I know. The last thing anyone wants to read about is Jar Jar Binks. Except that one fan theory that went viral about how he is really a Sith Lord. While it is a compelling argument, and a true masterpiece of thought, I don’t accept it. Obviously I think my own opinions are better. Suppose that’s the nasty thing about opinions. Anyway.
Little does anyone know, my Minor in college was Editing, which does not just include grammar and style, but also fiction editing, and a good deal of what makes characters and story lines work, and what doesn’t. The thing is, Jar Jar truly could have been a FANTASTIC character. Or he could have been comic relief that actually worked, and didn’t make you want to gouge your eyes and ears out. Let me explain.
George Lucas wanted comic relief. That’s perfectly fine and acceptable.
For the story he wanted to tell, he also needed a fierce warrior race from Naboo to go toe-to-toe with the Trade Federation army. Also perfectly fine and acceptable.
The problem lies in the fact that both roles are fulfilled through the bumbling Jar Jar and the equally ridiculous “warrior” race of the Gungans:
If Lucas wanted comedic relief outside of the droids it could have easily been Jar Jar with very few objections from anybody. He could easily have followed much of the same path: Qui-Gon, being a Jedi sworn to protect those who cannot protect themselves, saves Jar Jar from the droids. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon cannot shake him off because his gods demand he repays the life debt. Eliminate the Gungans altogether. The end of the story is resolved differently. Either it is a complete stealth mission with no army decoy (unlikely though. As the Star Wars stories developed they settled into each having at least one of each: Lightsaber Fight, Space Battle, and ground battle [originally skirmishes, but become full out war/army scenes]). Or they get an army from somewhere else. The Senate agrees to send some troops. Or they introduce Bail Organa earlier, and he decides to send his own personal army from Alderaan. Along the way, Jar Jar manages to contribute in some small but meaningful fashion. Perhaps in this version he has slicing skills. Or his ability to swim and hold his breath help them get into the palace somehow. Or he takes a blaster bolt for Qui-Gon. Anything really, that is equal to his skills that could discharge his life-debt to Qui-Gon, and perhaps make Amidala grateful enough to make him part of her retinue.
Believe it or not, most of us detractors would accept him in this capacity. It may be hard to believe, because we hate him so vehemently. But if the story were like the above, we never would have grown to hate him so. We’d either like, tolerate, or ignore him, as we do most comic relief in serious movies. This is essentially the same capacity that C-3PO and R2-D2 play in Episode IV. Comic Relief, but provide enough help WITHIN THEIR ABILITY to warrant them actually being there.
Keep the Gungans, but as a truly and decidedly not ridiculous warrior race (maybe like Klingons). Make Jar Jar a great warrior who is shamed that he needed Qui-Gon to save him and is now sworn to repay the life debt to regain his honor among his people. He then leads the rest of his warrior race in a fierce battle against the Trade Federation, not just to help out the humans, but to defend their own land as well. He not only regains his honor, but becomes a hero of both the Gungans and the Naboo, because he forges a lasting peace between the two peoples who have always been at war.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that would be friggin AWESOME.
If you noticed, both options are very close to the original. Either would work. The problem truly comes from forcing them together. It is simply poor storytelling to ask an audience to ascribe “ridiculous”, “bumbling”, “warrior”, and “hero” to a single character and race, and that is what we are asked to do in “The Phantom Menace”. The contrast is just too far-fetched, and rubs most people the wrong way. Hence the absolute LOATHING of the character.
As an aside, this is the EXACT reason why a lot of people do not like the Ewoks either. More people do like them than the Gungans simply because they are much cuddlier looking, and more people accept “Cute and Fierce” than “Bumbling and Fierce”. Though not everyone. Hence the sect that hates Ewoks as well.
If anyone has read my other posts, you’ll notice that this opinion appears to be in direct odds with my opinion present in my Character Analysis of Qui-Gon Jinn. In there I defend Jar Jar as a valid character, and one important to the overall story and to Qui-Gon’s decisions. This is because I have two mindsets when I approach discussing Star Wars, or any story, really:
1) Accept all characters and plotlines as valid, intentional, and purposeful, and discuss the story from within the scope of the story. This is what I have done for I think all of my posts so far.
2) Step outside the story itself, and evaluate validity of a character and plot and errors that the storytellers may have made in the creation such things.
I try very hard to keep these two mindsets separate. In this post, I can tear apart Jar Jar form an editor’s perspective, and say what went wrong with the creation of the character and what I would do different. However, if my focus is Qui-Gon, I cannot evaluate Qui-Gon while simultaneously asserting the Jar Jar should be different. I have to adopt the mindset that Jar Jar is how he is on purpose, and is canon that cannot and should not be changed. And if that is the case, I can then evaluate Qui-Gon’s actions towards Jar Jar.
Hopefully that was a little clearer than Tuna Booze Oil.
But what do you think? Would you accept Jar Jar if he was either of the options I presented?