The Telegraph: “Jar Jar was the whole essence of Star Wars”

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From The Telegraph:

“[…] All that remained to be seen was the exact make-up of the new instalment. We knew about the dry characters of young Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker, and it didn’t take an X-Wing mechanic to guess that Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jin might not be a rollicking gag-fest. Who would provide the comic relief?

Jar Jar Binks, that’s who. A plucky but awkward Gungan: an amphibious biped with a heart of gold and the voice of a rasta on laughing gas. We met him just as he had been exiled by Boss Nass, the Gungans’ blimp-like ruler, for his clumsiness. Qui-Gon saved him from being run over by a spaceship in the woods. “Oh boy boy I luuvvv youuu,” said Jar Jar, pledging his service as a debt of gratitude.

A star should have been born – Rolling Stone magazine put him on the cover, with the headline “Jar Jar Superstar”. But what came into existence was a black hole, an inescapable anti-mass that became a locus for everything people hated about the new trilogy. Web pages were set up, listing ways to kill him. Ahmed Best, the actor who had the misfortune to play the character, recently admitted he “almost ended my life” in the wake of the backlash.

The critic Daniel Kimmell published a compilation of writing with the title Jar Jar Binks Must Die. George Lucas was picketed at events. Satire abounded: the Onion ran a story with the headline, “80 Billion Tons of Jar Jar Merchandise Now 70 Percent Off”. Jar Jar was proof that George Lucas had lost touch with what made Star Wars great.

More severely, there were accusations of racism. The American scholar and race theorist, Patricia Williams, said that Jar Jar’s character was reminiscent of the archetypes portrayed by blackface minstrels. Others said he traded on stereotypes of lazy Caribbean people. Lucas denied the accusations.

“How in the world you could take an orange amphibian and say that he’s a Jamaican? It’s completely absurd,” he told Kirsty Walk on Newsnight. “Believe me, Jar Jar was not drawn from a Jamaican, from any stretch of the imagination.” Still, surprised and hurt by the criticism, Lucas re-wrote Jar Jar’s parts in the following two films to minimise his contribution.

The loathing was so widespread that it is tempting to think it was universal. But it wasn’t, quite. Roger Ebert, in his very positive notice of The Phantom Menace, didn’t think Jar Jar worthy of criticism (and he had been sceptical about Chewie). Reviewing the film for the Telegraph, the novelist Andrew O’Hagan praised the Gungan debutant: “Jar Jar is the new star. A wise-cracking, pony-headed, flarey-nostrilled, slack-mouthed beast with giant feet and hands like shovels, he comes into our lives as someone who knows the ways of the universe a little better than the rest of us… He will soon be as loved as Winnie-the-Pooh.”

O‘Hagan says that he still stands by his judgment. “I might have overstated the case a bit with Jar-Jar,” he tells us. “But it surprised me that he wasn’t loved. I think children are now less impressed with awkwardness than they once were. A lot of my childhood heroes were ungainly and unlovely, but they had character. I liked Jar Jar for being a bit of a clod-hopper. But few other people did. In a way he was an old-fashioned kind of character who was willing to get on your nerves.”

He wasn’t the only one to be surprised by the response. Ahmed Best, who voiced Jar Jar and helped with his movements, thought he had landed the plum gig: the first completely computer generated main character in cinema history, in the biggest franchise on earth. (Michael Jackson had apparently been keen for the part, too, but Lucas felt his presence would be a distraction.)

“[The criticism] hurt a lot,” Best said in a 2014 Reddit interview. “You put your heart and soul into something groundbreaking for two years and it gets slammed, that hurts.” A lot of his inspiration came from silent film, he added. “George and I would watch a lot of Buster Keaton together and he would tell what he liked and what he wanted. The final battle scene in Phantom Menace is almost all Buster Keaton.”

He has taken the Jar Jar hate with good grace, and said he would have done it all again. “I’m a skinny kid from the Bronx. I’m not supposed to be alive, let alone a pro artist. Opportunities like Star Wars come once in a lifetime. Those are the ones you say yes to.”[…]

JJ Abrams, director of the eighth Star Wars film The Force Awakens, has kept the hatred going by recently telling Vanity Fair that he wanted to “kill off” Jar Jar by showing his bones in the background of a desert scene. But watching the films now I find it impossible to dredge up the loathing for him I felt 15 years ago, when hundreds of hours of X-Wing vs TIE Fighter meant I thought of Star Wars as a kind of high-tech gothic Battle of Britain to be treated with great reverence.

