When George Lucas made the choice to start the Prequel Trilogy with Anakin Skywalker as a kid and to include Jar Jar Binks as a character he must have had an inkling of what was coming. But he must have made this choice deliberately because of its story-telling value. In this post I want to have a look at how intimately the stories of these two great characters are entangled and how they mirror each other. Unwittingly, in their joint rejection of these two, the prequel-bashing community not only misses out on a vital element of the story Lucas tried to convey. But above all they confirm the message that is in Jar Jar and Anakin’s story for those who did make the effort to recognize it.
Both characters, Jar Jar and ‘Kid Ani’, are often criticized as being ‘childish’ and ‘annoying’. Only put in to ‘draw kids into the movie’. Many critics argue both characters do not ‘work’ and have little purpose. Yet once we turn to what they ‘do’ in the movies then something else becomes abundantly clear. Understanding what happens to one can be furthered from seeing what happens to the other.
Found by Qui Gon
Jar Jar Binks is ‘found’ very early on in Episode I by the Jedi Master Qui Gon Jin. Qui Gon establishes quickly that he does not hold very much of his new found ‘friend’ and openly even doubts whether Jar Jar is intelligent. Not so Jar Jar! For our Gungan, the connection to Qui Gon immediately takes on a deeply spiritual dimension due to the life-debt resulting from Qui Gon saving his life. But quickly Qui Gon recognizes the uses this Gungan might have for him and his fellow Jedi Obi Wan. Whether it is Jar Jar leading them to Otto Gungan or Jar Jar ‘navigating them’ through the Core of Naboo, Qui Gon has recognized that Jar Jar Binks has a role to play in the unfolding events. When Qui Gon first meets Anakin he is not as dismissive of him, but he does view him as ‘just another boy from Tatooine’. It takes a few concrete events to make Qui Gon change his mind. When he finds out about Ani’s pod-racing record and does the Midichlorian count he recognizes Anakin’s uses.
Of course there are differences in the way Qui Gon treats the two. He wants to ‘train’ Anakin but when you note how he treats Jar Jar you must recognise that he treats him as a child. In most of his interactions with the Gungan he tells him what to do and what not to do, how to behave and how not to behave. Many might view this as a sign of Qui Gon’s annoyance with Jar Jar but it actually is the opposite. If you raise children then you behave like that not because they are annoying, but because you expect something of them, you believe they can learn and improve and because you care.
Qui Gon’s care for Jar Jar includes taking him along as well as not standing up for him when Obi Wan calls him ‘a pathetic life form’. Similarly though he does stand up for Ani to be trained as a Jedi, he does not bother to go through any length to free Ani’s beloved mum from slavery. Qui Gon’s care is partial and utilitarian.
Uprooted and Isolated
Both Ani and Jar Jar are uprooted from their world. Jar Jar is banished because he is dangerously useless and clumsy according to his own people. Anakin is enslaved and abandoned by his own people. Neither have an origin story and where for the Gungan Lucas simple expects us not to even ask for one, for Ani he deliberately excludes one by using a virgin birth construction. Ani has a deeply nurturing and caring mother and for Jar Jar this is, given the Gungan Culture, the natural environment of the planet Naboo. Where ‘The Gods’ demand Jar Jar’s loyalty to Qui Gon for Ani it is his mother who proclaims that he ‘is destined to help you’. Clinging on to this Jedi means for both they become separated from their homeworld and their ‘home’. In the novelization of The Phantom Menace there is a scene where Anakin dreams of returning to his homeworld to bring freedom. In the movie Jar Jar actually gets to do it. But we all know that the events of Phantom Menace ultimately bring both Jar Jar and Anakin to a life in isolation from what used to nurture them.
When Padme first meets Jar Jar there is no reason to believe she does not share the Naboo’s prejudices about the Gungangs. But she too recognizes his uses despite his childlike naiveté and his clumsy appearances. Towards the end of Phantom she calls on his courage and that of his people’s warriors. She similarly is not confident in Ani’s capacities but after the successful liberation of Naboo that has changed for both of them. And so both Anakin and Jar Jar end up with deep connections to a Jedi and a female politician that will forever change their lives.
Driven by Emotion
Both Anakin and Jar Jar are driven by strong emotions of attachment that is personal. For Ani this is evident and explicitly mentioned through out the films. For Jar Jar you need to read this between the lines. For example, why would Jar Jar not have returned to his native people after his redemption in the Battle of Naboo? He remained loyally by the side of Padme for a long time, as we are told in Attack of the Clones when Jar Jar comments on Padme’s state of mind. He evidently knows her well! Jar Jar is constantly under pressure to restrain his impulsive emotional behaviour. That is most clearest in Phantom, but even in Attack of the Clones Padme interrupts him to say “Jar Jar, I am sure you have important business to attend to” while he excessively thanks her for choosing him as her representative. To many viewers that may have seemed to be just another ‘Binks annoyance’ commented on by a lead character. But to a Gungan this might have been the proper response to the fact that for the first time a Gungan became a representative of Naboo in the Senate. To Jar Jar it meant he was reaching another peak of recognition.
