As we countdown the minutes until we finally lay eyes on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the prequels have been on a lot of minds. While there are fans and defenders of Episodes I, II, and III, there are just as many, if not more, haters, and one of the most despised elements of that trilogy was the Gungan comic relief, Jar Jar Binks. Despite the backlash over his presence, he does have one distinguished champion, legendary puppeteer Frank Oz.
At the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Oz, who gave Yoda his signature stylings, stopped for a moment to chat with IGN. They asked if he had a favorite character in the new movie, and while he said he hadn’t seen enough to really judge, he did, completely unprovoked, espouse his love for the much-maligned Jar Jar. Oz said:
I love Jar Jar Binks. I swear to god I do...When I saw that script I thought he was a fantastic character and I don’t know what the heck happened….I thought he was fantastic; he was hysterical. He reminded me of Abbott and Costello.
That’s not a popular statement, but if anyone has earned the right to say whatever he wants and compare one of the most reviled characters in modern cinema with a classic comedy duo, it’s certainly Frank Oz.
When The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, there was an almost immediate recoil against Jar Jar, a bumbling, hapless, resident of the planet Naboo. He’s come to symbolize much of what critics of the prequels decry about the films, namely lowest common denominator comic relief aimed to placate younger viewers and an over reliance on CGI. Along with other characters in the film, there have also been allegations of racist stereotypes, and of late there’s been a fan theory making the rounds that supposes Jar Jar is not so much inept as he is in cahoots with Emperor Palpatine and the Empire.
Though he was around quite a bit in The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar was noticeably less prominent in the following movies. His actions in Attack of the Clones carry a lot of weight, but his part was trimmed, and by the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around, he was barely present and had only a few words of dialogue.
Jar Jar was also the first main character in the Star Wars franchise to be wholly computer generated. At one point in the development, Michael Jackson was considered for the role, but wanted to play the part with prosthetics and makeup.
Part of the swirling fan theory supposes that Andy Serkis’ CGI character in the new movie, Supreme Leader Snoke, is actually Jar Jar some years later, though the actor has denied that. Jar Jar Binks or not, we’ll be able to see for ourselves as Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally hitting theaters.