WARNING: I am about to reveal the extent of my love for the Star Wars saga. Continue at your own risk.
It is almost unanimous among Star Wars fans: Jar Jar Binks is the worst character in all of the saga. Many people think that he was placed in the movies merely for poop jokes. He serves no other role than the comedic (and incredibly stupid) sidekick which all annoying kids movies have. He bumbles around the entire first episode, tripping over anything that he is remotely close to, because he’s “clumsy.” His language is a jumbled English at best, and nonsensical jibberish at worst. He is constantly sticking his tongue out and seems completely oblivious to the most basic social mannerisms. He runs scared from everything, is a complete bimbo on the battlefield, and appears to be a failure in nearly every aspect of his life.
It is because of those reasons that I think he is one of the best characters in all of Star Wars.
Put away your snickering and judgmental eye-rolls for a few minutes and hear me out. I am not about to claim that he is somehow a Sith Lord, as if there is some dark and mischievous reason why he behaves the way he does; I’m claiming that his qualities are redeemable in and of themselves. What we see in Jar Jar Binks is a microcosm of the entire Star Wars saga: the Force does not choose the best and the brightest to succeed, but the least of these. That includes even the most clumsy, stupid, and ignorant Gungan in the entire galaxy.
When we examine the Phantom Menace in detail, we see this play out throughout the entire film. We start by following two Jedi, Master Qui-Gon Jinn and padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi. When they each encounter Jar Jar for the first time, they are both irritated and try to get away from him, and Obi-Wan even asks Qui-Gon, “What’s this?” when he meets Jar Jar.
Their initial reactions to Jar Jar are identical to ours: we scoff at the thought that this thing, whatever it is, could play any role in the grand narrative. He is not intelligent, athletic, cunning, attractive, or anything else that we look for in our heroes. He is a nuisance in a story where we’re trying to follow along with two great and powerful Jedi. Why does this idiot steal screen time from the true heroes?
It is Qui-Gon who notices first that this Gungan has a role to play. He rescues Jar Jar from the hands of the Gungan leadership who plans to have him executed, claiming that they need a guide to get them to the capital of Naboo. Yet, it is immediately clear that this act is not simply to have him as a guide (it is Qui-Gon who does all the guiding through the Core), but because Qui-Gon notices that there is something special about Jar Jar. It is not in the way he behaves or that he has some secret power, but in the fact that the Force seems to have made them cross paths. Qui-Gon acts on a hunch that the Force is acting in a mysterious and ridiculous way in bringing Jar Jar onto the scene, so he trusts that there is more to this Gungan than meets the eye.
As we travel through Episode I, we see this theme repeated in a number of different characters. We encounter a random R2 unit, a servant girl to the queen, and a lowly slave on the gangster planet of Tatooine. In fact, when Qui-Gon tells Obi-Wan that he has to return to the city to pick up one last thing, Obi-Wan says, “Why do I have the feeling that we have picked up another pathetic life-form?” Aboard this refugee ship, Obi-Wan sees nothing but worthless baggage that they are carrying for no reason.
Yet, in the final battle scene of the movie, we see these “pathetic life-forms” take center stage. Because of Jar Jar, our heroes are able to get help from the Gungan people. The servant girl turns out to be the actual queen of Naboo. The slave from Tatooine and the random R2 unit are ultimately the ones to bring down the droid command ship and win the battle.
Jar Jar is the forerunner of all these characters. It is through him that we first encounter R2-D2 and Padme Amidala. It is because of his clumsiness that Anakin Skywalker has to come to his rescue and ultimately invites the whole group back to his house. It is Jar Jar who convinces Padme to return to Naboo to rescue her people and it is Jar Jar who provides the distraction which allows Anakin to get into the fighter ship and save the day.
How can we explain such a thing? Random luck? Plot convenience?
How about the Force?
As moviegoers, we hate the idea that a foolish character could possibly save the day. Our heroes are supposed to be calm, cool, collected, and above all: powerful. But as Han Solo puts it in Episode VII: “That’s not how the Force works!” It empowers the weak and the nobodies to shift the tides when there is no balance. Luke Skywalker is farm boy from Tatooine, Han Solo is a smuggler, Lando is a gambler, Anakin is a slave, Finn is a brainwashed stormtrooper, Rey is a scavenger from Jakku, and the list goes on and on.
The problem with Jar Jar Binks is that he appears too weak and helpless for the Force to have anything to do with him. After being excommunicated from his city, he is a refugee on a planet where he has nowhere to hide from the invading droid army. He is constantly afraid. He has never been educated on life outside of Gungan City. He has no special talents, no intelligence, and above all: he is powerless. How could anyone find value in such a useless character as this?
Why do we expect our heroes to be powerful warriors? Why must they display talent and courage in order for us to accept them? It is easy to dismiss Jar Jar as a comedic side character, but his role in Episode I cannot be missed or mistaken. The Force is with this Gungan, as clumsy and foolish as he is.
That should give us reason for hope.
As a Christian, I am convinced that I must look at Jar Jar Binks in a different way. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
The “low and despised” do not reduce the powerful by becoming more powerful: they do it through being low and despised. The foolish shame the wise in the fact that they are foolish, because in God’s economy, there is a much different scale of value. God’s heroes are often not calm, cool, and collected. Some are not well-educated, intelligent, or have any special talents. Most of them are “pathetic life-forms” in the eyes of the world; they are powerless according to the world’s standard of power. They don’t look like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Qui-Gon Jinn.
Call me crazy, but I think God’s heroes look like Jar Jar Binks.