Why is Jar Jar Binks so reviled?

Quick Answer: Jar Jar Binks, the Gungan General of the planet Naboo, is often regarded as the worst thing to come out of the maligned Star Wars prequels. Jar Jar was created in an attempt to appeal to children and provide The Phantom Menace with comic relief, a decision that alienated Star Wars fans and clashed with the film’s dark and political subject matter. Moreover, some critics also found the character to be racially insensitive and offensive. Though George Lucas famously said that “Jar Jar is the key to all of this,” the character has become universally hated and ceaselessly mocked.

It’s unequivocally true that Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is one of the most hated characters in cinema. The Gungan General of the planet Naboo, who we encounter within the first fifteen minutes of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999), is often regarded as the worst thing to come out of the maligned Star Wars prequels. The reception to the character of Jar Jar was so overwhelmingly negative that director/writer George Lucas significantly cut down Jar Jar’s screentime in the subsequent prequels, despite reports that Lucas intended the character to have a significant role in the trilogy. In addition to receiving harsh criticism from fans and critics alike, actor Ahmed Best was “awarded” Worst Supporting Actor at the Razzie Awards.

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks and Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn

The zealous hatred towards Jar Jar Binks stems from multiple issues. The first and perhaps biggest reason is that Jar Jar was created by Lucas in an attempt to appeal to children and provide some comic relief. Of course, Jar Jar wasn’t the first character created for this reason; the Ewoks in Star Wars Episode Six: Return of the Jedi (1983) served the same function. That said, the Ewoks were neither as irritating nor as major of a presence as Jar Jar. Lucas’ pleas that his films were made for children only grew more ire from Star Wars fans, and the relationship between Lucas and the fans of his product began to crumble. Lucas has always been an adroit business man, and it soon became apparent that the prequels were more thinly veiled vehicles designed to sell toys than actual movies.

The second reason that Jar Jar incited so much criticism is the character’s racist undertones. Even before the release of The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar earned derision for being a goofy caricature of Jamaican rastafarians or even a racist depiction of African Americans. Commenting on Jar Jar, Columbia professor and media personality Michael Dyson stated that he “immediately knew that there were some stereotypical elements to this character that suggested black culture. The way he spoke, the way he walked… Even when he said ‘meesa,’ taken very quickly, it could (sound) like “massa, massa.” Lucasfilms and Twentieth Century Fox did their best to quell the controversy, but the damage was done. Despite the film becoming a massive hit, the character of Jar Jar still received an overwhelmingly negative reception.

Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker

Most importantly, Jar Jar convinced many Star Wars fans that Lucas himself didn’t understand the appeal of Star Wars. While Lucas claims that the Star Wars films were made for children, the original trilogy itself had many dark moments. The darkest and most mature film of the trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), is almost universally lauded as the highmark of the saga. And while the character of C3PO (Anthony Daniels) was a comic sidekick that bordered on irritating, he wasn’t a blatant attempt to appeal to children, nor was he perceived as a racist caricature.

“Jar Jar is the key to all of this,” Lucas famously stated on the set of The Phantom Menace. “If we get Jar Jar working, [it’s] because he’s a funnier character than we’ve had so far.” Unfortunately for Lucas, Jar Jar isn’t just a character who didn’t “work”; he’s now universally maligned and ceaselessly mocked. Even though Star Wars historically excelled at using humor—think BB-8, C3PO and perhaps even the Ewoks—Jar Jar’s cloying sense of humor clashed with what was otherwise a tragic fable of Empire, replete with political entanglements and dull senate meetings. Using Jar Jar as a comedic crutch only widened the gap between Lucas and his expectant fans.