“Mary Sue” is often a term used to describe female characters in fan fiction. It generally refers to a female character who is the best, most amazing, most perfect girl ever, whose faults aren’t real faults, who everyone finds attractive and wonderful, who has extraordinary skills and talents, and somehow instantly becomes fast friends with canonical characters. (Canonical characters being characters like Harry Potter, Captain Kirk, Buffy Summers, etc. If it’s not a fan fic, then becoming fast friends with almost everyone they meet also suffices). Mary Sue’s are generally accepted to be author insertion or wish fulfillment.
More often than not critics like to use the term "Mary Sue" unnecessarily or derogatorily. Don’t get me wrong. Nine times out of ten, Mary Sues (especially in fan fiction) are annoying and poorly written. But too often critics like to level the claim of “Mary Sue” at any female character. (This is how characters like Katniss end up being described as a Mary Sue. Which makes no sense on any level.) But Mary Sue ness isn’t strictly a female character problem. And Mary Sue ness isn’t necessarily bad.
Case and Point: Corran Horn.
1. He’s the best at everything he does.
Corran Horn is the main protagonist of the Star Wars X-Wing books. Basically he’s introduced as a hot shot, Corellian X-Wing pilot who wants to be in Rogue Squadron. Not only does he get in, but he’s arguably the best pilot short of Wedge Antilles in the squadron. (We can bicker about Bror Jace versus Corran in status as best pilot if you want.)
2. He has no faults.
Now the book tries early on to contend that Corran does have faults, mainly he’s aloof and standoffish, causing the other pilots to think him a snob who thinks he’s better than everyone else. But when one of the other pilots confronts him about this, he immediately recognizes the problem and fixes it. We never actually see his standoffishness on page.
3. Women throw themselves at him.
Women literally throw themselves at Corran, even women who have no reason too, like Mirax Terrik. Mirax has every reason to hate Corran. Corran’s dad put her dad in jail! Corran is a former cop, and Mirax is a former smuggler (well, still a smuggler but now a smuggler for the Rebels). Other than the fact they are both Correllians and their shared antagonist history, there is no common ground between them. And let’s not even talk about how Erisi, who is described multiple times as being awesomely hot, is so attracted to Corran that’s she’s willing to make some very questionable decisions (which I will not describe here, because SPOILERS!).
4. He’s a freaking Jedi.
To top this all off, we learn eventually (minor spoiler, sorry) that Corran comes from a Jedi family! That he is, in fact, a Jedi (or rather a potential Jedi…he does become a Jedi at one point. In the book appropriately called I, Jedi). So not only does Corran have Wedge (a canonical character) wanting him to stay in his squadron because Corran is a great pilot, now he has Luke Skywalker himself knocking at his door, begging (yes, practically begging) him to become a Jedi.
5. Arguably an author stand in.
Corran is described as brown haired, green-eyed, thin, and short. In fact, Wookiepedia attributes the height 1.67 meters to him which makes Corran not even 5’5”. I’ve met Michael Stackpole, the writer of the X-Wing books. I don’t know his height but for a guy he’s short. He’s undoubtedly not as thin as he used to be, but for a man his age, he’s thinner than you might expect. He possibly has blue eyes instead of green. But I think it’s not a far stretch to read Corran’s description and think “huh, this could just as easily be describing Michael Stackpole at Corran’s age.”
So what does it mean? Is this a bad thing?
Corran Horn is my favorite original-to-the-Expanded-Universe Star Wars character. So I think it’s safe to say I don’t think Corran being a Mary Sue is a bad thing.
Some of you might be reeling and thinking “What? You like Corran better than Mara Jade?” And the answer is yes, I do. Mara Jade is undoubtedly the best character the Star Wars Expanded Universe ever produced, but that doesn’t make her my favorite. I’m much too partial to the flyboys of the Rogue Squadron, who can liberate an entire planet by themselves and never seem to die no matter the odds.
"But doesn't Corran's Mary Sue-ness make him a lesser character somehow?" some of you may ask. You could probably argue this, and there are times in the series when I wish a few things would be expanded upon that are not. But these things are not (in my opinion) a problem with Corran's character. They're a problem with Michael Stackpole's writing style. (His writing style is not bad! It's just that there are a few situations where I wish he might spend a little more time on the emotional implications.)
Corran is a rockstar. He's always going to be a rockstar. But you know what? This is freaking Star Wars. Star Wars is nothing if not a wish fulfillment fantasy. Our three main characters are practically the archetypes of wish fulfillment: the young farm boy with a great destiny, the sassy princess who needs to be saved but is also far more capable than the others, and the lovable rogue who will be redeemed by the story. Corran gives us a fourth type of wish fulfillment--one that perhaps many of us identify with more. Corran's the guy who's late to the Rebellion, late to the party, because he spent the years of the original trilogy on the Corellian police force (CorSec). But even though he missed the initial boat, he's still vitally needed. He's the hardworking guy, who just wants to do his job to the best of his ability, and turns out that he's incredibly needed and destined for even more.
There is nothing wrong with wish fulfillment. It's part of the reason why we read stories, so that for a few moments we can feel like an ace pilot that even Luke Skywalker himself wants at his side. There is nothing wrong with the occasional character that is awesome in every way, because that is the sort of character we wish we were.
So the next time you read a story and want to throw it away in disgust because a character seems like a Mary Sue, stop and remember Corran Horn. Are you enjoying the story? Yes? Then there is nothing wrong with it!
Now if it hampers you're enjoyment fine, but really, ultimately, most stories come down to a simple question: Did I enjoy it? If the answer is yes, then forget about tropes and cliches. Just go with it and enjoy the ride.