Content Warning: Mentions of depression and suicide.
Look, I’m not here to argue that Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best, “Alabama Jackson”) is the best character in Star Wars. I’m not even going to argue he’s a great character in Star Wars. But come on — does he really deserve to sit on “most hated movie character” lists, among the ranks of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, “Downton Abbey: A New Era”) and Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix, “Dynasty”)?
As a whole, I think a lot of people were disappointed by the Star Wars prequels because they had such high expectations after seeing the original films — but even nostalgia for the original films couldn’t save the Star Wars prequels. There was too much CGI, a weird romance and, of course, Jar-Jar Binks. In so many ways, to diehard Star Wars fans, he encompassed all that is supposedly wrong with the Star Wars prequels. But he wasn’t the reason the movies were so poorly-received; he was just an easy target, someone to aim all the hate at.
I’m not arguing that he’s not annoying — he is. But does he really deserve all the hate he gets? Does he deserve to have conspiracy theories written about him, believing him to be Sith?
People spend way too much time hating on Jar-Jar Binks, so I think it’s time to come to his defense.
A recurrent character in the Star Wars prequels, Jar-Jar Binks has been notoriously hated by fans of the franchise since his first appearance in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” He was created as comic relief, but most viewers found him more annoying than funny. Admittedly, he is one of the more annoying characters in the Star Wars universe — he’s clumsy and he’s got some gross habits. But, let’s be real — he’s been villainized and hated more than he deserves.
I know there’s an argument out there that Jar-Jar Binks’s character is a racist caricature, made up of disturbing stereotypes of Black people. Lucasfilms issued a statement declaring that “nothing in Star Wars is racially motivated”; that being said, I certainly understand the notion that intent does not always make up for the consequences of one’s actions.
Let’s face the facts here: Star Wars as a franchise has absolutely had its problematic moments. Who can forget Jabba the Hutt enslaving Princess Leia in that ridiculous gold bikini? The franchise pushes the narrative of “the chosen one” on its audience with Anakin Skywalker, a literal product of the Force. It’s not a perfect series of films. But to me, the argument that Jar-Jar deserves hate because he’s a racist caricature seems like people are looking for something that isn’t there. And after hearing Ahmed Best’s story, I was only more convinced that the hate Jar-Jar Binks receives is misplaced.
Not many know the man behind Jar-Jar Binks, but Best voiced the character in all three prequel films. Sadly, after receiving so much hate towards Jar-Jar — including comments on the seemingly racist nature of the character — Best was so affected that he contemplated suicide. In a recent interview, he said “I felt tired of having to defend myself and defend my work. I felt tired of having to fight back against racism and the racial stereotypes. I just wanted to play a part. I was exhausted.”
A Black man himself, Best explained the difficulty that Black artists face with not being seen as a “sellout,” not wanting to be “portrayed as an Uncle Tom, a racist stereotype, or anything that makes you, as a Black person, look less than.” To have racial stereotypes turned on him was “debilitating” — it made him “feel like (his) life was over.”
Best said, “There was just so much hate and anger and venom directed at me, and I took it personally” — leading the actual man behind the character to contemplate suicide. Nothing validates the trauma Best went through.
Aside from the conversation about Best, there is another reason why it’s problematic that people hate on Jar-Jar so much, viewing him as one of the worst Star Wars characters in existence. People constantly place Jar-Jar Binks at the top of their most-hated Star Wars characters list, which is extremely concerning. In a universe where a hero-turned-villain killed younglings after being brainwashed by a power-hungry politician and another villain used the (incorrect) legacy of his dead grandfather as motivation to kill his father, the person who you want to hate the most is a relatively harmless Gungan?
I know Anakin (Hayden Christensen, “Little Italy”) apologists; I have friends that are huge Anakin apologists. Does one moment of doing the right thing at the very last minute make up for all the damage he did as Darth Vader? Similarly, does Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver, “House of Gucci”) decision to help Rey (Daisy Ridley, “The Bubble”) fight the newly-revived Emperor at the end of “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” cancel out the people he hurt, his father included? Forgiving villains because of last-minute changes of heart that in no way make up for their past actions is a problematic narrative to perpetuate.
So maybe Jar-Jar Binks is annoying. At least he isn’t a killer. I know — I know — that’s a low bar. But it’s worth taking into consideration.
Jar-Jar Binks is by no means my favorite character (I’m an Obi-Wan fan all the way). Jar-Jar isn’t even one of my favorite characters. I don’t even like him that much. The greatest thing I can say about him is that, in the Star Wars Wii game, he could jump higher than all the other characters, which absolutely came in handy when trying to make it through the levels.
But also, if you spend a lot of your time thinking about how Jar-Jar’s the worst thing to come out of Star Wars, you couldn’t be more wrong. Star Wars is a great, entertaining franchise with fun, action-packed films. But, as is the case with any story, there are good things and bad. The lightsaber duel in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”? Good. Padme’s (Natalie Portman, “Thor: Love and Thunder”) character regression? Bad. Jar-Jar? Somewhere in the middle, at best. Not as bad as the villains, not as good as the heroes.
Managing Arts Editor Sabriya Imami can be reached at email@example.com.