The brilliant Vanity Fair article this week has given us a lot of scoops. Not only do we have names for two more characters, we also got some great interviews and behind-the-scenes photos. VF also sat down with J.J. Abrams, director of upcoming The Force Awakens, for an interview and unfortunately he once again catered to the so-called ‘prequel haters’ by discussing Jar Jar Binks. Talking to VF editor Bruce Handy, Abrams said:
“I have a thought about putting Jar Jar Binks’s bones in the desert [of Jakku]. I’m serious! Only three people will notice, but they’ll love it.”
Now, I’m all for jokes. I love jokes. However, Jar Jar Binks is a very controversial figure within the Star Wars-fandom. Many fans of the Original Trilogy use him as their favourite stick to bash the Prequel Trilogy with, arguing he is a ridiculous figure, disgraceful and not worthy of being in a Star Wars-film. It has come to the point where saying that you like Jar Jar, like I do, means you have to face a barrage of disagreement, if not abuse. The fact that the same things were originally held against the Ewoks in the OT is conveniently forgotten. Everyone is allowed their own opinion and you don’t have to like everything about Star Wars. Whether you like both the OT and PT or just one of them, you have a right to liking or disliking things. However, as I have previously argued, the disproportionate hate against the PT has led to many of its good points and layers of depth to go completely unnoticed. There is more to the figure of Jar Jar than most people acknowledge and I will be going into it below.
We’re first introduced to Jar Jar on the planet Naboo when Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi have to escape the Trade Federation’s ship after failing at initiating negotiations with them. Jar Jar has been exiled by his community of Gungans because, in his own words, he is clumsy. As such, he is an outcast who has to survive on his own and seems to have done relatively fine so far. There are a few interesting parallels to Anakin, but this is not the place to go into those. The Gungans seem to be the native inhabitants of Naboo, closely linked with nature and keeping their distance from the urban population.The humans of Naboo don’t really interact with them and there seem to be a lot of prejudices about them. Even Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan can’t help but be slightly dismissive of Jar Jar, not quite trusting him or really enjoying his presence. Lucas has been accused of making Jar Jar a racist caricature of a black Carribbean stereotype, which both he and Ahmed Best (the actor behind Jar Jar) deny. Personally, I believe that to a certain extent the stereotypes are there, but for a different purpose than you might imagine.
In the PT, Lucas presents us with the downfall of a Republic built on the principles of justice and equality. There is a clear divide between the Inner and Outer Rim with poverty in the latter and prosperity in the former, etc. Naboo seems to be a peaceful planet with a very democratic system of electing queens who are passionate about their planet. However, Lucas shows that even this planet has questionable sides. The Gungans are largely ignored and not even thought about during the invasion. They are a minority on their planet and are marginalized. Their different way of speech is interpreted by most as lack of intelligence. Qui-Gon Jinn himself says:
‘The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.’
Qui-Gon is showing himself to be rather ignorant here. Jar Jar just argued that he owed him a life-debt that is demanded by the Gods, showing himself to come from a very different culture than Qui-Gon. Jar Jar continues to live by the code of his people, despite them having kicked him out. He helps Qui-Gon unquestioningly in all his endeavours, taking him to Gungan City despite it not being allowed, following him to a planet largely made up of desert and going into battle in order to give him a chance to capture Nute Gunray. He is willing to sacrifice himself for those he cares about and never does anything unkind. He can be silly and clumsy, but is never evil. Throughout The Phantom Menace we see him trying his hardest and helping where he can. He is rewarded for his efforts with becoming a general in the Gungan army and in The Attack of the Clones he has become a part of Amidala’s team in the Senate.
Amidala’s relationship with Jar Jar is deserving of a whole post itself, since she is the only one who seems to be open to him and can see what he is worth. Her turning to him for help shows her genius as a political figure since she realizes her planet needs all of its people to come together in order to defend itself. The screencap below is a great example of how Lucas visualised this decision. When the political system fails her, she realizes she needs to turn to those who have been let down by it as well. By uniting with the Gungans she is able to free Naboo and build relations between the two groups. Jar Jar’s presence in her senatorial team shows that together they are actively working on improving those relations and giving everyone a chance at equal representation.
The extremes of Jar Jar’s character are, at least partially I believe, there to show how the Republic and its people are flawed. Unlike any character, he triggers responses and this is because he doesn’t fit into what most people (the majority secure in its position and power) expect and therefore he is ridiculed. His characteristics are exaggerated, his intentions are misinterpreted and he is repeatedly marginalized despite his best intentions. Not many directors dare include characters that are so controversial because they also lay bare questionable attitudes within the fandom.
Star Wars is supposed to be about inclusion. We have species from all the different planets, repeatedly coming together to fight for the right cause together. What I have seen from the cast and story-line of The Force Awakens, this film will continue that tradition. I found it very disappointing to see that J.J., rather than focusing on being inclusive, catered to the side of the fandom who refuse to interpret the PT, to really look at it and see the depth of interpretation that is has to offer. Although you can dislike a character, to say you want to display their bare bones for some people’s enjoyment may be taking it a bit far. Jar Jar isn’t half as bad as some like to shout. In the end much of the hate against Jar Jar is down to OT fans being disappointed the PT wasn’t exactly what they had imagined. J.J. Abrams has to be careful in pushing this rift in the fandom, because his own film may just be the cause for another.