Hang around Star Wars fans long enough, and you’re bound to hear something about what it means to be a “true” fan, what counts as “real” Star Wars and what doesn’t, why the originals are better than the prequels, and why you’re supposed to hate Jar Jar Binks.
While these aren’t opinions held by every fan, it’s been a fairly common voice in fandom for years, basically since the prequels came out. This kind of talk has unfortunately only become more common after Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, only now add fandom divisions over topics like the relegation of the Expanded Universe content to non-canon “Legends” status, or supposedly “forced” diversity in the casting of the new films, which prominently feature more women and minorities than the Star Wars of old.
The thing is, the story told by Star Wars has always contained a commentary on petty divisions of this nature, and one of the most prominent examples comes from the much maligned, and very much misunderstood, Jar Jar Binks. He may have been minimized to an internet punchline, but Star Wars fandom has a lot to learn from the despised Gungan.
The Life and Times of Jar Jar Binks
At some point before the events of The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar is banished from his Gungan home on Naboo for being, in his words, “clumsy”, but it sounds like maybe he’s sugar coating his description of events. As we would come to know, Jar Jar’s clumsiness can easily become massively destructive in the right circumstances.
When Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi come to Naboo after the Trade Federation attempts to kill them, Qui-Gon saves Jar Jar from a Federation droid transport, causing the Gungan to declare a life debt to the Jedi Master, even though Qui Gon and Obi-Wan don’t seem to happy to have the obnoxious alien around, and Obi-Wan even calls him a “pathetic life form.”
Despite Obi-Wan’s frustrations, Jar Jar is eager to please and takes the Jedi to the Gungan city of Otoh Gunga, knowing there will be repercussions to his return from banishment. Qui-Gon even speaks up for him, using a Jedi mind trick on Boss Nass to convince him to spare Jar Jar, allowing him to accompany the Jedi as a guide.
After leaving Otoh Gunga and helping the Jedi save Queen Amidala and her attendants, Jar Jar continues on with the party, despite the Nabooians clear displeasure with him, revealing that the Gungans have long been disliked by the more civilized inhabitants of Naboo.
Even though he’s viewed as a second rate life form, Jar Jar is still eager to be useful, and when the queen returns to Naboo to take it back from the Trade Federation, he brokers a meeting between the Queen and Boss Nass, a diplomatic occurrence that was obviously rare as the two cultures had little familiarity with each other.
Impressed with Binks for being the first one to bridge the gap between the two cultures of Naboo in several generations, Boss Nass makes him a general in the coming battle. While Jar Jar clearly isn’t cut out for a military career, he is now a prominent figure with both the Gungans and the Nabooians, so he ends up becoming a senator, serving alongside Padme Amidala, who also becomes a member of the senate after her term as queen is finished.
His desire to please is eventually manipulated by Palpatine’s advisor, Mas Amedda, who convinces him that Chancellor needs emergency powers so he can have the authority to form an army. While this decision admittedly saves Padme, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and a host of Jedi on Geonosis, it also instigates The Clone Wars, which are the catalyst Palpatine needs to grow his power even more, and the key to ultimately destroying the Jedi.
The last time he’s seen in the prequels is Amidala’s funeral. It’s not clear if he knows his impact on the events that lead to that moment, but clearly, he’s devastated nonetheless.
Not much is known about his life in the intervening years, but he most recently popped up in the final book in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End. In the brief interlude, which takes place shortly after Return of the Jedi, he’s back on Naboo where he’s known as “the clown.” He works in the village square and mostly entertains children as most adults look down on him. He says they blame him for the rise of the Empire. He seems content with his simple life where he can make children laugh, but he’s still treated like a pariah by most adults.