With a little-known film known as Star Wars: The Last Jedi out this month I decided to take a look at the franchise’s most unpopular character and ask the question: ‘Was he really that bad?’
When New York-born actor Ahmed Best was offered a role for the beginning of a new Star Wars project it must have been a dream come true, I mean surely it’s every actor’s dream to be part of one of the greatest franchises in the world.
Little did he know he’d be synonymous with everything wrong with 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and the two following prequels. His character Jar Jar Binks became a lightning rod for everything wrong with George Lucas’ ill-received return to the galaxy far, far away, with some criticisms bordering on the extreme.
When I first saw The Phantom Menace I didn’t really think a lot of Jar Jar Binks, yeah he was annoying and he was quite a pointless character but he wasn’t by far the worst thing in the first of the prequel trilogies.
I could go in-depth about everything wrong with Episode I but to be quite honest, I’m not sure my brain nor my soul can handle another run at it. I’d rather do the Death Star trench run as Jek Porkins.
So this brings me back to the question at hand: Was Jar Jar Binks really that bad? And if he was; is it time to forgive him?
There is a lot to hate about Jar Jar, I’m talking about a laundry list so dirty even the best detergent on the market couldn’t scrub it out.
As a character, he plays on some deeply offensive stereotypes beholden to archaic portrayals of black ministerials in media i.e the scarecrows in Dumbo and, Song Of The South. Best himself was not going for that angle whatsoever.
As he tells Star War’s superfan Jamie Stangroom, the character’s voice and mannerisms originated from the stories he would tell young family members.
Best told Stangroom:
I would read a lot of stories to kids, my nieces and nephews, and my little cousins.
As I would do storybooks I would do different voices for the characters, and Jar Jar’s voice was kind of the character that I had, my generic little kid voice.
He sent five or six different voices tapes to Lucas at the time and one of the audio tapes happened to contain the voice of the Galaxy’s most hated Gungan. So in a way you should really point the finger at Lucas – it’s no wonder why Disney wanted him off of future Star Wars projects.
Best said he knew the character was going to get a bad reception after the media were given advanced screenings and they were asking him ‘outlandish’ questions about his character.
Reviewers like Brent Staples (The New York Times), David Edelstein (Slate) and Eric Harrison (Los Angeles Times) all consider Jar Jar’s overbearing presence to be a symbol of the creative flaws in The Phantom Menace.
Vanity Fair’s Bruce Handy wrote:
Jar Jar has come to symbolize what many fans see as the faults of the prequel trilogy: characters no one much cares about; a sense of humor geared toward the youngest conceivable audience members; an over-reliance on computer graphics; and story lines devoted to the kinds of convoluted political machinations which wouldn’t have been out of place in adaptations of I, Claudius or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but which fit less snugly in films with characters like Jar Jar Binks.
Yes, Best was at fault for the inception of Jar Jar Binks but so was Lucas himself, the severe backlash directed at the character was proof he was no longer in touch with his fan base. Or could it be his fan base just ‘grew up’? You’re never really the same person when your five-years-old turning on 15.
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, those who grew up with the original trilogy were full of childlike wonder, nor had they seen anything of its ilk before. Essentially that’s was the problem with original trilogy – Star Wars was always a kids film and Lucas wanted Jar Jar to be the gateway for a new generation of young audiences.
So was it the disdain shell-out by film critic and older fans which ultimately damaged the prequels (critically – financially it was a success and it raked in millions).
In a Star Wars Reddit Q&A Best said:
[The criticism] hurt a lot. You put your heart and soul into something groundbreaking for two years and it gets slammed, that hurts.
George and I would watch a lot of Buster Keaton together and he would tell what he liked and what he wanted. The final battle scene in Phantom Menace is almost all Buster Keaton.
Yet through it all he’s taken abuse towards his character with good grace and said he if could it all again he would.
I’m a skinny kid from the Bronx. I’m not supposed to be alive, let alone a pro artist. Opportunities like Star Wars come once in a lifetime. Those are the ones you say yes to.
I’ll hold my hands up and say my disdain for Jar Jar Binks only came when others around me pointed out all his awful mannerisms. Yes, the criticisms were valid, he was a terrible character but the blame should not be Best’s to bare by himself.
In terms of the innovation, Jar Jar Binks may have been a divisive character but his concept was revolutionary. He was the first motion captured character to be fully utilised on a major motion picture.
Without Jar Jar there would be no Andy Serkis as Gollum from Lord Of The Rings or Ceaser from Planet Of The Apes, James' Cameroon's Na'vi in Avatar or Groot in Guardians Of The Galaxy would fail to exist as well. Best and Lucas' work on Jar Jar paved the way for a revolutionary breakthrough in filmmaking, which we should all be thankful for.
I'm not sure I can ever forgive Jar Jar Binks, just thinking about him makes my skin crawl. But I can say to Ahmed Best it's not your fault and the abuse he took on was unfair.
To end on a lighter note for poor old Jar Jar as it turns out there's one man who's more unpopular than the polarising Gungan, that honour goes President Donald Trump
Jar Jar Binks (37%) has a higher approval rating than trump (32%). pic.twitter.com/3qg2U4hVQm
— Robin Thede (@robinthede) December 16, 2017
According to a poll taken this year, Jar Jar wasn't even considered the most disliked Star Wars character, while he only had a 37% approval rating it was much higher than new villains Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. He was also one percent behind Rey, so not bad for someone who's seen as the bane of the franchise.
Now compare Jar Jar's 37% approval rating to Trumps meagre 32%, bet he doesn't seem like such a bady guy now right? Also, I'm pretty sure he's a more capable diplomat out of the two.