How do you solve a problem like Jar Jar Binks? Is he a hero? A villain? Is he the worst thing about the Star Wars prequels? Is he secretly the best thing about them? One thing is certain: The clumsy Gungan is one of the most reviled characters in the franchise. And while some fans are making valiant attempts to reclaim the prequel trilogy from collective pop culture vitriol, Jar Jar’s unavoidable presence remains a tricky sticking point. No matter which way you slice it, from his motor mouth to his incessant goofiness, he is a lot.
Whether you’ve come to this article with an open heart and an open mind or as a way to better know thine enemy, there’s no denying that the Star Wars prequels are a permanent fixture of the cinematic landscape. And that means, for better or for worse, Jar Jar Binks isn’t going anywhere. So, in the spirit of appreciation, let’s explore everything that makes this character tick.
He was inspired by comic legends
Turns out Mickey Mouse infiltrated the world of Star Wars long before Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion. While addressing fans at the D23 Expo in 2015, George Lucas described the inspiration behind the prequel trilogy’s preeminent Gungan, Jar Jar Binks. As quoted in People Magazine, Lucas explained, "I can’t even begin to tell you how much of an influence Disney has had on me … not many people realize that Goofy was the inspiration for Jar Jar Binks." He then clarified that once you see it, the connection is "pretty obvious, actually, but, um, I love Goofy and I love Jar Jar."
The similarities between the two characters are indeed clear: Just look at their gangly physiques, floppy ears, and unerring positivity. Jar Jar also shares Goofy’s innate clumsiness — his loose-limbed blundering often leads to mishaps and misadventures. Goofy’s not the only influence on Jar Jar, however: His actor, Ahmed Best, also drew inspiration from legendary physical comedians of early cinema, including Buster Keaton. "George and I watched Buster Keaton movies together, and talked about them," Best recounted to WIRED. "Some of the Jar Jar scenes are direct Buster Keaton scenes."
Jar Jar’s visual design draws from Earthly animals
You may not have heard of Terryl Whitlatch, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen her work. After studying zoology at Sonoma State University, Whitlach turned to creature design. She’s worked with the likes of Walt Disney Feature Animation, Industrial Light and Magic, and, yes, Lucasfilm. In the art department of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Whitlatch oversaw the look of Jar Jar Binks. While other artists contributed to the final design, Whitlatch was responsible for everything from Jar Jar’s walk to his coloration to his skeleton.
As she remembered in a 2016 interview with ArtStation Magazine, Whitlatch was exhausted after wrapping up work on a Super Bowl commercial, "and a little drawing of a worried frog-like creature came out of [that state of mind]. When she was brought on as the creature designer for The Phantom Menace, Whitlatch brought the sketch with her to Skywalker Ranch. "George [Lucas] saw it, and wanted me to work a lot of that fretfulness into Jar Jar Binks."
In the end, as she relayed in an interview with Allan McKay, Jar Jar’s design also drew from real-world sources, combining elements from dinosaurs, amphibians, and parrotfish. According to Whitlatch, using Earthly elements is the big-picture key to designing Star Wars, so that "people can imagine themselves in that universe."
Michael Jackson wanted to play Jar Jar Binks
Yes, you read that right. Michael Jackson, the legendary pop star, really wanted to play Jar Jar Binks. In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Ahmed Best shared, "Michael Jackson really wanted to do [the role] but George [Lucas] picked me. Marinate on that one. I still am."
Hoping to clarify things, Vice pressed him on the subject. According to Best, when Lucas took some of the cast backstage to meet Jackson at Wembley Arena, "George introduced me as ‘Jar Jar’ and I was like, that’s kind of weird." Later, over drinks, Best asked Lucas why he introduced him to Michael Jackson as his character. Lucas responded that Jackson had wanted the role, but that he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup, while Lucas wanted to bring the character to life using CGI. "My guess," Best continued, "is ultimately Michael Jackson would have been bigger than the movie, and I don’t think [Lucas] wanted that."
Jackson has appeared on the big screen before, notably as the Scarecrow in 1978’s The Wiz. But Best is right to note that it is very difficult to watch Michael Jackson on screen and not be keenly aware that you are watching the King of Pop. Ultimately, whether or not the benefits of a fully practical Jar Jar would have outweighed the costs of Jackson’s distracting presence will always remain a mystery.
Jar Jar’s motion capture was cutting-edge
Say literally whatever you want about Jar Jar Binks, but his importance in the history of motion capture performance is undeniable. Indeed, Jar Jar holds the distinction of being the first entirely computer-generated supporting character in a live-action feature film. So when you settle in for the CGI delights of a Marvel movie or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, keep Jar Jar and the pioneering VFX artists at Industrial Light and Magic in your thoughts.
