The Role of Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars Universe

A Look at the Controversial Star Wars Character

Jar Jar Binks
Jar Jar Binks as he appeared in The Phantom Menace. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Jar Jar Binks is one of the most controversial characters in the Star Wars saga, arousing much criticism and fan hatred. Yet he cannot be dismissed entirely because of his significant role in the Star Wars universe: helping Chancellor Palpatine rise to power and contributing, however inadvertently, to the downfall of the Republic.

Biography

Jar Jar, a Gungan from the planet Naboo, found that his clumsiness made it difficult for him to find work.

As a result, he fell in with a bad crowd, recruited by a gang of thieves led by Roos Tarpals. When Tarpals joined the army, he convinced Gungan leader Boss Nass to find an official job for Jar Jar, but it would not last: he was sentenced to hard labor when he accidentally freed the animals in the Otoh Gunga Zoo, but forgiven when he saved Boss Nass' life (accidentally again, one must presume).

Eventually Jar Jar was banished from Otoh Gunga on pain of death when he caused an explosion that led to a flood and destroyed one of Boss Nass's vehicles. He returned, however, to find help for Qui-Gon Jinn, the Jedi who saved his life, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, his apprentice. Due to the life debt Jar Jar owed Qui-Gon, Boss Nass, out of respect for the Jedi, spared his life.

When Naboo's Queen Padmé Amidala asked Boss Nass for the Gungans' help in fighting the Trade Federation, the two races began to unite.

Due to Jar Jar's important role in this union, he was given the rank of "Bombad General" before the battle against the Trade Federation. He helped lead the Gungan army against the Federation's battle droids, contributing to Naboo's victory.

Jar Jar later represented Naboo in the Galactic Senate, serving as the planet's Junior Representative under now-Senator Amidala.

In this capacity, he proposed giving Chancellor Palpatine emergency powers in response to the imminent Clone Wars -- one of the stepping stones in Palpatine's route to becoming Emperor. After Amidala's death, he became Naboo's official senator.

Fan Controversy

Star Wars fans' main complaint about Jar Jar is that, despite being clearly positioned as comic relief, he isn't funny. Even the main characters find him annoying (Obi-Wan, in particular, refers to him as a "pathetic life-form"). His role in is obtrusive, with the humor relying mostly on sight gags, like getting his hand stuck in Anakin's pod racer or trying to steal food with his tongue. Compare this to the humor of such characters as R2-D2, whose banter with C-3PO is integrated into the story and who is funny precisely because we do not understand his actual speech, only the other characters' reactions.

A more serious accusation against Jar Jar involves the possibility of racism. Professor David Pilgrim of Ferris State University, for example, mentions Jar Jar as the latest in a long line of "coon caricatures", portrayals of Black people as childish, lazy and inept. Among the evidence for this interpretation is the fact that his accent sounds vaguely Jamaican and that his ears suggest dreadlocks, a traditional Black hairstyle.

Role in the Star Wars Universe

Jar Jar's intended role seems to be that of a comedic everyman, an ordinary character caught up in an epic string of events. He has no special abilities (unless one includes "dumb luck," like when his clumsiness causes a gun to misfire and hit several battle droids). He has little common sense and gets in the way of everything. His rise to positions of importance is, perhaps, a bit of dark humor: he is one of the most hated characters in the Star Wars universe and is ultimately the one to bring about the downfall of the Republic.

Jar Jar represents all of the ordinary people in the galaxy, those without special talents or even the desire to become important. He is innocent and naïve; as a result, Palpatine can easily manipulate him. Jar Jar is a good-hearted person who only wants the best for the Republic, and yet he is instrumental in the Republic's downfall.

Because the humor often falls flat, however, Star Wars fans find it difficult to identify with Jar Jar as an everyman, and tend to dismiss him as a nuisance. One interpretation of Jar Jar's presence is that, given a general lack of other "everyman" characters, the Star Wars prequels leave the impression of the ordinary citizen as the unwitting dupe of evil, having to be rescued and protected by the specially endowed.