Yes, Jar Jar Binks was racist and dumb, but that wasn’t his fault
By Caitlin Beesley / for inland360.com
If you were a “Star Wars” fan in 1999, excited about the debut of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” then you’ll probably also have vivid memories of how disappointed you were with the delivery.
Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.
As somone born in 1993, who didn’t discover “Star Wars” until late into elementary school, 1999 is just another year I can really only recall through that murky fog of pre-adolescence.
Thankfully, it wasn’t too long into this haze that I came across my parents’ old VHS tapes of the original films, and so I was spared the indignity of preferring the prequels for no other reason than they came out before I could be introduced to the originals.
But now, as a cogent adult (at least according to my drivers’ license and five — soon to be six — years of college), the anticipation I feel regarding the latest installment in George Lucas’ sci-fi saga is more akin to what I believe those older fans to be feeling: unease.
You all think you were screwed over by Lucas in 1999, and 2015 may very well turn out to be another 1999. The only difference is we’ll have J.J. Abrams to blame this time around. Sure, he’s done a fine job with the “Star Trek” reboot, but there’s still more than enough doubt to make you not want to watch the millions of trailers and TV spots and Internet pop-ups that have started appearing daily on your computer screen.
Heck, someone’s even created an ad-blocker that will specifically block anything “Star Wars” related. That’s how many people share this apprehension.
I have to believe Abrams is aware of what a burden he’s taken on. “Star Trek” is one thing, but — may I be struck down by some inconspicuous trekkie the next time I step foot in the movie theater — it ain’t “Star Wars.” Expectations are high, and the pressure to deliver a real spark to the franchise has never been greater.
So it may be easy in our excitement to either compare or contrast the results of this latest installment with the most unholy of holys, the least sacred episode of them all, “The Phantom Menace.”
But before we get swept away with nostalgic preludes of infamy, let’s take a look back at “Episode I,” and the prequels together, all the while attempting to keep our overly demanding fan feelings in perspective.
Here are three obviously terrible things about the prequels and three things you may have overlooked when starting your rant about how terrible they are.
Or are they?
3 ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE THINGS ABOUT THE PREQUELS
1. The dialogue/writing/direction
This might seem like three different things, but as they’re fairly connected I think I can get away with saying they were singularly awful. We know the stories: Lucas was surrounded by a bunch of yes men who did nothing but bow down to his obtuse musings and ramblings. But while Lucas is in fact a creative genius, his writing and direction leave much to be desired — there’s a reason he ceded directorial duties after “A New Hope.” It’s simply more stiff than its successors, and that’s something we see tenfold in the prequels. The delivery during certain scenes, especially ones that should be filled with emotion, are pallid. The plot is tight, and we have characters whose goals and ambitions are laid out for us; but we struggle to empathize with them when they seem like emotionless automatons.
2. Continuity problems
Why is Leia’s title “princess” if her adopted father is merely a senator? How does she remember her mother if Padmé died in childbirth? Why would Obi-Wan think it’s a good idea to let the Lars keep Skywalker as Luke’s last name. And why— WHY — did Lucas have to ruin the Force by introducing Midi-chlorians? He Frankensteined it from some spiritual entity controlled by a person’s will in the originals to a bodily aspect that could easily be manipulated by science.
2. Jar Jar Binks
Jar Jar seems to be the one single aspect of the prequels that no one could find any redemption in. He’s dumb, he’s offensive, he’s racist, he’s not funny, he’s too slapstick, he doesn’t fit with the rest of the film — take your pick. What ultimately makes Jar Jar so terrible, however, is that he’s the reason Darth Sidious becomes emperor.
3 NEARLY REDEEMABLE THINGS ABOUT THE PREQUELS
1. Ewan McGregor (and every other actor)
You really can’t blame the poor delivery and terrible dialogue on this dude. Compare McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi to Alec Guinness’s and you’ve got yourself one hell of a casting agent. Whoever decided McGregor’s performance in “Trainspotting” would translate to Guinness’ Oscar-nominated one in “Hope” deserved a percentage. That this man has not won an Oscar is … well, a discussion for another time. But throw in Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman and you have yourself a cast. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the prequel’s lineup; they just had very little to work with.
2. Connection with the originals
These three films are distinctly less action-oriented and more plot-driven than the originals — a fact bemoaned by many. But this is actually what makes these films secretly not so bad. As fans, we should be jonesing over all the added backstory that Lucas included specifically because he wanted to build the series’ mythos. We’re introduced to so much new information in the prequels, and that’s not a bad thing. Now, maybe some of it doesn’t mesh with the originals, or maybe we just weren’t satisfied with Lucas’ telling of it. That’s fine, too. But hating the prequels because they were dense with storytelling is not an option for people who claim to be fans.
3. Jar Jar Binks
Now, hold on, hear me out. There’s a theory that’s been floating around the Internet for a while about how Jar Jar was supposed to be a Sith apprentice, the cadre of evil antagonists we’re introduced to in “Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” But because of all the blowback the character received, Lucas hastily shifted the central villain to Count Dooku. I find it plausible, and more than that, likely that this is what Lucas had planned all along. He discussed in several documentaries his desire to have the prequels follow the pattern created by the originals. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda was introduced as a mystery character who seemed kooky and was really annoying at first; Jar Jar was supposed to be the yin to Yoda’s yang. The actor who played Jar Jar, Ahmed Best, has all but confirmed this theory, but clearly, from your astonished expressions, you need more proof, and as I’m running out of real estate, I’ll direct you to YouTube, Reddit and just about anything else online. Just type in “Jar Jar Binks Sith lord theory” and your questions will be answered.
Just please remember — don’t be hating on Jar Jar too much: Like a lot of people, his true potential went unrealized.