Friday, June 28, 2013

JJJ: A Measure of Character

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

I came to a revelation as I was making last week's video.

A few months back, when I wrote about my Top 11 Favorite Star Wars Characters, I listed Yoda as number 1. And yes, in the Star Wars Universe, I do like Yoda best.

But if I had to pick which star Wars character I would put at the top of my list of favorite fictional characters in general, well it would be good ol’ Jar Jar Binks.

Let me go back and explain this.

There are characters from various media that are good characters because of the role they serve in the story. What they do, how they serve the narrative, and how they’re shaped by the events of the plot.

Then there are characters that are good characters because of what their overall personality is. That’s not to say this second type can’t serve the narrative, but these types of characters are the shapers as opposed to the ones being shaped.

Put another way; characters like Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and Oliver Twist are good characters because of the way their respective narratives shape them, but it’s near impossible to separate them effectively from their main stories. On the other hand, there are characters like The Joker, Captain Jack Sparrow, and Daffy Duck where part of the fun is seeing how they react and affect those around them when plopped into different environments. Sure, they all have backstories fit into their respective mythologies (even if Joker’s is multiple choice), but it’s not completely necessary to the character for that to happen in all settings.

Bringing it back to Star Wars, the entire Skywalker family is defined by the events of the Saga. Sure, they all have their distinct personalities, but part of what makes them who they are is what they went through. You couldn’t just plop them in a completely different universe with different events and expect them to have quite the same impact. However, someone like Han Solo is Han Solo no matter where he is. C-3PO is still C-3PO whether he was built in Anakin’s hovel or the Radio Shack down the street. Yoda is sort of a middle of the road example. While Yoda is a distinct personality and can fit into a number of adventures separate from the main storyline, he’s still the Grand Master of the Jedi Order. He’s still explicitly tied to the Jedi and the Force, which are concepts of that galaxy far, far away and not easily transplanted.

Jar Jar, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be an exile from Otoh Gunga, owe a Jedi a life debt, or become a Republic Senator to be an entertaining character. Jar Jar is still Jar Jar whether he’s “fighting” battle droids, recording a commercial, tending bar at a saloon, or picking up milk from the grocery store.

This is a trait shared by Jar Jar’s most direct inspirations: the silent film greats Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. They’d play different characters in each film, but it was all still their recognizable routine. In fact, much of comedy is like this. Once again, Looney Tunes works on this principle, slapping their characters into different situations just to see how it would play. Or the Marx Brothers; It didn’t matter what overly-long name his character had or what his past was, Groucho Marx was still always playing Groucho Marx, just in different settings.

Jar Jar Binks is a bumbler and a stumbler. He’s a lethal klutz, though this makes him just as likely to cause successes as failures, albeit with his usual flair. He’s cowardly and sarcastic, but he’s got a good soul. This combination has so much potential and can work in so many different arenas. The possibilities are near endless. And to me at least, hilarious.

Yoda will always be my favorite character in the Star Wars Saga. But outside of it, it’s Jar Jar Binks I’d rather see time and again.

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