Through all the Star Wars content that’s available, fans of the galaxy far, far away have met a bevy of characters, and each movie, TV series, novel, and comic try to add more figures to the canon to flesh the lore out even further. Many of these characters have become integral parts of the pop culture zeitgeist and are recognizable even to viewers who are largely unfamiliar with Star Wars mythology. Individuals such as Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Rey are all favorites of viewers, but there are a select few who are judged a little harsher by the adoring fan community.
Jar Jar Binks certainly fits that bill. Introduced in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, the clumsy Gungan was designed by George Lucas to be well-meaning comic relief, and the results were clearly not what he intended. While children in the audience enjoyed his antics, the older moviegoers found Jar Jar to be highly annoying, and some criticized his portrayal as a tone-deaf racial stereotype. The reaction was so overwhelmingly negative, Lucas had no choice but to considerably trim down Jar Jar’s role in the last two prequels, giving Binks little more than glorified cameos in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
What’s interesting about all this is that just about every main player in the Star Wars live-action films have seen their story conclude on-screen (Han, Vader, etc.) or still has something to contribute to the narrative (Luke Skywalker, General Leia). Jar Jar was essentially written out of the core plot by the time the prequel trilogy wrapped up, leaving his ultimate fate up in the air. Fans speculated in the years since Revenge of the Sith what could have happened to the infamous Gungan, and now Disney has provided a rather depressing end to his overall arc via the novel Aftermath: Empire’s End. Here, we break down Jar Jar’s tragic journey from war hero to performance clown.
An Outcast Who Became a General
Like many Star Wars heroes, Jar Jar became embroiled in a galactic conflict by chance, and he would go on to shape the future of the universe in profound ways. Due to his bumbling nature, Jar Jar was banished from his home city of Otoh Gunga and spends his days wandering aimlessly through the swamps of Naboo. When the Trade Federation lands on the planet to invade Theed and capture Queen Amidala, their army makes their way through the marshlands to get to the city. As one of the battle droid transports approaches Jar Jar, threatening to squash him, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn tackles Jar Jar to the ground, saving the Gungan’s life.
Jar Jar is immediately gracious and says he owes Qui-Gon a life debt and stays by the Jedi’s side – much to Qui-Gon’s chagrin. Jar Jar takes Qui-Gon and his young apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi to Otoh Gunga so the Jedi can acquire transportation and get to Theed. After some morally dubious negotiating (with the heavy use of Jedi mind tricks), the trio makes their way to the capital and rescues the Queen from a squad of battle droids. They intend to travel to Coruscant to alert the Senate about the Trade Federation’s activities, but the Queen’s ship is damaged in the escape and is forced to land on Tatooine. Jar Jar accompanies Qui-Gon, R2-D2, and Padmé Amidala into town, where they meet young slave (and child prodigy) Anakin Skywalker. Anakin, of course, helps his new friends get off the desert world by winning a pod race, and the newly-freed Jedi hopeful takes his first step into a larger world, as well.
On Coruscant, Amidala makes her case before the Senate and calls for a vote of no confidence in Supreme Chancellor Valorum (at the behest of Senator Palpatine). While the Republic will vote for a new Chancellor, Amidala grows frustrated by the corruption and decides to leave for Naboo and deal with the situation herself. Jar Jar is an integral part of the operation, as the Gungans are used as a diversion to draw many of the battle droid forces out of the city. Because Jar Jar helped bring the Gungans and Naboo people together (after years of never seeing eye-to-eye), Gungan leader Boss Nass makes Jar Jar a general in the army. Jar Jar fights admirably alongside his kin and helps liberate his home world in the Battle of Naboo. Anakin was the one who delivered the deciding blow, but Jar Jar and the Gungans played a sizable role.
Following his heroics against the Trade Federation, Jar Jar pursued a career in politics and became a Junior Representative in the Galactic Senate. He primarily worked with Padmé, who at this point served as the Senator of Naboo. The big issue at hand is the Separatist crisis, as numerous star systems are splitting from the Republic and joining a new alliance led by Sith Lord Count Dooku. There is much uncertainty in the galaxy, as some people are concerned the Separatists are planning an attack on the Republic. A controversial topic is the creation of an army for the Republic, so they can better defend themselves against such enemies.
When an assassination attempt is made on Padmé’s life, she goes into hiding with an older Anakin. Amidala asks Jar Jar to fill in for her in the Senate, and Binks happily accepts the responsibility. Unfortunately, Jar Jar is far more naive than Padmé, and can be manipulated rather easily by his colleagues. With the Separatist crisis reaching a boiling point (after the discovery of a new battle droid army on Geonosis), the time has come for the Republic to make a move. Jar Jar is basically guilted into calling for a motion to give Palpatine emergency powers, which in turn leads to the formation of a Republic military manned by clone troopers. The clones are used to launch a rescue operation to save Anakin, Padmé, and Obi-Wan from captivity on Geonosis, and the famous Clone War begins.
Though he couldn’t have known it at the time, this choice by Jar Jar would have major ramifications on the course of history. Palpatine obviously never relented those emergency powers, and it was in the Senate chamber the seeds of the Galactic Empire were planted. While a more experienced politician may have been able to see through Palpatine’s desires, Jar Jar took the bait – an illustration of the pros and cons of his nature. Yes, Jar Jar could have benefitted from having more street smarts, but he was trying to do what he felt was right to protect the Republic. Palpatine kept his true intentions so shrouded in secrecy, even Yoda could not see through the duplicity. A simple-minded Gungan like Jar Jar could be forgiven for not having enough clairvoyance.
