he discovers his past and decides to pursue the ways of the Jedi. Very early on he suffers a physical sacrifice that aids his growth, the brutal death of his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, removing him from any physical attachment he had to Tatooine. By the second movie, he’s coming into his own, training with Yoda, but struggles to choose between mastering his powers or saving his friends. Then there’s his lowest point, the reveal of Darth Vader being his father (erm…spoilers I guess). This leaves Luke in an emotional conflict, does he save Anakin Skywalker or kill Darth Vader. By Return of the Jedi, Luke has reached him ultimate physical potential, and now he transitions over to the mental journey, the one about facing his father for the final battle. When he’s faced with the prospect of killing his father in a fit of rage, his journey takes place in his mind over the course of a few seconds, he wants him dead but knows doing so is wrong. That moment when he turns around to the emperor and refuses to kill him is the end of his journey, with his now fully rejecting that darkness after being previously tempted by it. That is a good journey, when luke becomes the OP Jedi master of episode 6, his journey becomes mental and leads to his outlook changing.
In conclusion, Rey is an OP character written in the entirely wrong way. There is no emotional challenge for her to overcome, and no physical match that can compete with her. With this type of writing, she’s trapped being a uncompelling and uninteresting protagonist. Can they save her? I don’t know. We have one movie of this new trilogy left and Abrams will have to do some stellar writing to make this all right. With that, I end Part 1 of my OP character post. Part 2 delves into the polar opposite of this argument, addressing an OP character done right. I had fun with this discussion today, and I hope you had fun reading. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go drink my 31 shots from all the physicals and mentals written in this post, see you on the other side. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon.
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