For the love of Jar Jar; 20th Anniversary of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

For the love of Jar Jar; 20th Anniversary of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Evan Karvonen, Staff Writer

It has been nearly 20 years since the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a movie that was highly controversial and not regarded highly by the general audience. Aside from the film itself, another aspect of the movie that was frowned upon was the attempted comedic relief provided by the character Jar Jar Binks.

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan from the planet Naboo, made history as the franchise’s first computer-generated lead character. Jar Jar was created by writer, director, and creator of Star Wars, George Lucas. Lucas designed Jar Jar to be funny and relate to the younger audiences of the film. He allegedly based him loosely off of the Disney character Goofy.  This idea was alluring to the marketing team at Lucasarts to captivate a larger audience. It unfortunately did not work to Lucas’s advantage, as the reviews for the film and for Jar Jar and his intended ‘comic relief’ were scathing.

The ABC News 2010 piece, “The Top 10 worst TV and Film Characters” ranked Jar Jar at number one.

Staff Member, math teacher, and Star Wars fan Mr. Carlson said he “doesn’t feel strongly” either way, neither with affinity nor disdain about Jar Jar. “I just never really minded him… don’t hate him like others,” Mr. Carlson said.

This begs the question: Why do so many people hate Jar Jar?

According to Dr. John Paul Garrison, there are scientific reasons that humans are naturally repulsed by Jar Jar.  He says that one such reason is that his voice, being high pitched and occasionally whiny, is described as “much like fingernails on a chalkboard.”

Another reason people seem to despise Jar Jar is his face. As stated by Dr. John Paul Garrison,“Jar Jar’s angular head, craggy eyes, and jagged ears are naturally gross to us. We automatically feel some level of revulsion just looking at his head and face.”

For some, Jar Jar’s character brought accusations of racial insensitivity.  ABS News’s Shelia Marikar noted that his “exaggerated West Indian accent and Rasta appearance seemed racist to many.”

The hatred against Jar Jar has perhaps had little to no impact on the Star Wars film empire, but how has the actor been affected by this hate?

The actor who played Jar Jar Binks, Ahmed Best, has been affected in a rather traumatic way by this hate. He said in a 2018 Twitter post with a picture of himself, “20 years next year I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today. This was the place I almost ended my life. It’s still hard to talk about. I survived and now this little guy is my gift for survival.”

Ahmed does not specifically reference The Phantom Menace, but the ‘20 years ago’ implies it as such. Ahmed also received death threats from very unhappy fans, and these constant threats drove Ahmed to consider suicide.

Jar Jar Binks’ presence in the Star Wars series affects the outlook on the series for some; whether it is a favorable or unfavorable will vary from person to person. For me, I choose to celebrate the 20th anniversary of what I consider a fine addition to an excellent franchise.