Clone War Veteran
Jar Jar is not a main character in the Clone Wars animated series, but he does make a number of contributions during the show’s six-season run. In his earliest appearances, Jar Jar still falls victim to his clumsy ways, getting in various misadventures while his companions Padmé and Bail Organa of Alderaan attempted to recruit other planets to the Republic’s cause. He did have some standout moments, however, including the time he outsmarted Weequay pirates (and avoided capture) and when he helped prevent the spread of the Blue Shadow virus on Naboo.
During the war, Binks once again had to orchestrate peace between his species and the Naboo. Rumors started to spread that the Gungans were going to aid the Separatists in taking over the planet, and their grand army would invade the city of Theed. Jar Jar tried to resolve the issue by arranging a meeting between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Gungan leader Boss Lyonie, where Anakin discovered Lyonie was under mind-control, taking commands from Count Dooku associate Rish Loo. Binks goes on a mission where he impersonates Lyonie and calls off the army. However, Jar Jar gets in deeper than he bargained for when General Grievous arrives, believing the attack is going as planned. Binks and his friend General (formerly Captain) Tarpals work together to disable Grievous’ droids, and then try to take down the Separatist leader. In the fight, Tarpals is killed, but Grievous is captured. Unfortunately, Grievous is released after Anakin is held for ransom, but Jar Jar is still credited with maintaining peace.
Jar Jar also had a substantial role in resolving a crisis on the planet Bardotta, where he traveled with Jedi Master Mace Windu. Several Dagoyan masters on the world had gone missing, which potentially could bring a darkness to the world. Their mission morphed from a discussion to rescue when Bardotta’s Queen Julia was captured by a group of cultists that wished to extract her Living Force for their own purposes. Jar Jar and Windu tracked Julia down and saved her before she can be sacrificed. Jar Jar was actually the one who shot many of the cult members and freed the Queen from her bonds. After the incident, Julia expressed her gratitude and hoped the events could lead to a better relationship between Bardotta and the Jedi. Previously, Julia did not like that the Jedi Order brought Bardottan children to their ranks. Jar Jar remained a Senate representative until the fall of the Republic.
Bombad Street Clown
As stated earlier, the vitriol Jar Jar inspired greatly diminished his part in the films, and Lucasfilm has been reluctant to revisit the character since The Clone Wars ended. This is understandable, as much of the early days of the Disney era were spent reigniting fans’ passion for the material. Still, Jar Jar is the only one from the prequel trilogy to never receive anything resembling closure, and now with a few years of goodwill under their belts, the story group decided the time was right to bring Jar Jar back.
The Aftermath trilogy of novels by Chuck Wendig (set after Return of the Jedi) includes a number of interludes that depict glimpses at the happenings around the galaxy, separate from the main storyline. In the finale, Empire’s End, one of these passages features Jar Jar, who leads a depressingly solitary existence as a street clown on Naboo, performing tricks for amused children. Binks was once again ostracized by society, despite his various heroics. Jar Jar is banished by the Gungans, and the Naboo people hold him responsible for aiding in the formation of the Empire. With everyone he considered a friend dead or long gone, Jar Jar is left with no one to talk to. In the interlude, he meets a refugee boy named Mapo, and the two establish a fast connection due to their standing as outsiders. Jar Jar agrees to take Mapo under his wing and teach him the secrets of being a clown.
One of the more heartbreaking revelations in Empire’s End (besides Jar Jar literally having nobody to talk to) is that the Gungan feels tremendous personal guilt for what he did. During his conversation with Mapo, Jar Jar says “big mistakens” he made are the reason for his isolation. He doesn’t outright say it, but it’s heavily implied he’s referring to the vote to give Palpatine emergency powers. That decision unleashed the full wrath of the Emperor on the galaxy for years, and he ruled with an iron fist and tormented many. It’s easy to see why people would blame Jar Jar, since he was the one who made that motion to the Senate. At the same time, the treatment can be considered unfair, as Jar Jar obviously did not know what would happen. In a meta twist, he’s an easy target for the dissatisfied and angry, just like he was for many who disliked The Phantom Menace.
For those who are a fan of Jar Jar, it’s nice that Lucasfilm finally decided to go back and reveal his fate, though some were probably hoping for a happier ending. That said, if people so choose, they can take comfort in the fact that Binks survived two galactic wars, and somewhere he’s making a child laugh. Jar Jar may have experienced much tragedy in his life, but at least he can still look on the bright side and bring joy to others. The Empire’s End interlude won’t change viewers’ opinions of the movies, but author Chuck Wendig deserves credit for making Jar Jar feel human and sympathetic. Even his toughest critics have to feel a little sorry for him.
Having Jar Jar be the centerpiece of an Aftermath interlude was the one and only way to give the character proper closure in the canon. All of the other options available – a film, a Jar Jar-centric novel, a comic book series – are off the table entirely. Wendig’s interlude may be Jar Jar’s most emotionally resonant moment in his character arc, but the Gungan is still widely considered toxic and will most likely never be the main focus of a new Star Wars story. Whether he’s still alive during the time of the sequel trilogy is still a mystery, but at least readers have some idea of what happened to Jar Jar.