What do we talk about when we talk about the Star Wars prequel trilogy?
First off, we’ve come to the agreement, as a collective of geeks, that the trilogy was very, very bad (or at least very disappointing). Everybody has their own favorite moments and characters. The nostalgia factor and universal love for everything Star Wars keeps the three prequel movies watchable, if not “good”. We also seem to have formed a consensus that the trilogy’s final act, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, is the best installment. This is probably true. It’s the only one of the three that is really an essential piece of the larger Star Wars mythos. It certainly features the most engrossing actions sequences (the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan feels like what George Lucas meant when he said technology had finally progressed enough for him to make the prequels). So, while part three undoubtedly falls victim to the same bad acting, even worse writing, and overly abundant Faustian principles that plagued both Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I’ll deviate towards the norm and reluctantly agree with the notion that Revenge of the Sith is, at least, decent.
The idea nearly all fans read as scripture that I simply cannot get on-board with?
Jar Jar Binks is the worst character ever; he ruined The Phantom Menace, and is a ready punching bag anytime we wish to spew vitriol upon the trilogy.
Jar Jar, a clumsy-turned-heroic Gungan voiced and motion captured by Ahmed Best, is lambasted for a great numbers of reasons, amongst them- being a failed attempt at comedic relief, being a clear and shameless attempt at appealing/selling toys to children, embodying the overabundance of bad CGI in the trilogy. To an extent, all of these complaints hold merit. But none of them are exclusive to the character of Jar Jar. He’s not an outlier in this trilogy, despite Lucas clearly responding to the negative reception by greatly cutting his role in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I will now address the aforementioned criticisms of Jar Jar; why they’re unfair, and why it’s preposterous to loathe Jar Jar without loathing the entire trilogy.
A failed attempt at comedic relief: A few days ago, I watched The Phantom Menace for the first time in years. Jar Jar is not funny. He’s annoying. His humor is based around a voice and physical comedy that feels more fitting for a Cartoon Network show than a space epic. But when I saw this movie for the first time at the age of seven or eight, you bet your ass I laughed mine off at everything Jar Jar did. Jar Jar is supposed to be a silly, sort of pointless character that makes kids chuckle. There’s nothing wrong with that (more on this in the next section).
In the original trilogy, much of the humor came from the camaraderie between R2-D2 and C-3PO. They were, strangely enough, the most relatable characters given their relative lack of heroism and penchant for always being in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time. Their robotic physiques were never really explored, but viewers still asked if androids dreamed of electric sheep. 3PO also routinely came close to breaking the fourth wall. He’d go on and on with his anxieties, but the characters wouldn’t hear them, only the audience. It really was quite humorous, shout out Anthony Daniels.
In The Phantom Menace, 3PO hasn’t even been finished yet, and he hardly interacts with R2, or anyone else for that matter. There’s also no Chewbacca or Han Solo. Tonally, The Phantom Menace is more self-serious and brooding than the original trilogy. Aside from Jar Jar, it’s completely bereft of the comedic quips and witty one-liners that balance most action movies. So as bad as the film is with Jar Jar, imagine it without him. Would you really want to hear a nine year-old say more cheesy things like, “Are you an angel?” (the first thing Anakin says to Padme). Would you really want to hear more talk of trade federation politics and midochlorians? Would you really want more Ewan McGregor?
Jar Jar might not be funny to your older self, but he probably was to you as a young boy or girl. I highly doubt you were that kid complaining about Jar Jar from the get-go, and if you were, good god must you have had a miserable childhood.
A clear and shameless attempt at appealing/selling toys to children: A good chunk of the decisions made in all Star Wars films are made with merchandising in mind. The reality is, the toys and video games are just as big a part of the Star Wars empire as the films themselves. Jar Jar was, obviously, a goofy character aimed at entertaining children. This bothered adult viewers, the ones who grew up on the original trilogy. But they don’t have a right to be bothered by this. The prequel trilogy set out to do for my generation what the original trilogy did for my parents’ generation, and for the most part, it succeeded. Let’s not act as if Jar Jar was the only part of this trilogy drawn up with Happy Meals in mind. Take fan favorite Darth Maul, for example. He’s popular, but he’s not particularly important or interesting. He had a couple of cool fight scenes, but his main contributions came via Halloween masks and plastic double-lightsabers.
Here’s the thing those 35 year-olds who still play Battlefront 2 (greatest game ever, btw) and bitch about Jar Jar are afraid to admit…
Star Wars, at its core, is supposed to be for kids.
I mean, really. This is a universe based around some little understood magical entity called “the force” and a bunch of cloaked ninjas who harness its power and carry fucking laser swords. I hate to break it to you, Reddit user Darth something, but LucasFilm doesn’t really care what you think as long as you buy a ticket. Reddit user Darth something isn’t the one filling out a Christmas wish list. Reddit user Darth something isn’t the one rushing home after school to jump on an Xbox (well, maybe they are). The Star Wars universe is joyous and fun and enchanting, until you start to get overly defensive and serious about it.
If you don’t think there will be elements of The Force Awakens –whether they be creatures or weapons or costumes- clearly aimed at appeasing young viewers, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.
If you believe Jar Jar is an immature and annoying character, that’s fine. You’re not wrong and you’re not in the minority. But to be offended by the fact that the producers would dare try and appease children in a family movie? Well, you care a little too much.
Embodying the overabundance of bad CGI in the trilogy: Jar Jar was at least partially created with motion capture, but many creatures and sequences in The Phantom Menace were done entirely digitally. At the time, in a pre-Gollum world, this was seen as groundbreaking. But as the years have come and gone the CGI in The Phantom Menace, save for the outstanding pod-racing sequence, looks really iffy, even by late-90’s standards. The audio dubbing for the digitally-created characters on Tatooine is laughably bad. I bet you’ll never guess who takes the brunt of the blame for this?
How does Jar Jar move more awkwardly or look worse than this guy?
Or this guy?
OR THIS FUCKING GUY?
Lucas and the VFX teams found their footing in Attack of the Clones, a worse movie than The Phantom Menace, but a better display of visual effects. Revenge of the Sith was nothing short of miraculous on a visual level.
If you want to make Jar Jar into a scapegoat, so be it. Legions of loyal fans were disappointed by the prequel trilogy and it’s always easier to pick a small, insignificant piece of something larger and blame that. But this wasn’t a bad trilogy because of Jar Jar. It was a bad trilogy because it was a bad trilogy. Jar Jar just happened to be a part of it.
JJ Arbams has hinted at the possibility of The Force Awakens briefly mentioning the death of Jar Jar. This is easy fanfare and thousands of crowded theatres will go wild for it. Me? Well, me’sa thinks Jar Jar is okay.