The Jar Jar Problem...is he really so bad?

Joined
Sep 16, 2011
Messages
3,804
Reaction score
2,039
Location
Pennsylvania
So I did one on what I deem to be the Darth Maul problem a while ago, I wanted to do something akin for Jar Jar Binks.

I want to first and foremost say something relatively serious. As someone who was about to graduate 8th grade middle school and go into my freshman year of high school, I remember The Phantom Menace criticism well. Jar Jar took the brunt of that. Originally, as a young teen, I loved the film. It wasn't until a few years later, becoming more knowledgeable on storytelling and film itself, I came to see the drastic logical, tonal, and superficial flaws. Dangling a pretty piece of shiny CG upon my face didn't work so much anymore, but story did. Liam Neeson recently spoke out on TPM recently, something he's never done before. It's rather interesting:


So I want to preface this with...I'm a critical person. I'm so analytical it's a curse, I swear I should have become a detective or something. I feel art in all its variations should never be immune to critique. Critique is not even inherently a negative thing!

With that said, I do think some can go too far with it. Fans also can go too far in defending it, in this case it really is just a movie, but that's not the subject here. I'm not guiltless of fairly criticizing Jar Jar as a written character, few SW fans are. But when I first saw the open discussion Ahmed Best had on the backlash and the levels of near suicide he reached...I was pretty torn up about it. I felt for the guy, a man and father who seem to be a genuinely kind person and big heart.

So I felt a lot of confliction when I saw that. On a level of artistry, I'm not wild about the Gungan. Yet on the level of just being a human, I really identified and even sympathized. Jar Jar Binks is basically synonymous with being considered among the biggest and most iconic missteps in entertainment history. He's right up there with The Godfather Part 3 and the endings of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. As an actor, that can't feel great. Yet there's one thing I've always done in favor of the role...

Is Jar Jar really what makes TPM...questionable quality? The finger has always been pointed directly at this role, but is that truly a fair assessment? I've said no for decades.

Now by no means is this an outright defense of the character. The Gungan is obnoxiously and exaggeratedly cartoonish to points of feeling unnatural, undermining of any tonal seriousness, and even the claims (moreso then than now) of possible racial insensitivity may have a small degree of merit. He does behave akin to an old Uncle Tom-like caricature. And yet, when you really think about it on a narrative level...Jar Jar is one of the only characters that has an actual progressive arch. In fact, he may be the only one who grows throughout the entire film.

The faults of Jar Jar do not lay with Ahmed Best or the CGI crew, they lay with the maker; George Lucas. George wrote the role this way, Ahmed acts how George instructed. He speaks how George advised. His dialogue is what George penned. For all intents and purposes, Best did a phenomenal job for what he was instructed to be. Blaming him is like assaulting an incredible waiter for your poor food instead of the chef. It's missguided, misdirected, wrong!

I've always felt that focusing almost exclusively on Jar Jar being the reason TPM was largely deemed lousy was sincerely ignorant. Jar Jar is an easy target, like bullying a cripple instead of calling out the blatant jagoff quarterback. Jar Jar Binks is loud, colorful, and animatedly impossible to ignore. That makes his flaws all the more overt. But realistically, the root issues aren't him. Perhaps he doesn't make the situation better, but he's not the cause and catalyst. It's the script. At least Jar Jar evolved and has some personality within the narrative. What other examples of main roles in the fim really have that? Jar Jar is altogether not all that integral to the SAGA as a whole. Sure you can argue he's why the empire rises, which in a manner of speaking is true, but is it? If it wasn't him, it would have just been someone else. I sincerely feel that Jar Jar is relatively forgivable in the long-term, the disappointment and true criticism should be aimed at Lucas and the character of Anakin Skywalker.

The very same can be said to the backlash toward Jake Lloyd. I'm not one to shy away from criticizing films themselves, but personal attacks on those not even truly and fully responsible? He was a literal child! This one always seemed the most cruel to me. Yes EP1 Anakin is cringy, not particularly well written, a slew of things...but who's real fault is that? Is it no wonder Jake basically, well, lost his mind? It's actually rather tragic. I wish him well. Yet despite Lloyd not to blame, I also see no harm in stating there is no denying Anakin was the crux of this trilogy and rather botched in my eye. He's the entire reason as to why it was even made. Jar Jar is flawed, by all means, but it's spilled milk when compared to the faults within Anakin's portrayal.

If the Saga were a Jenga game, Jar Jar may have removed a block or two from the towers general structure. The way in which Lucas wrote Anakin, the suddenly now deemed foundation of the SAGA (apparently it was always Vader's story now) due TO these prequels, was what brought the whole thing collapsing down. I think it's time folks stop shouting at Jar Jar and start looking at the real issues. Jar Jar is a wart. You can see it, it's obvious, but it's easy to forget and look past. The scripts and bigger characters were the cancer.

