Understanding Jar Jar
Every generation needs a hero. A villain. A fool. We may see the same eyes in different characters, but not find a way to connect. We need to have a point of reference. A way of understanding what the character is trying to teach the audience in the story. With no correlation, the characters actions will be dismissed. Be ignored. Ridiculed. One of those characters in Star Wars is a Gungan from Naboo: Jar Jar Binks.
Jar Jar Binks (played by Ahmed Best) was first introduced into the Star Wars films in the fourth released movie, The Phantom Menace. He was an exiled alien from his community, whose life was completely changed during the invasion of the planet Naboo by the Trade Federation. The Trade Federation had placed a blockade of trade to the planet in order to continue their unscrupulous business practices. However, the Republic, which governed over numerous planets had sent two Jedi peacekeepers to resolve the dispute. That led to the Trade Federation attempting to assassinate the Jedi (Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi), the invasion of Naboo, and the chance meeting of Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn. With the aide of Jar Jar Binks, the Jedi were able to assist the Queen of Naboo (Padmé Amidalla) on escaping the planet, and kick off the events that led to the victory against the Trade Federation.
Afterwards, Jar Jar Binks would end up joining the political landscape, with Padmé Amidalla after her term as Queen ended, and both became Senators. Together they would represent the planet of Naboo until Amidalla’s untimely death at the end of the Clone War. Living under Padmé’s shadow Binks would continue on his duties as a Senator, even after the Republic turned into a Galactic Empire, until the Emperor himself (Sheev Palpatine) dissolved the Senate. Without a purpose, Binks went back to the planet of Naboo to entertain orphaned children as a way of being a candle of hope in the darkest despair the unwanted children faced. He continued to do so after the Empire fell, and became a New Republic. Some called him a hero as he sought justice in the Senate during the Old Republic. Others called him a villain as he brought upon the end of the Republic, and rise of tyranny. Lastly, there were others, who called him a fool, because they did not understand his awkwardly clumsy behavior.
Finding a Connection
The inspiration to Jar Jar Bink’s character was of the famous actor in the silent film era: Buster Keaton. Keaton would over exaggerate his performance, and perform dangerous stunts in his movies. This style of physical acting worked really well as a way of conveying emotion, without sound or dialog. People that know and can connect to Keaton’s style of performance have a greater understanding to Jar Jar Bink’s physical performance. However, pop culture is an ever evolving outlet. The name Buster Keaton is not common knowledge, so how can future generations relate?
One alternative is the Disney character Goofy. Superficially, Goofy is a newer generation of Buster Keaton, when it comes to physical comedy. Goofy stumbles into things, everything goes wrong, but he has good intentions. Take for example, A Goofy Movie. Goofy and his son Max set out on a fishing trip, after Max got into trouble at school. The fishing trip was an attempt by Goofy to relive his childhood trip, and pass on his knowledge to his son. However, many wacky things go wrong as Max is embarrassed by how awkward, obnoxious, and clumsy his Father is. By the end of the story, Max learns to find the heart inside his Father, and love him for who he is.
The understanding between Max and Goofy is something I see in Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar Binks cannot change, who he is. What he can choose is to do good. To have the right heart. It is up to other people to look past what they do not understand. To have the ability to not judge and discard if someone is not cool, savvy, or suave. Actions speak louder than words, and Jar Jar Binks’ actions are of hope and peace.
Alternatively, there is the famous actor Eugenio Derbez. Specifically his portrayal of Valentín in the movie Instructions Not Included. The story is a comedy drama about a lazy womanizer that preys on female tourists visiting Acapulco, because he is afraid of commitment. However, one day a past fling abandons a baby in his care, and Valentín sets off on a journey to return the baby to his Mother in Los Angeles, California. Except she is no longer there. Having no alternative, he becomes a stunt performer, and goes about raising his daughter in America. In the end, the Mother comes back into their lives, but all is not what it seems. How Valentín relates to Jar Jar Binks is he plays the fool type character that must grow up and learn from his mistakes. He must face life, even if he is not prepared.
Out of the people that like to discourage the fandom of Jar Jar Binks, I can see their point on one criticism. We did not get enough screen time of Jar Jar Binks (You may be thinking they are saying the opposite). The fact remains that most of Jar Jar Binks’ character growth happened off screen or in the TV show The Clone Wars. Because of this we only are treated, with the beginning journey of Binks in The Phantom Menace. Binks’ role in that movie was to be the fool archetype, where he had yet to find his purpose. Only by piecing together the small moments from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith that we learn about Jar Jar’s political career. For comparison, if the audience from Instructions Not Included only saw Valentín’s scenes from the beginning of the movie, and not seeing how he had grown from raising his daughter, they would have a completely different outlook to how his character ended up (I will not spoil the ending). In addition, if we only saw Max from the beginning of A Goofy Movie, we would only see him as a whiny teenager that was mean to his Dad.
All is not lost though, because in the novel Aftermath: Empire's End written by Chuck Wending (review here) we were given an interlude story of Jar Jar Binks. In the passage we are given that sliver of knowledge that Jar Jar Binks did not give up hope. In fact, he learned that it is important to inspire those orphaned children. In doing so it may cause the children to grow up spreading hope to others, and possibly end the cycle of violence and despair of war. He knew that he may be clumsy to some. Or that some viewed him as a fool. Jar Jar Binks also knew what it was like, for those children to be judged upon. Cast away. Abandoned. That is why he would entertain the orphaned children. To let them know it was okay to be different, and to strive to do good.
Hopefully, by looking at A Goofy Movie, Instructions Not Included, and exploring Buster Keaton’s work does it allow you a different perspective to Jar Jar Binks. Binks is a wonderful character that tries to do the right thing. Tries to bring happiness to those that are sad. Jar Jar Binks may be a little different, with how he lives his life, but who are we to judge? We all have our own way of existence. At any given time we may be viewed as the hero, the villain, or the fool. What matters is knowing, who we really are, and allowing ourselves to learn from our mistakes.