Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones' Lack Of Jar Jar Wasn't Because Of Fan Complaints

No film in the history of the motion picture medium has ever been burdened by a more crushing weight of expectations than "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace." The original trilogy of movies that kicked off with 1977's "Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope" (which, once upon a less franchise-mad time, was just called "Star Wars") had their roots in the try-anything era of New Hollywood. The studios were chasing trends and taking risks, trying to replicate the blockbuster success of "The Exorcist," "The Godfather" and, most importantly, "Jaws."

George Lucas' "Star Wars" was a box-office rainmaker. It is still the highest-grossing domestic movie of all time (adjusted for inflation). It revolutionized the film business at every level. The merchandising, the franchising ... everything that drives the industry today was pioneered by and ripped off from "Star Wars."

On an emotional level, just about every Gen X-er on the planet had been dreaming of Lucas' promised prequel trilogy since they walked out of "Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi" in 1983. 16 years is a long time to wait for a payoff, but Lucas delivered in 1999 with "The Phantom Menace." Finally, we would get to watch a young Anakin Skywalker's journey from Jedi prodigy to the embodiment of Sith evil as Darth Vader.

The problem was that Gen X-ers were now in their 20s and 30s. They were no longer wide-eyed naifs. They'd gotten into grunge and gangsta rap and the ultraviolent cinema of Quentin Tarantino. They'd lived a little. So their tolerance for cutesy characters like the Ewoks was essentially nonexistent. This spelled doom for Lucas' kid-catering Jar Jar Binks, and created a rift between Lucas and the moviegoers who'd made him a billionaire.

The Jar Jar Menace

Jar Jar Binks, as portrayed on set in the pre-performance-capture age by Ahmed Best, was a clear miscalculation on Lucas' part. He's supposed to be the film's comedic answer to C-3PO and R2-D2, but he's broadly unfunny. The Kurosawa-influenced bickering of the droids gave way to an off-putting racial stereotype saddled with warmed-over slapstick bits culled from Saturday morning cartoons. He gets farted on at one point, and steps in a pile of excrement.

"The Phantom Menace" was an inevitable letdown for several reasons, some of which were difficult to articulate. So the brunt of the vitriol was heaped upon Jar Jar. When the character was reduced to a blink-and-miss-it cameo in "Star Wars: Episode II — The Attack of the Clones," people speculated that Lucas had capitulated to the fans' disdain of the clumsy Gungan.

In a 2002 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lucas vigorously refuted this. "The story dictates what I do," he said. "This idea that 'Oh, you don't like Darth Vader? Okay, I'll take him out' — I mean, that's not the way you make movies."

18 years since its conclusion, the Prequel Trilogy resonates as a flawed, but cogent depiction of how fascism takes root in a seemingly civilized society. It has value. And it is sometimes very good. Alas, it also has Jar Jar, who serves no significant narrative purpose. And this undercuts what could've been a vital feat of storytelling.