The redemption of Jar Jar Binks

Since I had enjoyed the original three Star Wars films (Episodes 4, 5, 6) that came out in the 1977, 1980, and 1983, I went to see the first of the three prequels (Episode 1) when it was released in 1999. I found it to be a waste of time so that I did not watch Episodes 2 and 3 either.

One of the really off-putting features of Episode 1 was the exceedingly annoying character Jar Jar Binks. My dislike for the character was shared by many who mounted a hate campaign against him. Since I thought that he was a purely CGI animation, I did not pay much attention to this campaign. But it turns out that behind the mask was a real actor Ahmed Best, who had been a huge fan of the films and was overjoyed to be selected to be part of the franchise. But his life was made such hell by the vitriol and even death threats aimed at him that he seriously contemplated suicide. The idea that one would not just intensely dislike a fictional character but go after the hapless actor playing that role amazes me. Mind you, this was even before the current social media environment made such pile ons easier. Thankfully he did not carry out that plan to kill himself and has managed to make a comeback as a new character in The Mandalorian

This article tells his story.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Reminds me of the hate for Wesley Crusher from fans of ST:TNG. Never understood it really, since he was one of the least annoying of the characters.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    I’ll be interested to listen to the podcast, specifically the details of how they treat the accusation that JJB was a crude and offensive racial stereotype.

    It didn’t really cross my mind when I watched it the first time, but then I am a white guy and had never heard the word “woke” in its modern context in 1999. But once you are even slightly “woke”, the crude racial stereotyping in Star Wars is hard to miss. Jar Jar with his exaggerated voice and walk is practically a blacked-up minstrel, the trade federation dude (despite being played by a white English dude under all the makeup/animatronics) was standard slimy Oriental stereotype, and if you didn’t clock that conniving money-loving big-nosed Watto was a Jew in TPM, they made sure to give him a suitable hat for AotC so it was even more obvious.

    What’s even worse is when you think back to the very first film, when you realise that Jawas (nomadic thieves and effectively slave traders) and Sandpeople (nomadic violent borderline animals) are what George Lucas thinks of Arabs. Sure, in subsequent works (in particular The Mandalorian) these races have been considerably fleshed out, but just watch Star Wars again with that in mind -- it’s quite disturbing. And believe me, I LOVE these films, the first trilogy hit at exactly the right age for me and they WERE “popular culture” between about 1978 and 1985 as far as I and many other were concerned. But I can see their problematic nature now.

    It’s also worth remembering that not everyone hated JJB. I read a fascinating fan theory shortly after the third film came out (by which time it was too late) that went something like this (google it for more details): Jar Jar is a Sith. He puts on the borderline dyspraxic act… but when leading the Jedi to the Gungan city instead of simply walking or stumbling into the water, he performs an Olympic-standard dive from a standing start, something only Jedi or Sith are shown capable of. He persuades people to do things while waving his hands in the air. It’s HIM that hands power to Palpatine in the Senate. He’s insanely “lucky”… in a franchise where one of the founding sayings is “in my experience there’s no such thing as luck”. It’s even been put forward that Count Dooku was a hasty drop-in character, written to do the work that in AotC was supposed to be JJB, until the backlast after TPM. That lightsaber fight with Yoda hopping around like an acrobatic flea? He was supposed to be fighting Jar Jar. Not sure whether that would have been cooler than fighting Christopher motherfuckin LEE, but in retrospect I kind of wish we’d got to see that.

    I am a little disappointed in Simon Pegg feeling the need to apologise for what he wrote in “Spaced” -- nothing in that show attacked the actor, nothing in that show wasn’t true. The Ewoks WERE rubbish, and Jar Jar did indeed make “the Ewoks look like fucking Shaft.” And indeed the lesson of the episode, the POINT he made after all those jokes, was “it’s just a movie -- let it go”. Even if the movie is an “overblown firework-display of a toy advert”. (“I punched a bloke in the face once for saying “Hawk the Slayer” was rubbish.” “Good for you.” “Yeah, thanks. But that’s not the point, Tim. The point is I was defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity, when what I should have said is “Dad, you’re right, but let’s give Krull a try and we’ll discuss it later.” )

    Phantom Menace was, in many ways, an all round shitshow. Best had it bad, sure, but fucking hell poor Jake Lloyd had it hard, possibly harder, and there’s not really a feel-good redemption-story podcast in what’s happened to him since.

    Finally, on a lighter note, and to back up some of the things I’ve said above, have a listen to this: Peter Serafinowicz, the voice of Darth Maul, reflecting on his experience of the film. (You may recognise him as the Sommelier from John Wick 2…)

  3. Holms says

    He’s insanely “lucky”… in a franchise where one of the founding sayings is “in my experience there’s no such thing as luck”.

    Which carries zero weight when you recall the character saying that also said some pretty dumb shit. “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side” is shown to be very incorrect in every movie. A simpler explanation, and one that is borne out be every shred of evidence, is that Jar Jar was just a poorly written attempt at comic relief.

    The fan theory reminds me of another defence of Star Wars. When Han said he did the Kessel Run in ‘under 11 (or so) parsecs’, he appears to be treating the parsec as a unit of time rather than a unit of distance. Emergency! Writing gaffe! Oh noes! and so forth. But a fan theory came to the rescue: Han was using the word correctly, i.e. as a unit of distance, because he was talking about travelling through a very dangerous region of space, and his brag was that he successfully took a very short path through it by daring to skirt close to the many hazards.