The curse of Jar Jar Bink isn't that he's the worst thing in the films, it's that he's so lively he got all the fingers pointed at him. He got all the blame...and doesn't remotely deserve it.

Prologue: Ahmed Best is a stellar man! He did a wonderful job with what he was give. And frankly, I'm not ashamed to say, I loved Jar Jar when I was a kid too. Brought me laughs and smiles and many happy moments. A critique of the character, not of the actor.

P.S. This does not mean I think, by any means, Lucas is some bad person either. He's to blame, but not saying whatsoever a terrible person. In fact, he's a pretty great person. I don't believe many, if any, artists go out of their way to MAKE something that their fans will dislike. Looking at you, Rian Johnson! If they do, they've got issues. Very bitter about something! I believe Lucas was tainted by some things, be it a whole new level of merchandising that makes Ewoks feel subtle or some infatuation with new prospects of "show off" technology, but I do believe he did this film sincerely. For that, I admire him...despite not caring for end product much on a personal level. And for that, I can never hate him. I can hate the film now, but by no means do I hate the man.
 
Last edited:
Joined
May 9, 2005
Messages
37,215
Reaction score
5,243
Location
Oregon
While I think he's a silly character I never hated him the way others seem to, then again I never really understood hatred for something. Let alone for something so imaginary.
 
Joined
Jun 13, 2013
Messages
2,555
Reaction score
1,380
Location
Cobra Island
In defense of Jar Jars Binks.

At the time CG animation was starting to become a real thing in Hollywood & there was a belief that as technology progressed actors would be replaced with cheaper voice actors & CG characters. So there was a large push back against anything CG.
(yes hiring 3-5 animators 1 voice actor 1 singing voice actor & other related costs was still less than the paycheck of 1 big famous actor. That doesn't even involve production costs replaced by a green screen, set design & everyone else afraid of losing their jobs.

There was a series of soda commercials that were using the images of dead celebrities. This caused a huge legal issues with who would control image rights after a person dies. There was even some proposed movies that would star dead celebrities using CG animation. (Much worse than what we saw in Rouge 1.)


When episode 1 aired Jar Jar became an easy lightning rod, for issues that weren't about quality of the character. Best did a good job at what he was given to do. However Jar Jar as a comic character was redundant since we already had C3PO & R2D2, Which GL maybe didn't realize we wanted to see more.

The other issue (& many of us here are 100% guilty of this.) Star Wars was meant to be a movie for 10 year old boys, then as adults we came back to Star Wars but didn't realize that ourselves. (I can list 100 movies I loved as a kid, & are absolutely cringy watching as an adult. So the audience grew up, but they weren't the target audience anymore.

When I 1st saw Ep1 I loved it it wasn't great but I wasn't expecting a life changing event. At that point the EU was only hitting 50% so I guess my expectations were tempered.

Ja Jar is far from the worse part of the movie, Which is another debate altogether but he gets the hate because its an easy target.


THANK YOU Ahmed Best I truely believe you did a great job & I apologize for any cr@p that you had to endure.
 
Joined
Jul 22, 2003
Messages
1,181
Reaction score
127
flat,750x,075,f-pad,750x1000,f8f8f8.jpg
 
Joined
Oct 7, 2015
Messages
619
Reaction score
466
Location
Columbia, MO
I liked Jar Jar when I was 3 when the movie came out, so Jar Jar isn't a problem. A YouTuber named Rick Worley, who has a very thorough and well researched defense of the prequels, points out in said video how Jar Jar is a surrogate character for the child audience. He reacts to the things in the film similar to how a young child would. Certain Gen X Star Wars fans can really struggle with the movies when something isn't specifically for them. Which is, ironically, very childish. They take it as a fault of the movie, when in my case, I was a kid when the movies came out, and I was friends with other children at the time, and we all liked Jar Jar, so I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Jar Jar was a success. He worked well within the role the story carved out for him. An adult wasn't supposed to identify with Jar Jar, that's why it's an ensemble cast, they made other characters for you. What Rick Worley points out is that having a childish surrogate character is important for the first act because it emphasizes how dark the third act of the trilogy is. Revenge of the Sith would mean nothing if Phantom Menace was just as dark tonally. It's a story, and it's a tragedy at that; it needs somewhere to go; it needs to descend into hell. Without the tonal shift it just becomes a song without dynamics, which is a pretty boring song.
 
Joined
Jul 22, 2003
Messages
1,181
Reaction score
127
The Phantom Menace is a mess. It's my least favorite of the prequels. Jar Jar can be annoying, but I don't think is nearly the worst part of the film. But he does kind of symbolize what is wrong with a lot of it. The CGI, the infantile humour, etc.

Jake Lloyd gets a lot of hate too. A lot of his lines are bad, a lot of it simply because of bad Lucas dialogue, and some of it just bad takes and delivery that Lucas shouldn't have let make it to the film. Jake did a good job for what he had to work with, as did Ahmed Best.

