Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Issue of Jar Jar Binks

Of course, it's become popular since it's release to hate on The Phantom Menace (and to a lesser extent the following to films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy). The precise reasons vary. Some have criticized Jake Lloyd's performance as Anakin, others cite George Lucas's very strange decision to suddenly try to have the force explained scientifically despite not exactly giving much regard to science anywhere else in the franchise, and plenty of others have mocked Qui-Gon for not exactly making the smartest choices. The one area that seems to be universally hated about The Phantom Menace was the character of Jar Jar Binks.

If Jar Jar has any fans at all, they are greatly outnumbered by those who hate him. I can't deny this guy was rather annoying. Even back in my days as a Star Wars nerd I was never particularly fond of him (though granted it may also have to do with me being the kind of person who preferred to follow human characters, since I was never a big fan of Wookies either). Even George Lucas himself toned down the character in the later films, reducing Jar Jar to a small supporting role in Attack of the Clones and having a brief cameo in Revenge of the Sith where he doesn't even have any lines.

Heck, I don't know if there is any way you could defend his character. He's loud, he's got a really annoying way of talking (which I have also heard described as being potentially racist, as it vaguely resembles "jive talk" stereotypically associated with African American culture), and most of his scenes consist of him just being stupid or overly goofy without really contributing anything to the plot. In fact, there's even a fairly well-received fan edit simply called The Phantom Edit that, among other things, removes most if not all of Jar Jar's scenes.

Now, to be fair Jar Jar does have one contribution to the narrative, though given the movie's poor contribution it's one that probably could have been done without him. When Jar-Jar is first introduced, he talks to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan about the Gungan City which is safe from battle droids for the moment (apparently having forgotten that the reason he was living in the swamp was because he was banished from said city). This allows the Gungan civillization to be introduced to the audience, setting up part of the climax. If there was no scene introducing the Gungans early on, than they would seem to come out of nowhere and confuse viewers when they started playing a role in the final battle.

That said, it is a fairly small contribution and there probably are several better ways that same exposition could have been handled. We had Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon on the run from these massive armies through a swamp, and they have breathing equipment for swimming underwater (a bit odd, given they expected to simply be negotiating aboard a spaceship). They could have cut out Jar Jar entirely and just had Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon get cornered at a large body of water, dive in, and find the city by accident. That would have allowed a brief confrontation with the Gungans just long enough to ensure we know who they are when they show up later. Alternatively, Jar Jar could have had his role toned down, perhaps if he provided the necessary exposition but after that point took more of a background role, or at the very least staying on Naboo during the scenes set on Tattooine or Coruscant.

In fact, you could make a case that Jar Jar actually contributed more to the plot of Attack of the Clones despite his reduced role. In The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar provides some important exposition at first and then spends the rest of the movie getting into unfunny slapstick shenanigans that don't really contribute anything to the overall movie. In Attack of the Clones, Jar Jar only has a few scenes in which he has somehow gained a position of government,

However, he actually is responsible for a crucial plot point in that he is the one to give Palpatine complete control over the senate. That of course pretty much sets in motion the entire downfall of the republic and of course everything that happened in the classic trilogy. To paraphrase the Nostalgia Critic: everything that happens between A New Hope and Return of the Jedi you can blame entirely on Jar Jar.

Among other things, Jar Jar Binks was single-handedly responsible for all the people who died when Alderaan was obliterated by the Empire.

Jar Jar was never really even a necessary addition to begin with. George Lucas loves to have a bit of comic relief, but he already had that under control. After all, what fan of the Star Wars saga doesn't remember C-3PO and R2-D2? These two characters provided plenty of moments of humor while also actually being complex and interesting in the way they play off of each other. Even when they do get separated, they usually have something to contribute to the story. R2 definitely has his share of heroic moments, and while C-3PO's contributions may not always be obvious, his interactions with the other characters usually makes up for it. Jar Jar just kind of bumbles around and doesn't really have anyone to play off of. 

In fact, it's especially ironic that George Lucas decided to make a new comic relief when you consider that both C-3PO and R2-D2 actually appear in The Phantom Menace, the latter even getting to save everybody at least once. Now granted, C-3PO's role is more of a cameo in that film, but these two droids are probably the second or third most popular characters across the entire franchise (after Darth Vader and maybe Han or Leia). Perhaps The Phantom Menace might have worked better if George Lucas stuck to his successful efforts at comic relief rather than trying to force in an unnecessary new character.

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