Last year, I was telling funny Star Wars stories to my daughter, making her laugh out loud, and the character who was my best tool for ruining everything and getting the best belly laugh was Jar-Jar Binks. From a comedy perspective, this character is brilliant. No matter how well anything went for my main characters, Jar-Jar was always there to mess things up and force the story into a haywire direction. If I'm writing a comedy story, I'd pick Jar-Jar every time.
So, if Jar-Jar is so good, why did the character fail so badly that the entirety of Star Wars fandom hates him?
"Dying is easy. Comedy, that's difficult."
"Dying is easy. Comedy, that's difficult."
The problem with Jar-Jar isn't himself, it's with his usage. Every aspect of him which made him an amazingly effective clown, plot derailer, and situational saboteur effectively undermined the film rather than enhanced it. George was right, kids did laugh at him, but they only laughed at his immediate antics, the slapstick of his character. However, George failed to build rapport between the character and the audience, to give him some sort of redeeming quality for us to grab onto. There's a number of ways to do this, such as giving a clown a sincere goal or a belief in himself that betrayed his vulnerabilities, but George wasn't having any of that. Jar-Jar was only there for the sight gags, with no chance at true redemption or true sincerity. When we see Jar-Jar become a general, we know that his position isn't the end of some plot arc or some goal achieved, it's just that he's the poor chump who got volunteered to lead a suicide mission. How are we supposed to feel good about that?
Let's talk about another comedy character, one that's liked, C3PO. He might be annoying, but he's also a very calming presence, very reassuring, and is usually thinking about others. He has a genuine attachment to rules, implementing them to the best of his ability, showing his deep sincerity. While he may be silly, we don't want to see him harmed or destroyed. While overemotional, the emotions that 3PO exhibits are those appropriate to the scene, amplifying the feel that the director wants to give, giving voice to the mood.
In order to make Jar-Jar work, he needs to have some actual useful skill and add something to the tone. In the films, he has no useful skill and disrupts the tone.
First, we need a few quiet moments with Jar-Jar. We need to see his sincerity. "Misa tried so hard to be a good Gungan. Misa want Gungans and humans to be friends, and everyone laughs. Wesa stronger together. Wesa no need to fight and fight." Jar-Jar has an actual goal, one that comes to fruition at the end of the film, with him being honored for fulfilling that goal, a goal of community and harmony rather than power and conquest, the very qualities needed to save the Republic, and the qualities shown in the Rebellion.
The skill that Jar-Jar excels in is positiveness, the belief that he can do something, which makes his sense of failure all that more pitiful. It's not his clever speeches that stirs other, but his sincerely delivery. He's too much of a fool to lie, and his dialog only goes to tear down fear bound with inaction.
An in-world skill that would prove useful is mopping and cleaning. He goes straight to that job because he knows that's his place. This would emphasize his lowness and his inner thought processes. When he says, "Mesa knows my place," you should get mad, knowing that cleaning up after your betters is nobody's inherent place, which is what you want.
Obi Wan: He's such a fool.
Qui-Gon: The force is within him, and it didn't bring him here without reason.
Obi Wan: The force is with him?
Qui-Gon: It binds the galaxy together, just as it bind us together. You see a fool, but your eyes lie to you. Don't trust them. Reach out with your feelings.
Obi Wan: For him?
Qui-Gon: He is the Republic as surely as you or I.
Don't let Jar-Jar waltz in and have no part. He is not a person to ridicule, but someone to learn from. Somebody has to find worthwhile qualities in him so that the audience can find these qualities. He may be a ridiculous embodiment of selfless qualities, but the qualities are still there. When he gets up on his mount and moves forward on his attack, we have to be rooting for him, not expecting his downfall. He needs to know that his mission is hopeless, but he's willing to put his life on that feint to prove his sincerity.
In editing, we tend to see Jar-Jar doing something silly, then the edit cuts away, following someone else. What the film needed to do is to show him doing something silly, but then give him some sort of sincere time, something that also shows him as real and worth sympathizing with because he is the very person that will suffer in the upcoming wars. The idea that Jar-Jar must be ruled is the tyrannical ideal of the Empire, the idea that order must be imposed from the top. Rights and freedoms apply to all characters, even the fools.
So, the TL;DR is as follows:
- Give Jar-Jar a sincere goal relating to the story, such as uniting humans and Gungans.
- Give Jar-Jar a skill that makes him seem minimally useful, and don't play that for comedy, using that to make him an everyman.
- Give the audience an opportunity to like him as a person.