The main problem with the prequels is the screenwriting. The basic plots are decent, they're just told in an awkward way (Ep.1 is confusing with the taxation & political BS etc), and the dialogue is often horrendous, and some of the main actors like Portman and Hayden aren't good enough actors to save that dialogue. Lucas should have provided the plots and let somebody else write the screenplay for the prequels.
 
Joined
May 1, 2011
Messages
1,187
Reaction score
810
Jar Jar is a Tom & Jerry character... a frantic Fidgety Philip type that aims at physical humor. And he's so overdone that he seems out of place in almost every scene. Waving his arms around as if he got an epileptic seizure, having the ears flop, that's ultimately jarring (no pun intended) in a semi-realistic movie with human characters. If he had been more subdued, he might actually have worked. A scene that worked for me, for example, is the one where the crew sits around the table and Jar Jar snatches apples with his tongue until an annoyed Qui-Gon catches the tongue with his fingers. I found that funny because it seemed natural for Jar Jar to do, and there was a deliberate contrast with Qui-Gon's calm posture. Similar, his bout with Sebulba was okay, even if the dead frog thing played out quite cartoony.

Other scenes might have worked as well. The one where his tongue got caught in the podracer? I guess it was supposed to pose a danger to Jar Jar, but he floundered around until it made the whole situation bizarrely surreal. The one where he activated the droid? Was almost believable but ultimately distractingly overacted.

The difference to R2D2/C3PO humor is that the droids have dignity, which contrasts with the stuff that happens to them. C3PO is annoyingly talkative, but we know that he's just following his programming and means well, where Jar Jar just goes yahoo. When something happens to C3PO, he bears it with despair - "what have I done to deserve this". When something happens to Jar Jar, he makes faces, and the audience doesn't really care because that's all the character is for, and stuff happening to Jar Jar is expected.

(We will ignore the scatological humor. That was... good grief, who ever approved those scenes... oh yes, I remember.)

Imagine if Jar Jar had any dignity. He's been banished from his home because of mishaps following him around. He's alone and unwelcome, and now uses the opportunity to tag along with strangers under the pretense of some godly decree. Jar Jar is a victim of circumstance and bad luck, and somehow projects an aura of sadness, but this mood is countered by little accidents happening to him (sometimes due to his own incautious actions). That might even give him a character arc, from a "my life is cursed, I am such a victim" to "I can change what's happening to me by deliberate action and a bit of thinking".

Instead, a spittle-spraying Boss Nass sentences him to death by making him General (don't try to convince me that Nass really needs Jar Jar's military prowess), and we get an increasingly stupid barrage of accidents in battle that somehow work mostly to Jar Jar's advantage. In the end, Jar Jar didn't manage to change, and I really wonder how he made it to Gungan representative in Ep. 2.

The problem is that every time a Tom & Jerry scene comes up, the audience is pulled from the immersion and reminded that this is just a dumb kiddie movie. The end battle is especially problematic in this respect. Are we supposed to believe that Gungans actually die, when Jar Jar works his cartoon skits? (To be fair, we also never see any human Naboo dieing during the invasion, which Sio Bibble claimed on the phone.) That takes away the tension of the other battle fronts and suggests that there are no consequences for whatever crazy action there is.

Mixing the styles so much rarely works, unless it's a deliberate contraposition like in Roger Rabbit.

The CGI doesn't bother me at all. I loved it when it came out (finally doing exotic aliens like Sebulba? Yes please!) and I still don't find them distracting (I've seen worse in much later movies).
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
2,721
Reaction score
805
Location
Alberta
Yes he is really that bad, literally worst character possibly ever created in cinematic history. The voice, the stupidity of his character, the issues he causes throughout the PT, from design to actual character arc he is horrible.
Where would we be without him? I think the PT would have worked fine without him, he wasn't comedic relief, he wasn't so required that others couldn't fill the gaps, he was just a mess and easily the worst part of the PT.
 
Joined
Dec 15, 2017
Messages
6,480
Reaction score
7,330
I agree that the character doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the saga.

But I don’t mind him; there are a lot things in real life that don’t fit the tone of one’s day. If I can’t escape those kinds of things, then why would Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan be able to? Lots of stuff in life is weird.
 
Joined
May 9, 2005
Messages
37,215
Reaction score
5,243
Location
Oregon
You mean cinematic right? Because I can think of a bunch from the EU that have him beat at being the worst, and now with the ST that number has increased. I honestly do not get the hate for the character, never have. Sure he's silly obnoxious and just about useless, but that's about it
 
Joined
Jan 7, 2006
Messages
558
Reaction score
67
Location
Manila, Philippines
yeah JarJar was bad. but he was a minor irritant compared to the sequels. i would cheer if they strung together some random Jar Jar footage and called it "Star Wars Episodes VII, VIII and IX: A JarJar Story".
 
Top