When it comes to opinions about Star Wars, it seems like everybody has one and it's pretty rare that those endless opinions line up with everyone else's. An exception to that, however, is how people feel about one particular character in the franchise and, no, we aren't talking about Baby Yoda. We're going back a bit further than that, all the way to the prequel trilogy. That means we are, of course, talking about Jar Jar Binks, the goofy Gungan who may just be the most maligned character in the Star Wars universe.
The character, played by Ahmed Best, was one of the first computer-generated lead characters in the franchise but, instead of being welcomed by fans with open arms, the amphibian-like character was immediately denounced by fans, critics, and, well, everyone for being annoying and potentially even offensive. Since that first appearance in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks has been the butt of jokes and frequently tossed around as the "worst" character the film franchise ever created. As we reach the end of the Skywalker Saga and look back at the prequel trilogy two decades after it began, it might be time to reconsider Jar Jar Binks, recognizing that the character served an important purpose in the narrative — and really isn't that bad after all.
First and foremost, Jar Jar Binks has value less for what he actively did in The Phantom Menace in terms of plot or story and more for what he brought to the overall tone to the film. All of the prequel films have a somewhat dense and heavy tone, and for good reason. These are stories that are looking back and revealing the events that led to the state of the galaxy as we first saw it in Star Wars: A New Hope, and that includes the story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Considering that most viewers went into The Phantom Menace knowing Anakin's ultimate fate, it makes for an ominous film.
Thanks to Jar Jar Binks, though, smack in the middle of all that darkness and heaviness there are moments of pure silliness and joy. Jar Jar is clumsy and goofy and annoying. He's easy to laugh at because the messes he makes are as funny as they are frustrating, thus breaking up some of the story's tension. This has a value far beyond offering a laugh in the middle of the film, as Jar Jar's goofiness offers an approachability for fans that are, perhaps, new to the franchise. This is especially true for young fans. Jar Jar Binks is, in a real sense, a children's character. His childlike ways offer accessibility for younger viewers, giving them a reason to keep watching even as the story grows heavier and heavier.
There's also something to be said about Jar Jar's overall arc within the prequel trilogy. While the character's role diminishes as the trilogy continues (Jar Jar has only the barest of moments in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith), we still manage to see him grow from that goofy Gungan into a more reserved Representative of the Galactic Senate. It makes for an interesting counterpart to Anakin's own growth arc as one could argue that Anakin becomes more impulsive and less mature as he ages, whereas Jar Jar, who is arguably more immature than even young Anakin when we meet him, becomes more adult and more deliberate by the end of his big-screen journey.
That growth arc, or more specifically where it ultimately leads Jar Jar, is important for another reason, the one that might be the biggest reason why Jar Jar isn't as "bad" a character as people like to remember him as. It's not something that is evident in The Phantom Menace, but Jar Jar Binks ends up being one of the most pivotal characters in the entire Star Wars franchise for one simple reason: without Jar Jar there is no Star Wars.
In Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Jar Jar is a delegate to the Galactic Senate and, in the film, he stands in for Senator Padme Amidala when she is forced into hiding. In this role, Jar Jar is unfortunately manipulated by more experienced politicians and is convinced to endorse the idea of the Grand Army of the Republic. He suggests that the Senate give Supreme Chancellor Palpatine the emergency powers required to make that army so. The motion passes and, well, we all know where that leads. Without Jar Jar, it's likely that none of that happens.
When taking those things into consideration — his place in the overall Star Wars story, his growth arc, and the initial breath of fresh air that he brings to the story — Jar Jar Binks may eternally be a weird, goofy, sometimes problematic character, but he's also not as bad as we've collectively made him out to be. For a character often dismissed for his superficial qualities, Jar Jar Binks is much more important and much more valuable when one sits down and considers him and his story on the whole. You can still be annoyed by the character, but there's more to Jar Jar than just the surface and that's what makes him worth a second look — and deserving of a second chance.4comments
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker lands in theaters on December 20th.
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