Day 114. 109 pages, 49,463 words.
I wasn’t expecting to talk about this today (remember how I said I was ramping the blog down to a lean word-count and note system, so I could focus on writing?), but the Internet will surprise you every time.
An old buddy of mine, who posts a lot of articles and links and memes, threw this one onto his news feed this morning and I found myself reading the whole thing. It’s about Ahmed Best – yes, the guy who was Andy Sirkis before it was cool. The man behind the motion-capture suit for the most loathed Star Wars character in the canon: Jar Jar Binks.
I know, I know. Pause for hissing, jeering and catcalls. Place sternly-worded statements about ruined childhoods in the comments section. Actually I doubt any of my single-figures regular readership will have anything particularly vitriolic to say, but you never know.
The internet has said it all already, really. And then some. The credit belongs to Alex Bartlett for this little gem, apparently.
Here’s the thing. That article was really good. I never thought about Best as an actual person, a guy who had loved Star Wars and been so excited to play a role in the next chapter. A person who was almost destroyed by the hatred for the character he was assigned.
The article tells it better. And the article also goes into some really interesting commentary about Jar Jar. Yes, we all know the hilarious “Jar Jar is a Sith Lord” theory. And we all know, on some level, that Jar Jar wasn’t for us. He wasn’t for people who were adult fans when Episode I came out, let alone people who were adult fans in the time of Episode IV, Episode V and Episode VI. He was the obligatory Star Wars clown. And yes, it was a misfire. We all know that too.
I’ll just add a few choice items here.
What’s interesting to me is that Lucas, according to this article, reassured Best when the shitstorm began. He said that the same had happened to the Ewoks, to Chewbacca, to Lando. That, I found interesting … but then I thought about it.
Okay, I’m not sure about Lando. As far as I’m concerned, everyone always thought he was pretty freaking cool. But I don’t know, maybe there was a (has to be said) racial element in ’70s-’80s USA that drove some sort of unpopular sentiment? Well, I’m happy to say that if there was, then in my experience it had passed well and truly by the time I was in a position to enjoy the Star Wars movies.
Although, the Internet being the Internet, I had a wonderful cringey time searching for a Lando meme.
But yeah, Lucas was kinda right.
I guess I’m pretty chill about movies and things. I don’t understand the hate people have, even if it’s a heavily dramatised hate. It just seems stressful. I thought Jar Jar was dumb, but I put him on about the same level as Inspector Clouseau. Meant to be funny, just kind of grating. To me. I know, I know, Peter Sellers was a genius and the Pink Panther movies are classics. I just … nope, I don’t go for it. The character’s just annoying. Clouseau being lauded as a beloved cult favourite while Binks is reviled … meh, never seemed fair to me. I guess it was all in the context. Clouseau was part of a film specifically about his perfectly-comic-timed idiocy. Star Wars was not supposed to be about a bumbling Gungan.
But I digress.
I’m pretty chill about “hated” movie characters. I was always fine with the Ewoks. I was basically fine with Jar Jar. I thought Kid Anakin Skywalker was your typical movie kid, and I thought Moody Tween Anakin Skywalker was just appallingly delivered, but they was both abysmally scripted too. It probably wasn’t the actors’ faults. Probably. Mostly. Anyway, I don’t get worked up about them.
But yeah. A lot of people around my age still dislike the Ewoks, even though they became favourites among the younger fans. And a lot of people a half-generation or so older than me still seem to have this scornful what-was-that-thing-even issue with Chewbacca. It doesn’t necessarily go away, but the generations responsible for it go away. I know this, because I’ve watched Episode I with my daughter (who was 5 or 6 at the time, I think), and she thought Jar Jar was fun. To be fair to the prequel detractors, she also thought the whole Trade Federation thing was boring as shit, but she did dig the Binks.
 I’m not sure if I can express this, maybe you’ve experienced it? It’s like a shitty distillation of the “I’m too grown up to enjoy movies about spaceships and laser guns” attitude, compounded with the “characters have to be people, otherwise they’re just guys in gorilla costumes” thing. Say what you like, Star Wars drew the maps on a lot of these cinematic staples, and Jim Henson did the rest. Perhaps as a result, older people seem to consistently fail to identify Chewbacca as a character. They refuse to use his name, they absolutely refuse to say the word “Wookiee”. He’s just “that hairy thing, Han Solo’s friend, what was that thing even?” For some reason, attempting to explain this phenomenon has made me want to punch Bill Maher in the face. I mean, not for real … but is he guilty of this shit? I think he might be. He looks like the sort. I rest my case.
 Why, incidentally, does Microsoft Word spell-ping “Wookiee” and suggest “Wookie” instead? That is the real evil, my friends.
So Lucas was right. Time will tell on the Jar Jar Binks thing. Maybe, like all the rest, he’s going to wind up being popular with the next round of Star Wars kids, who are going to hate Snoke or whoever. I don’t know, maybe Episode VII, Episode VIII and Episode IX are going to play it too safe to have a hated Lucas-character of this kind.
For me, Jar Jar Binks wasn’t just the ground-breaking first example of an all-CGI, motion-capture movie character. Hatred of Jar Jar Binks was also one of the first instances of viral Internet hatred – the first real meme – I really encountered. I was generally not online a lot back in the late ’90s, at least not on those sorts of sites and forums. It was all e-mail, Usenet and an assortment of chat rooms for me. I read a Phantom Menace annotated script from JarJarMustDie.com, but otherwise didn’t have much exposure to it. I guess I found it funny, and now I feel a bit bad about how awful it must have made Best feel.
I’ve gone on way longer than I expected to with this post. That article was great, really worth a look. It’s inspired me not only to go and start looking into what exactly a podcast is (I have never listened to one but Best’s sound like they’re interesting), but also go home this afternoon and watch Episode I again.