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Opinion The biggest problem with the Jar Jar Theory

Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (Lucasfilm)

The Jar Jar Theory has been lighting up the Internet, lately. Buzzfeed headlined its piece on the subject “This Fan Theory About Jar Jar Binks Will Blow Your Mind,” demonstrating classic Buzzfeed restraint.

The theory is the brainchild of Reddit User Lumpawarroo, who posited in a detailed post that Jar Jar Binks, the clumsy Gungan bane of the prequels, is in fact a trained Force user of the “drunken master” school. He can influence the thoughts of others (leading to promotions for him and ultimately the demise of the Republic for everyone else) and he can sense things before they happen. His performance in the battle on Naboo, disabling enemy tanks and soldiers right and left? “We simply roll our eyes and attribute it to dumb ‘luck.’ But is it? Obi-Wan warned us otherwise,” Lumpawarroo writes.

Lumpawarroo goes on to suggest that, just as the impish, tiny Yoda was initially presented as a comic bumbler, then revealed to be a great Jedi master, Jar Jar was to be originally presented as an inept bumbler … to be revealed as the Ultimate Evil. This “rhymes” in that famous way George Lucas said he always wanted the prequel trilogy to “rhyme” with the originals (see: Ring Theory of Star Wars) and proves that he secretly knew what he was doing, only our response to Jar Jar dissuaded him from realizing his True, Great Vision.

Just like Ring Theory, this is premised on the idea that From A Certain Point Of View, the prequels were not as bad as they appeared to be.

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And this, I think, is the theory’s major flaw: Jar Jar Binks is not the worst part of the prequels. Fixing Jar Jar, even with the reveal that he is in fact the Big Bad (er, big Bombad) does not solve the biggest problem.

Tackling the theory on its merits: as Reddit user Koala_Guru observes, it’s unlikely that Jar Jar is a trained force user, given his background living underwater in a swamp full of problematic caricatures (potentially Emperor Palpatine could take him up as an apprentice later?) even if he possesses latent Force powers.

I would also argue that there is a porous border between Fake Oafery Designed To Fool Other People Into Thinking You’re An Oaf and Actual Unmistakable Oafery, and Jar Jar is on the getting-tongue-electrocuted, stepping-in-poo wrong side of that line. Perhaps this is my personal bias showing, but I think that if I had sufficient Force awareness to let me dodge blaster fire, I would also use it not to step in poo.

Also, the idea that without the use of Jedi mind tricks it would be impossible for a senate to vote for something ruinous and stupid like ending the Republic — well, just look at our own Senate and how it handles things, no sinister Force use required.

But there is something alluring in the idea that behind apparent incompetence is actually malign competence. This is the root of conspiracy theories everywhere. It is genuinely more reassuring to many people to think that an Ominous Conspiracy Who Knows Very Well What Is Going On is running things than that nobody is. We want to think that Jar Jar, and by extension, Lucas is an evil genius with a greater plan.

I wholeheartedly agree with Slate’s Jacob Brogan about the motive behind the theory. In brief, it is the same thing that animates so many Fan Theories of Star Wars: we wish the prequels had been better. They are the great existential disappointment of our time. We are trying to cure this disappointment by convincing ourselves that they were better than they appeared.

To me, this theory fails because it doesn’t actually fix the prequels.

I have always contended, and will continue to do so, to anyone who will listen, that Episode II, not Episode I, is the worst of the prequels. In Episode I, the biggest problem is Jar Jar. And that it is a children’s movie. And that everyone has vaguely racist accents, the child actor is not up to the task and the pod racing sequence goes on too long. (I recently rewatched it, in theaters, in 3D, and do you know what Lucas had gone and done? He had MADE THE POD RACE LONGER. This just goes to show the kind of judgement that he has been exercising all throughout the prequels, and makes me even less inclined to believe that he is a Mastermind whom we, the audience, ultimately stopped from making something beautiful.)

Deal with Jar Jar and you fix much of Episode I — it is now a much more watchable kids’ movie, you can enjoy Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor together joining forces against the script and doing all they can to add sparkle to such lines as, “You and the Naboo form a symbiant circle.” But you don’t fix Episode II, which contains almost NO Jar Jar, or Episode III. You still have the giant gaping sarlacc pit of the love story.

This is the biggest problem with the prequels, full stop. The Star Wars saga, on paper, should be one of the most compelling stories ever told. It is the story of a man with extraordinary powers who is seduced to darkness by a forbidden love and then redeemed by the love of his children.

You cannot hand-wave a love story that is supposed to be the engine of LITERALLY EVERYTHING else in the plot. You cannot walk up to the audience, Force in hand, waggle your fingers and announce, “You will believe that these two people are in love.”

The prequels are anchored by a love story that would be laughable if it were in a romantic comedy. Perhaps not even then. If Matthew McConnaughey said these things to Kate Hudson, she would slap him. If Han said these things to Leia, she would, correctly, write him off as a jerk.

For two people to demonstrate that they are in love, it is not enough for them to announce monotonously that they love each other. Or for them to go out on a romantic picnic and giggle nervously while surrounded by space cattle. Or for them to sit by a fire delivering intense monologues. You have to believe that they like each other.

And the movie offers no evidence of this. If we take all their interactions at face value, we are forced to buy into another theory: The Padme Theory.