On set, Ahmed Best wore a prosthetic costume that served as both a reference for his fellow actors and for the animators, who could use the prosthetics to create believable lighting. In 2017, a video from WIRED claiming to cover the "history of performance-capture technology" omitted mention of the infamous Gungan. This sparked a wider conversation about Best and ILM’s trailblazing contribution to motion capture, which has since become a vital part of modern filmmaking. In response to Jar Jar’s erasure from the WIRED video (and from conversations of mo-cap’s history more broadly), Best emphasized that "to deny Jar Jar’s place in film history is to deny the hundreds of VFX technicians, animators, code writers, and producers their respect … Jar Jar walked so Gollum could run."
Jar Jar is George Lucas’ favorite Star Wars character
In Jon Shenk’s 2001 documentary The Beginning, which chronicles the making of The Phantom Menace, there is a transcendent moment when George Lucas mutters that "Jar Jar is the key to all of this." He means, of course, that Jar Jar’s success as comic relief and as an experiment in CGI is critical. It is easy to assume Lucas’ investment is purely financial — after all, one of the loudest criticisms levied against Jar Jar is that he, like the Ewoks before him, only exists to sell Star Wars toys to easily-impressed children.
However, even after all these years, Lucas continues to profess what appears to be honest, unwavering love for Jar Jar Binks. At a 2019 fan event celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace, Lucas announced, "[The Phantom Menace] is one of my favorite movies and of course Jar Jar is my favorite character." There’s something endearing about Lucas’ steadfast commitment to Jar Jar after all these years. Rather than ignore his creation, or apologize for what fans perceive as Jar Jar’s sins, Lucas has doubled down on his conviction that Jar Jar rules. It’s honestly kind of sweet.
Audiences found Jar Jar jarring
If you’re familiar with the Star Wars prequels, there’s a good chance you’re aware of the vicious backlash directed towards Jar Jar Binks. This outrage ranges from critical ire to fans actively demanding Gungan genocide. As a frustratingly goofy product of indulgent turn-of-the century CGI, Jar Jar encapsulates everything folks dislike about the prequel trilogy. One of the more creative expressions of Jar Jar criticism is The Phantom Edit, a fan-created version of The Phantom Menace that strips out the "offending" elements of the film. This, naturally, includes omitting most scenes featuring Jar Jar Binks.
On a more serious note, some critics, including critical race theorist and legal scholar Patricia J. Williams, have suggested that key aspects of Jar Jar’s characterization contain troubling racial implications. Ahmed Best has responded to such criticism by claiming it "underscores [a] lack of intelligence and original ideas in folks who try to understand the Black experience in entertainment."
George Lucas jokingly titled the first draft of Episode Two "Jar Jar’s Great Adventure"
Let it not be said that George Lucas doesn’t have a sense of humor. Want proof? As Best told Vice, the original title of Attack of the Clones was "Jar Jar’s Great Adventure". "That was the first script that we all got when we [got] to Sydney," Best recounted. "It was [George Lucas’] joke because he knew it [was] going to leak to the press. That was George’s kind of middle finger to the whole, ‘everybody hates Jar Jar’ thing."
Honestly, as far as directors dealing with backlash goes, Lucas’ little prank is pretty adorable. The fake script title conjures endearing visions of Jar Jar Binks going on an interstellar road trip, perhaps in an attempt to find the tastiest skewered frogs in the galaxy. Ultimately, instead of wholesome shenanigans, fans were treated to a less whimsical tale of slow-burning political corruption. Still, the apparent lightness on Lucas’ part is admirable, considering the intense critical vitriol directed towards his beloved Jar Jar.
The backlash brought actor Ahmed Best to a dark place
In July 2018, Ahmed Best revealed via Twitter post that the harassment he received for playing Jar Jar Binks pushed him to consider suicide. Indeed, Best, who was plucked from obscurity and cast in one of the most anticipated films of the 20th century, was faced with a tsunami of negativity for playing Jar Jar.
After bravely opening up about his experience, Best shared more details about how the media backlash affected his mental health. "There was just so much hate and venom and anger directed at me, and I took it personally" Best explained. "The hardest part for me in that entire situation was all of the criticism that came from a racially-motivated point of view … I was called every racial stereotype you can imagine … it was debilitating."
Best’s honesty was met with an outpouring of support, even from people who’d once been avowed Jar Jar haters. Toxic fandoms are no joke. Best’s decision to share his experience is an important and unfortunately evergreen reminder that there are real people on the receiving end of public backlash directed towards fictional characters.