I was wrong. Jar Jar was hated because people thought he was out of place, but the opposite was true. The same people who went online to list ways to murder him are those who take the garbled mutterings of an antediluvian swamp-frog, Yoda, as great wisdom.

Jar Jar was the whole essence of Star Wars. He was awkward but trying his best in a complex galaxy, pitted against vast forces of evil. Unlike the po-faced Jedi he didn’t have magic on his side. He made mistakes but was capable of surprising feats under duress. He was funny and warm and slightly hapless. Meesa Jar Jar. We allsa Jar Jar. ”

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Yoda actor Frank Oz says he “loved Jar Jar Binks”, “a great character”

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Frank Oz puppeteered Yoda and provided his voice in the Star Wars saga.

Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best says he almost killed himself because of media backlash

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When Jar Jar actor Ahmed Best was receiving death threats from fans, film journalists didn’t care

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran reportedly deleted her Instagram posts because of fan harassment. Many film journalists and bloggers are now loudly supporting her. Tran shouldn’t trust them too much, though. As soon as she does a movie they hate, most of them won’t care if she’s harassed anymore.

After the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best was the target of many infuriated fans. ““I had death threats through the internet,” Best said. “I had people come to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’ That’s difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.”

You’ll hardly find articles defending Best against his harassers. Most film journalists were pandering to the angry fans at the time. They didn’t care if some of those fans were bullying an actor.


There will be two other posts about fan harassment today.

Syfy Wire: “Solo’s other mysterious and dicey connection to The Phantom Menace”

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From Syfy Wire:

“”I call it luck,” Han Solo says when Obi-Wan explains the Force to Luke aboard the Millennium Falcon.

“In my experience,” Obi-Wan claps back, “there’s no such thing as luck.”

Han remains skeptical.

In the more recent installments, Han’s luck is represented by his golden dice. He truly believes that nothing controls his destiny but his own grit and the deal of the cards or roll of the dice. He takes orders from no one but himself. He’s a master of his own fate.

The galaxy has other ideas for him, though.

In Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han clings to these dice as a talisman. This is the representation of his life, his hopes, and his dreams. They’ve been present in Star Wars since A New Hope, but they’ve really only crystallized as a punctuation mark on Han’s life since The Last JediSolo gives us the opening verse of this song.

But what do the dice mean?

Well, the only other time we see dice important to the Star Wars saga is in The Phantom Menace. Watto, the owner of Anakin Skywalker and his mother, Shmi, uses them for gambling. When Jedi Knight Qui-gon Jinn convinces him to bet away one of the slaves, he insists, “We’ll let fate decide.”

Producing his chance cube, the Toydarian junk dealer offers odds for both Anakin and Shmi. Since Anakin is who Qui-gon is after, he uses the Force to manipulate the die into yielding the desired result. It rolls blue, just as Qui-gon intended, and he is able to take Anakin far away from Tatooine.

Even though Han calls it luck, the Force can still subvert that “luck,” and Qui-gon’s manipulation of it in The Phantom Menace illustrates that beautifully. The hand of the Force still guides everything Han does and every encounter he has. Fate and destiny are luck. And if there is anyone who could be considered a Jedi of luck, it’s Han Solo. Perhaps that why we hear notes of the Force theme every time Han handles the dice in important moments in Solo.

It’s fascinating to think that Han Solo and Anakin Skywalker share such striking similarities, like having such important moments in their lives dictated by dice. The Force has a greater destiny for both of them, and it ultimately ends with their mutual relation: Ben Solo.

Like Anakin, Han comes from a background that is deeply unfair to everyone born into it, forcing them to do whatever they can to survive. For Han, his circumstances put him in an underworld of orphans, with Lady Proxima as the Fagin to a generation of Corellian kids. For Anakin, he’s saved by fate and the Jedi, plucked from slavery and obscurity. Both of them are inherently good people to start, but their circumstances and choices mold them into something else.

For Anakin, his fate is overpowering, and in his desire to do good, for himself and others, he ends up doing ultimate evil. For Han, he is forced to do evil over and over again in order to survive, pretending that’s who he really is, until he’s given the opportunity to do the ultimate good. Both die in front of their sons, both hoping for better futures for their children than they themselves had. […]”