Ask almost anyone who the worst Star Wars character is and the nearly unanimous answer is the controversial Gungan, Jar Jar Binks.
It's not difficult to see why people dislike the character so much. Actually, it's pretty easy. Not only is he incredibly annoying, but he's also the direct reason the empire was able to grow into the devastating force that it did.
By all objective definition of the term "worst," Jar Jar Binks definitely fits the description.
Except that Jar Jar Binks is, without question, one of my favorite characters in the entire franchise.
Won't someone think of the children?
I've revisited the prequel trilogy many, many times over the years. Usually, with friends who just can't believe that I actually like Jar Jar Binks. So in an attempt to prove me wrong and yell about the atrocity that is his very inclusion in the already deplorable prequel universe, we watch the trilogy. We pop in one of the DVD's, set up camp, and I prepare to joyfully watch all the stupid things Jar Jar Binks will inevitably do, tuning out the scoffs and jabs sent at his character from other people in the room.
To be honest, I'm not sure what it is about Jar Jar Binks that I like so much, but I think a lot of it is similar to why people who were around to watch the first Star Wars movie think on it fondly: it represents one of the most awarding filmgoing experiences you can recall as a child.
Think of the first Star Wars movie you watched as a kid. The thrill you got when you saw the X-Wings fly through the sky for the first time, or when you saw Luke learn to wield a lightsaber.
Except that Jar Jar Binks is, without question, one of my favorite characters in the entire franchise
While I definitely got those same feelings the first time I watched the original trilogy with my dad, sitting at home on the couch and marathoning the movies that we both enjoyed so much, it was nothing compared to going to the theater and watching Episode I: Phantom Menace on the big screen for the first time.
And the biggest takeaway I had from that experience was how much I laughed and how much joy I got from seeing Jar Jar Binks stumble across the screen and mess up time and time again. At the end of the day, Star Wars was a movie made for kids, and in that regard, Jar Jar Binks was an almost essential character.
I was seven years old when I went to see The Phantom Menace. Not quite old enough to really grasp everything that was going on, but not young enough for the jokes and general story arc to go right over my head. There were quite a few moments that stayed with me, including Anakin's podracing moment pretty early in the movie, but I don't look back on anything as fondly as I do Jar Jar.
Jar Jar made things silly. He made things okay to laugh at, despite the overall dramatic tension of the movie, and for a kid, he was the funny looking guy you kept waiting to come on screen again.
In many ways, you could draw similarities between what Jar Jar represented to kids coming up during The Phantom Menace to what C-3PO and R2-D2 represented to kids coming up during A New Hope. They were these non-humanoid creatures and robots that injected a sense of silliness into a movie and made it okay to laugh. Beyond the explosions and the political drama that can sometimes dominate the movie, these characters brought a little bit of light-hearted tomfoolery into the fold and appealed to kids, the audience creator George Lucas has always said he made the movies for in the first place.
An underdog tale
Jar Jar Binks, whether you liked him or not, was the underdog. His friendship with Anakin was the cliched tale of two misfits finding each other and finding a security within one another as they navigate the foreign world they're introduced to. But unlike Anakin who was always expected to be determined for great things, Jar Jar was the village idiot strung along reluctantly by the people who took him in.
It's hard not to feel for a character in that position. Sure, he's goofy, but he's also one of the kinder characters in The Phantom Menace, with a heart made of gold.
As the prequels progress, Jar Jar loses some of his silliness, and although he inevitably becomes less funny in the process, it's hard not to root for the guy who went from being a bum that no one wanted to be associated with, to a senator, who yes, unfortunately was the main reason the Empire gained the power it did.
But despite the negative results for the entire universe that came at the hands of Jar Jar, the point is that he managed to get himself to a position of incredible power and overcame every adversity that he was faced with to get there.
Like I said, it's impossible to not root for the underdog, especially when that character is one that you've become so attached to growing up.
Much like how I grew up, literally, watching the Star Wars prequels, I got to watch Jar Jar grow up and mature into this respected figure (within the universe. Not with you readers, I know). There's something special about that kind of relationship that you have with a character you don't even know.
So while I'm not saying that I resonate with Jar Jar Binks, I am saying that I understand him and that I get why George Lucas included him as such a big character in the prequel trilogy.
You hate Jar Jar Binks, and that's okay. As I said at the very beginning of this piece, I can objectively see why people would dislike him so much. But for me, Jar Jar Binks will always be one of the best parts about Star Wars.
Jar Jar Binks brings me back to being a kid, sitting in some middle row at the local theater, and laughing while this floppy-eared, goofy looking alien tripped over himself and screamed, "Annie," at the top of his lungs.
He made watching Star Wars one of the best experiences I could have had as a kid, and he made me want to revisit all of Star Wars as time went on.
Now, I spend quite a bit of my days writing about Star Wars for work. I get to talk about everything I love and I get to feel that excitement with all of you over The Force Awakens.
For me, that wouldn't have happened without Jar Jar Binks.