Most complaints about the prequels begin with the big orange space amphibian in the room, Jar Jar. I’m not going to bother recapping the ‘controversy’ about Jar Jar except to say that many people don’t like him. A lot. Or think he’s evidence of racism. Or he’s the Anti-Christ. Whatever. If there’s a focal point of anger, disappointment and loathing about the prequels, Jar Jar is it.
Bite me. I like Jar Jar. He’s not my favorite character in the saga. He’s not even in my top ten. But I like what he represents. He’s the mythological frog on the side of the road that ends up helping the good guys win the day. He’s the “pathetic life-form” who reminds Queen Amidala that she has potential allies in her backyard, who helps to negotiate that alliance and who puts his life on the line to help his friends. Yes, he’s clumsy and annoying and screws up more often than he succeeds, but that’s exactly why I like him — and why fanboys HATE him.
The standard-bearerers for Jar Jar hatred are the fanboys. They’re the ones insisting often and loudly that Jar Jar ruined Star Wars. While casual fans or the general public may not be fond of Jar Jar, it’s the fanboy base who have a bottomless pit of hatred for him.
Because the fanboys ARE Jar Jar.
Fanboys are nerds. They’re mostly young men (and now older men) who remember all too well what it’s like being a social outcast and disliked. They’re guys who were once picked on and dismissed because they were clumsy or awkward or funny-looking. I should know, I was one too. Fanboys are also the ones who gravitate toward comics and comic book superheroes. They love these characters because they’re representations of what they’d LIKE TO BE: powerful, handsome, heroic, chick-magnets, muscular, and anonymous. It’s no mystery that fanboys LOVE characters like Han Solo. Who wouldn’t fantasize about being the coolest guy to walk into the cantina — a guy who can shoot a bad guy in the face just because he can? Fanboys fantasize about being cocky and kick-ass. (Which also explains why fanboys zero in on the “Han shot first” nonsense with equal venom)
Jar Jar reminds them of what they really are.
And it’s uncomfortable. It’s like being laughed at by a cheerleader in high school. It’s raw and painful.
In the build up to TPM’s release, Star Wars had achieved mythical proportions. Before Star Wars, sci-fi wasn’t cool. It was Star Trek — a campy, cult thing. Or 2001 — brainy but boring. Star Wars changed all that. Star Wars was cool. As JJ Abrams put it, “Star Wars is rock and roll.” The public embraced something nerds liked too! Star Wars created… ACCEPTANCE.
And the release of the Special Editions only enhanced that sense of acceptance. The re-releases did HUGE business. They cemented Star Wars as a multi-generational social icon. Untouchable. For nerds, Star Wars allowed people to like them. Really, really like them.
But then TPM came along and introduced a silly, awkward, unlikable creature everyone thought was pathetic. And some people laughed. And not in a good way — in a dismissive cheerleader in high school way. And for fanboys, who had invested YEARS of their lives believing Star Wars validated their existence to the world, it was a betrayal.
He wasn’t cool. Or powerful. Or sexy. Or funny.
In Todd Solondz’ 1995 film WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, there is a scene where the film’s main character, an unattractive 7th grader nicknamed ‘Weiner-Dog,’ witnesses a bully beating up another nerdy outcast. When the bully leaves, the girl attempts to help the victim and show sympathy. The victim, however, lashes out at the girl and shouts, “Go away, Weiner-Dog!” Victims occasionally find temporary comfort in becoming the bully. No one likes being at the bottom of the social pecking order. And this can lead to feelings of hostility and frustration. It can lead people to fantasize about being more powerful or lashing out to put someone even lower.
Subjective tastes dictate that not everyone is going to like Jar Jar. There are legitimate reasons to find the character lacking. But there is more going on in Jar Jar hatred than just finding the character annoying. For some fanboys, it’s personal. It’s an irrational response to a very rational emotional dynamic. It’s very telling that the harshest critics often make the claim that the prequels somehow ruined their childhoods. Jar Jar represents the part of their childhood they’d rather forget. And he’s a reminder that it’s always there, lurking… laughing at them.