Here is my counter-theory to the Jar Jar Theory: Padme Amidala is not in love with Anakin Skywalker, which you can tell from every scene they have together, where he is weirdly intense and she looks as though she is looking around for the nearest exit. They go on a few dates, during which he reveals himself to be a sociopath, and then things spiral out of control. But she goes along with it, because she was one of the adults in the room when they found him and she knows how dangerous he is.

Their first exchange, in Episode II:

Padme: Ani? My goodness, you’ve grown.
Anakin: So have you, grown more beautiful … for a senator, I mean.
Padme: Ani, you’ll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine.

(“Grown more beautiful … for a senator?” The heck does this mean? At worst, this is something you whisper to Ted Cruz when the mood takes you. At best, this is workplace harassment. Still, look how politely she shuts him down.)

Or, shortly afterwards:

Padme: Please don’t look at me like that.
Anakin: Why not?
Padme: Because it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Anakin: Sorry my lady.

You’re telling me she goes on to “truly, deeply love” this man? Clearly this is a red herring. People pour drinks on you in bars for less, and the mealy-mouthed “milady” apology does nothing to help.

Padme: It must be difficult having sworn your life to the Jedi … not being able to visit the places you like … or do the things you like.
Anakin: Or be with the people I love.
Padme: Are you allowed to love? I thought that was forbidden for a Jedi.

This is where the noose begins to tighten. OH NO, Padme is thinking, I thought the one good thing about your being a Jedi was that I was safe from the person who used to stalk me when he was eight years old.

It’s not that it is unrealistic for her to fall in love with a bad person. People fall in love with bad guys all the time, but — you have to say something other than I WANT TO RULE THE GALAXY AND HAVE ULTIMATE POWER to get things started.

Padme: You’re not all-powerful, Ani.
Anakin: Well, I should be.

GREAT GEE ALL RIGHT, good courtship, Ani.

Here he is on Tatooine, after he slaughters the people who kidnapped his mother:

Anakin: I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They’re like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM!
Padme: To be angry is to be human.
Anakin: I’m a Jedi. I can be better than this.

“I’ve committed a small mass killing!” “That’s so human of you!”

Nope. Something else HAS to be afoot here.

Padme: We used to come here for school retreat. We would swim to that island every day. I love the water. We used to lie out on the sand and let the sun dry us and try to guess the names of the birds singing.
Anakin: I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.

I wouldn’t even say “I truly, deeply LIKE you” to someone who courted me like that. But Padme instead tells him, before the climactic battle:

Padme: I’m not afraid to die. I’ve been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.
Anakin: What are you talking about?
Padme: I love you.
Anakin: You love me? I thought we had decided not to fall in love. That we’d be forced to live a lie and that it would destroy our lives.
Padme: I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway. I truly … deeply … love you and before we die I want you to know.

“What are you talking about?” is right. She knows they are about to die and makes the decision that will change the course of the prequels: to give him something to fight for.

What’s more likely, that they go on a couple of dates, during none of which they are able to make anything that resembles normal human conversation, and then, without warning, they announce that they are in love? Or that Padme, a woman smart enough to be elected Queen of Naboo at fourteen (yes, elected; don’t ask) and who helped kickstart the Rebellion, is involved in a conspiracy with the Jedi to protect the galaxy from a Phantom Menace?

The Padme Theory just states what the evidence before our eyes should lead us to believe: that Anakin was always a sociopath, that everyone around him knew it and that Padme took one for the team, allowing him to believe that his inept attempts at courtship were working and feeding information about his activities to Obi Wan and others who could help keep him under control. The fact that R2-D2, who always knows more than he is letting on, attended their “secret” wedding lets you know that Padme did not actually want it to remain secret. This was all part of a conspiracy to keep Anakin contained — a conspiracy that backfired spectacularly when she became pregnant. That was why Obi Wan kept coming to her apartment to check on Anakin’s status and receive updates on his mental well-being.*

That, or you have to believe that this dialogue authentically represents human emotions:

Anakin: You are so… beautiful.
Padme: It’s only because I’m so in love.
Anakin: No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.
Padme: So love has blinded you?
Anakin: [laughs] Well, that’s not exactly what I meant.
Padme: But it’s probably true.

It is like someone wrote out a placeholder and said “PUT IN REALISTIC SOUNDING DIALOGUE LATER” and then nobody did. This is worse than when people say “HELLO, SISTER, ON THIS YOUR 28TH BIRTHDAY” to let you know who they are in TV show pilots. But for the love story that is supposed to drive everything! AAARGH!

And this is where we started with the Jar Jar Theory. Something about the prequels was bad. Instead of admitting this, we are forced into logical contortions that would make a Gundark pull his own ears off with frustration.

Instead of admitting that this love story was handled as though Lucas had never met a human being in his life, let alone loved one, we would rather come up with a devious alternative: What if this was never meant to be a love story and, in fact, Padme was on a mission to contain a dangerous sociopath? But unfortunately, this theory only fixes so much. We still have Jar Jar to deal with. (But what if Jar Jar is a Sith master?) And the rest of the dialogue. (But what if — no, never mind.)

And this is the ultimate problem with the Jar Jar Theory. You can’t quite fix the prequels.

*I am leaving out the evidence of their relationship given in “The Clone Wars,” a series which contains more realistic dialogue and relationship-building in its little finger than the prequels do in six hours.