This is a response to a recent article in the Times Telegraph entitled “Why we hate Jar Jar Binks” about the tragedy of his character.
Like everything else in Star Wars, I wanted to like Jar Jar Binks. But I remember my heart actually sinking the first time I saw him. I found him personally offensive and represented the reprehensible characters that were made about black people in cinema for decades.
I found Ed Cumming’s article to be a very dignified take on this character showing the multitudes of opinions about the character. It is thoughtful and shows a lot of empathy for this character that I appreciate.
But Mr. Cumming’s is more forgiving than I am.
At best, Jar Jar’s character is “old fashioned” as noted by Mr. Cummings. The noted references to Buster Keaton are accurate. The problem, then, is that Buster Keaton’s antics were performed in micro-contexts.
His slap stick was center-stage and, frankly, harmless to the rest of the story. But you put it in the middle of a Star Wars adventure and it’s just destructive. His clumsiness and absent mindedness offered very little. The Clone Wars, at best, made his clumsiness to serve as his weapon. His only other “useful” quality was also being sufficiently gullible enough to be manipulated by Palpatine. There’s nothing respectable about this.
“The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.” ~ Qui Gonn Jin”
Jar Jar is ultimately a useless character who contributes nothing to the story and is openly disrespected by just about everyone including Qui Gonn Jin and Obiwan Kenobi (not very Jedi-like). In this sense, he is the Buckwheat of this gang, not Buster Keaton.
Every character on Star Wars has a purpose and power. C-3PO was impossibly annoying, but he had a purpose to the story (except in Episode II which is why he was awful in that film). Yoda doesn’t speak with correct English/Basic, but he’s still wise and powerful. Jar Jar has no redeeming purpose or power.
George Lucas neglected to give Jar Jar any dignity. As such, the animosity towards this character is hard to distinguish from the animosity towards the people this stereotype is meant to resemble. Star Wars is rooted in the notion of hope against this type of myopic bigotry and ignorance and yet George put it front and center into his movies. I don’t believe this came from a bad place, but it’s not a forgivable mistake.