    Meh, whatever makes the headcanon work I suppose.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Did anyone besides me immediately think that C3PO was/is a caricature of English gay men?

  5. says

    Holms: Either way, Han’s statement is just plain ridiculous. A parsec is, IIRC, a little more than two lightyears; so what the hell is this “Kessel Run” that takes up that many lightyears of distance travelled? Like, a really badly-built hyperspatial expressway?

  6. Silentbob says

    @ 4 Pierce R. Butler

    I can’t see it. A gay caricature would be more swishy -- 3PO’s not that camp.

    I always saw more the classic English butler type -- you’re regulation Jeeves: Prim & proper, obsequious but snooty, genteel and fastidious; but not particularly effeminate.

    Of course, 3PO and R2 were also you’re classic comedy duo -- Laurel & Hardy, Burt & Ernie, Morcome & Wise, Two Ronnies, Abbott & Costello, etc.

    Old school Star Wars is shot through with cliches, but it’s by design. Lucas’s vision was to pay tribute to the corny movie serials he’d growth up with -- Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon -- (hence starting at “episode 4”) just transposed into a “modern” (1977) Sci-Fi homage.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    @Holms, 3: have you seen Star Wars? “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck” was said by Obi-wan Kenobi. The “hokey religions” line was said by Han Solo. These are two different characters.

    I didn’t think C3P0 was a caricature of a gay man, he was just played by a very, very camp gay man who wasn’t told to rein it in a bit by a director notorious for not being very good at directing actors.

    @Raging Bee, 5:

    what the hell is this “Kessel Run” that takes up that many lightyears of distance travelled? Like, a really badly-built hyperspatial expressway?

    Haven’t you seen “Solo”? Never mind, neither did anyone else. It’s all explained -- and indeed SHOWN -- in that movie, the one that effectively killed the franchise as a cinematic proposition and relegated it to television.

    @Silentbob, 7: Oh dear, once again weighing in on films? No sufficiently humiliated by being called out for thinking Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman were the same chap? Well, let’s see, what have you got wrong this time?

    3PO and R2 were also you’re classic comedy duo

    Leaving aside “you’re”, the droids were in fact not a “classic comedy duo”, but in fact very specifically “rude mechanicals” -- a term from Shakespeare (look him up), describing specifically lower-class characters employed by the writer to comment upon the goings on around them of their “betters”. Making them actually mechanical is a sort of joke, although one that obviously goes over the head of people like you.

    If you’re going to point to who 3PO and R2 are meant to be a close copy of/homage, to, then the correct reference is Tahei and Matashichi from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. Indeed, if you’re paying attention (are you ever?) when you watch Star Wars, that very film is almost name-checked by Admiral Motti, until he suddenly starts experiencing throat difficulties. Listen up next time you watch it.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Silentbob @ # 7: A gay caricature would be more swishy …

    We seem to have different stereotypes of caricatures. I see C3PO as very wimpy -- trying to do an effeminate robot seems beyond Lucas’s range, particularly in a movie with only one female character (for whatever contraBechdelian reason), and we can only thank the Light Side he didn’t try.

    sonofrojblake @ # 8: …he was just played by a very, very camp gay man …

    Citation needed. (I personally suspect Lucas had some old Brit movie in mind, but I don’t know enough cinema to suggest any.)

  9. sonofrojblake says

    @9 -- if you don’t think Anthony Daniels is camp, I’m not sure what I could conceivably cite to convince you otherwise. As to whether he’s gay… you know what? Fair enough. I googled it, and it seems that I and millions and millions of other people just assumed he was, but he’s not “out”, in much the same way that Tim Curry isn’t. It’s entirely their business of course, and there is no judgement expressed or implied when I described him as such. But yes, fair enough, it’s not a publicly established fact that he’s gay, just that his performance in literally every single thing I’ve ever seen him in is very, very camp and gives that impression. I stand corrected, and I’m actually quite fascinated by this phenomenon -- it’s 2023. I could imagine not wanting to be open about your life if you’re from some godawful backward barbarian shithole like Saudi Arabia, Iran or the United States, and your career and physical safety could be at risk if you were open. But Daniels has the distinction of being physically and vocally present literally from the very first line to literally the last line of the whole Star Wars saga (and even the good spinoff), so he must surely be long past any consideration of financial difficulties or caring what people think. I’m straight, so I have no touchstone for how difficult it would be to come out at any age, and I always find it bittersweet when people like James Randi or Barry Manilow leave it until very late in life to open up. Sweet that they feel they can finally be open, but bitter for all the time they must have felt wasted covering it up. Homophobia is shit.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    sonofrojblake @ # 10 -- Thanks for doing that digging. I personally don’t follow SW closely enough to have even known the name of Anthony Daniels, nor do I see enough movies to have any clue what AD looks or acts like outside of his metal costume.

    Unless he was basically unknown before 1977 -- and prob’ly even otherwise -- it would seem Lucas cast* him in that part specifically to signal that stereotype. (Did I actually get that impression @ # 4 right?!?)


    Entirely agree about homophobia.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    John Morales @ # 13 -- Thanks. Daniels does not seem at all camp in that take.

  12. says

    It’s no small coincidence that of the first three movies, Lucas only directed and was the sole writer on one of them. He was the sole writer only on the first of the prequels but he directed them all. A New Hope had a strong advantage in starting it all and grabbing the public’s attention, but few lists contain either of his solo writing/directing efforts as the best of their trilogies.

    And speaking of George Lucas and the unfortunate use of racial stereotypes, may I direct your attention please to the original Indiana Jones trilogy.

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