That "Darth Jar Jar" theory is partially true
There exists a bananas fan theory that Jar Jar Binks, arguably the most naive character in Star Wars, is actually a Sith Lord who has been controlling everything from behind the scenes. That’s right — all that bumbling physical comedy was a ruse. Or perhaps, as some fans claim, his clumsy flailing is actually the result of advanced training in a martial arts form known as "Drunken Fist."
Wild as the Darth Jar Jar theory may seem, in an interview with the web series These Are the Actors You’re Looking For, Ahmed Best stated, "There’s a lot about it that’s true … Could Jar Jar have evolved into that? I think the answer is yes … a lot of the influence I put into Jar Jar mirrored a lot of what was already in the Star Wars universe."
Despite his diminished on-screen presence in the later entries of the prequel trilogy, Jar Jar does indeed play a pivotal role in the fall of the Galactic Republic. Manipulated by Palpatine (who is actually the Sith Lord Darth Sidious), Jar Jar makes a motion to grant the chancellor emergency powers, effectively, if unwittingly, dooming the Republic. In a deleted scene described by Best, Palpatine even thanks Jar Jar for facilitating his ascension to power. "It was a very dark, very personal, very quiet scene," Best recalls. "Wherever that scene is, somewhere, that would really give great credibility to the Darth Jar Jar theory."
Jar Jar faced a tragic fate after destroying the Republic
"What happened to Jar Jar Binks?" isn’t exactly a burning question for most Star Wars fans. Many were probably happy to see him fade quietly (for once) into the background after his boisterous front and center performance in The Phantom Menace. However, in Star Wars: Aftermath — Empire’s End, the final novel in Chuck Wendig’s canon book series, we find out what really happened to Jar Jar after the events of the prequels — and it’s tragic.
Jar Jar, it turns out, has been forsaken by society for the part he inadvertently played in the Republic’s demise, and now lives on the streets of Naboo where he performs tricks for children. No adults will speak to him, and "nobody even says his name." The entire interlude is enormously sad, and hammers home the fact that Jar Jar was as much a victim of Palpatine’s manipulations as everyone else. In the end, Jar Jar’s punishment is to become exactly what his real-life critics accuse him of being: A clown, whose antics amuse children and go ignored by adults. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy.
There is an in-universe conspiracy theory that Jar Jar is Darth Vader
Please adjust your tinfoil hats, because we’re about to wade deep into the Star Wars weeds with this one, folks. Ken Liu’s The Legends of Luke Skywalker is a canon young adult novel that amasses myths and legends surrounding legendary Jedi Knight (and professional hermit) Luke Skywalker. In the novel, a group of children swap stories about Skywalker on their way to the casino planet Canto Bight. Much like Star Wars fans, they heavily debate whether or not each story is true.
In one chapter, "The Myth Buster," we meet a former Imperial engineer and conspiracy theorist known as Redy, who believes in wild theories about everything from the Death Star being fake to Admiral Ackbar being a robot. One of her stranger conspiracies is, to quote Redy herself, that "Senator Jar Jar Binks and Lord Vader [are] the same person." As Liu explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "in some ways, [Redy is] a Star Wars fan, and she’s come up with a fan theory … that addresses all kinds of details that we know about and then explains them in a way that makes sense, at least to her." You hear that, Darth Jar Jar theorists? We hope you feel represented.
That one time Jar Jar got sucked into the vacuum of space
Full disclosure: Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales is not canon. Depending on how you feel about Jar Jar Binks, that is either very good or very bad news. As its title suggests, the series retells the events of the Star Wars films via C-3PO and R2-D2, who regale their pals with tales of the events that led to their victory on Endor. Now, are the franchise’s most famous droids the most reliable narrators? Probably not. But, if we take them at their word, Lego Star Wars accomplishes what many have only joked about: Killing Jar Jar Binks. Or, at the very least, launching him into space.
In the first episode of the series, "Exit From Endor," R2-D2 ventures out onto a ship’s exterior to repair the hyperdrive. Jar Jar, doing what he does best, arrives out of nowhere and places himself directly in the line of fire. Before he can complete a sentence, he is blasted off the ship, pinwheels through the void, and is obliterated by another blast. R2-D2, a psychopath, laughs. The series continues to dispose of Jar Jar as a recurring joke. The gag’s zippy humor side-steps the cynicism of other, more mean-spirited attempts to kill off the character. We’re looking at you, J. J. Abrams, and your foiled attempt to hide Jar Jar’s bones in the desert in The Force Awakens.