Anakin must constantly restrain his emotional side as well. The emotional freedom he may have had as Watto’s slave, has been lost to the Jedi Code. Jar Jar uses his clumsiness to retain a degree of freedom to do whatever he feels to be right. Anakin wants to prove his worth but the less he follows his instincts, the more he finds it hard to ‘help others without thought of reward’. Both Anakin and Jar Jar start out as characters who are naively good, have a childlike innocence about them, who are impulsive and who are largely disregarded for these traits by most.
Both display plenty of genuine courage. Where Anakin’s courage is a little more confident and purpose-oriented, Jar Jar’s is a little more unguided and filled with self-doubt. But both perpetrate their most successful courageous acts by a great deal of ‘luck’. Anakin’s destruction of the trade-federation ship’s reactor and Jar Jar actions in the Battle of Naboo resonate in this manner.
The similarities between Anakin and Jar Jar do not stop after The Phantom Menace or the early scenes of Attack of the Clones. During the latter both Anakin and Jar Jar become increasingly afflicted by the situation developing around them. Jar Jar is the first to be jettisoned into the heart of the ensuing Galactic Conflict. Although we know little of Sheev Palpatine’s relation with Jar Jar, he must have had one as a fellow citizen from Naboo. He may not have been ‘watching Jar Jar’s career with great interest’ but you can be assured that it will not have escaped him. Jar Jar is manipulated in the presence of several other senators leading to his senate motion that paves the way for Palpatine’s assumption of emergency powers and ushering in of The Clone Wars.
This is Jar Jar’s fall, as his childlike innocence is spent and lost in the manipulations of the Sith Lord. What used to be his strength, doing what he intuitively feels as right, has been corrupted and used against him. It is a foreshadowing of what will happen to Anakin. Just before that moment in Attack of the Clones we have also seen Anakin lose his innocence in a most dramatic way. Jar Jar loses his innocence due to his desire to be someone, his desire to do something of significance, that is what makes him susceptible to Palpatine’s manipulations. Anakin of course loses his innocence due to his desire to control what happens to those he loves. Both want to protect and serve, both are courageous and yet both their judgements are clouded by their desires.
In the final moments of Revenge of the Sith Anakin finally loses himself and he loses the woman he loves. All we see of Jar Jar in that episode is that he is still around and he is still in the company of Padme. He stays there till the very last moment. Just before Lucas starts on glueing his final Prequel Trilogy instalment to A New Hope two shots remind us of that despite all that has happened these two characters remain attached to Padme.
From the moment Padme had realized the Gungan’s courage till the moment where he walks behind her funeral barge Jar Jar has never shown any sign of disloyalty for her. He must have felt deeply connected to this woman because she was the first to actually see his positive side.
Since the Clone Wars series’ finale we of course know that Jar Jar had a love interest. The Arc in which he and Mace Windu sought to resolve a deep mystery of disappearing force-sensitives revealed something else as well. Master Windu had little
confidence in Jar Jar and was visibly appaled about having to be on a mission where Jar Jar was taking the lead. It was a fortunate moment in the Clone Wars that he nevertheless recognised he needed to play second fiddle. Unfortunately the lesson he should have taken from this went by him. He should have realised that sometimes we should learn to trust what we find hardest to put our confidence in. If he had not put his trust in Jar Jar in that Arc it could have spelled doom for the Galaxy. When a couple of months later he failed to put his trust in Anakin it was but the last of a long series of mistakes by the Jedi Order in the handling of Skywalker. This time however, it did start the cataclysm that wiped away the Jedi Order and the Republic.
The ‘race’ issue
Many reviewers of the prequels objected to Jar Jar’s characteristics which seemed to resonate with ‘racial stereotyping’. Evidently Ahmed Best had put all the intonations of his voice into Jar Jar’s voice and his version of Gungan street talk. The effect, strangely, was that all the racial stereotyping was projected on Jar Jar Binks and the hate still today aimed at this character is brim-full of exact the type of prejudice and stereotyping that many who do so claim to loathe about the character. Jar Jar’s reception by parts of the fan community is a mirror of his initial reception by the Jedi, by the Naboo and even by Jar Jar’s own people. Amidala learned to see past that with respect to both the Gungans and Jar Jar.
Yet Jar Jar was not introduced as, and never became, a ‘slave’. In his, often isolated and expelled, existence he always remained a degree of freedom. It was exactly his clumsiness, his naiveté, his sense of honour and his impulsiveness to help others that awarded him that freedom. Anakin was the white slave boy who carried the burden of that past. Yet he to was freest when he allowed those same qualities, his ‘luck’, his naiveté, his sense of honour and his impulsiveness to help others, to determine his actions.
We know that ultimately Anakin went through the darkest depths before finding redemption in saving his son. There is a grand Gungan tale still left to be told between Jar Jar’s mourning at Padme’s grave and his demise as a street clown just before the start of The Force Awakens.