Spare a thought for Jar Jar Binks – the crowning turd in the waterpipe of reasons people hated the Star Wars prequels. The character was emblematic of the major flaws not just of the prequels, but of the franchise as a whole: cutesy, tonally off, and vaguely racist. And more recently, Ahmed Best, the man behind all those floppy prosthetics, recently confirmed on Twitter that despite the rumours he would have nothing to do with Disney+’s upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi TV show:
Thanks for the love, but I will not be in this series. As much as I would’ve loved to be a part of it. But I’m ecstatic to see folks who I love dearly back together doing great things. https://t.co/5bzLq9yslh
Given that Best, like one-time child actor Jake Lloyd, took more than his share of stick from the more rabid fans after The Phantom Menace, he presumably made this announcement with an inward sigh of relief – although he hasn’t cut ties with the franchise, and now hosts the children’s game show Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge (also, as if you need telling, on Disney+).
But despite Jar Jar being damned as the obvious Achilles’ heel of the prequels, the character did enjoy a bit of a re-evaluation in 2015, when the ‘Darth Jar Jar’ fan theory went viral. To summarise, the idea was that Jar Jar was, secretly, an incredibly powerful Sith, and at some point during the prequels there would have been a dramatic turn where he revealed himself as the main villain – but the sheer depth of his unpopularity made George Lucas scrap this plot.
This wasn’t just a wildly speculative “ooh, but what if…” either. The theory cites a lot of on-screen evidence, most notably that a lot of Jar Jar’s apparent bumbling actually looks more like proficient drunken boxing-style martial arts. And – the part where I went from amusement to taking it seriously – Jar Jar’s introduction is a lot like that of Yoda, “a little creature on the side of the road that seems very insignificant and not very important, but who turns out to be the master wizard, or the master thing” (George Lucas’s words).
Imagine, for a second, that Yoda had, like Jar Jar, turned up five minutes into the trilogy – and had then spent a film and a half bouncing around, going “eeh hee hee hee!” and eating Luke’s food, before we got the reveal. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that he would have been just as hated as Jar Jar, and have gone down as the first of many irritating puppet characters, assuming this wouldn’t kill the franchise before it took off.
Of course, 2015 was a long time ago – before the sequel trilogy, and you’ll notice that the Darth Jar Jar theory suggests it would have finally paid off in The Force Awakens and revealed Supreme Leader Snoke to be merely an alias of Jar Jar, the true dark lord. Obviously we now know Disney didn’t go for this, and if they ever did consider it, then it’s possible they rejected it for much the same reasons as Lucas – or, if you want to be unkind, because it wasn’t a lazy recycling of the original films.
But is this really the best one can say of Jar Jar, that if an unfalsifiable, unlikely-sounding fan theory had come true he could have been good? Well, no. Even in the films as they are, the character plays an important role. Yes, he’s weird and annoying, and isn’t it refreshing that Qui-Gon Jinn sees that too? Maybe, but more importantly, it’s emblematic of the flaws at the heart of the old republic.
The excellent Prequels Redeemed blog argues this point a lot more eloquently than I do, but the upshot is that Jar Jar is an example of how the republic, and the Jedi, treat those they consider lesser beings, and it doesn’t paint a pleasant picture. The prequels are, after all, the story of how the republic failed. Of its flaws, and blind spots – and, yes, its fairly unpleasant treatment of the native alien populations it rules over.
The fact that Jar Jar seems vaguely like an uncomfortable racial stereotype is very much the point. And you’ll notice that in short order, the (white, European) Jedi have press-ganged his people into fighting their wars for them. If that seems like a bit of a reach, then consider this: the name of Jar Jar’s race, the gungans, is alarmingly close to ‘Gunga Din’, a poem by Rudyard Kipling about the bravery of Indian soldiers who fought for the British Empire. Do they still just seem like George Lucas sticking in another annoying puppet?
While Qui-Gon pithily notes of Jar Jar “the ability to speak does not make you intelligent”, Jar Jar does go on to become a senator off his own back, something else the Darth Jar Jar theory found rather telling. Whether he’s a Sith or not, and despite that stupid-seeming way of speaking, he’s at least capable of holding a senior position in government. And that’s where the prequels left off, with Jar Jar still a senator – a cushy, indoor job with no heavy lifting. Which, to return to where we came in, isn’t quite ideal material for a show about all the exciting adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Don’t forget that Disney have seen how well a show about a lovable rogue tooling around the galaxy can do with The Mandalorian. It’s likely that Obi-Wan will go down a similar route – not identical, but probably the same sort of wild-westy, serialised, adventure-of-the-week format. There will inevitably be cutesy puppets, it is Star Wars after all, but if he has a baby Yoda of his own, it’s not going to be the reviled Jar Jar, and it’s certainly not going to be Senator Jar Jar, fighting to pass boring trade legislation.
This, it seems, is Jar Jar’s lot in life. He’s not treated with respect by his colonial masters, he’s not allowed his villain plot, he doesn’t get to be on Obi-Wan’s spinoff – he can’t have anything.
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