Rogue One is a pretty decent movie. It’s got plenty of action, cutting-edge special effects, and nostalgic Star Wars references galore. But the newest entry into Lucasfilm’s revered franchise left out the one crucial element that, above all else, would have made it an all-time great piece of cinema: Jar Jar Binks.
George Lucas’s first prequel could have never lived up to expectations with which it was burdened. After a generation of kids spent a decade and a half imagining further Star Wars adventures, they didn’t want the original visions Lucas had to offer; no, they jonesed more of the thing that they had loved before puberty. So people eventually recoiled at The Phantom Menace after its 1999 release, and poor Jar Jar, the hapless (probably accidentally racist caricature) duck monster took the brunt of the abuse. He was the orange face of Lucas’s (very lucrative) “failures,” and barely showed up in the next two prequels. Even a decade after Revenge of the Sith, people cheered when director J.J. Abrams joked that he wanted to scatter his bones across the desert of Jakku. Assholes on Reddit also joke that Jar Jar is the ultimate Sith Lord. To quote Mr. Binks himself: “Rude!”
Modern obsession with minute details and plot points might suggest otherwise, but at its core, Star Wars is really all about redemption. And given that Rogue One takes place in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, when the Gungan was likely still alive, the new movie would have been the perfect opportunity to give Jar Jar his own shining moment of redemption both with fans and in the narrative of the film series itself.
Spoiler alert from here on down.
Gareth Edwards’s film mostly focuses on new heroes, but it is dotted with important Rebels from previous chapters, including Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and Wedge Antilles. They all play at least a peripheral role in the capture of the Death Star plans, and because new Star Wars movies at this point are required to have a medley of hits, it largely works. Edwards and ILM even digitally exhumed Peter Cushing, the actor who played Tarkin and has been dead for decades; the VFX wizards used CGI to breath life into his outrageously high cheekbones one more time. So without question, it would have been perfectly fine to work Jar Jar into the film without having it seem wedged in, or even requiring the exercise of morally dodgy rights over a dead actor’s likeness.
With that in mind, there would have been several opportunities to believably and justifiably work Jar Jar into the story. In the later prequels, he becomes a senator from Naboo, and is eventually manipulated into proposing that Chancellor Palpatine be given emergency powers over the Galactic Senate. Sure, ol’ turtle face Darth Sidious probably would have seized control of the levers of power anyway — democratic norms didn’t much concern him but Jar Jar is still technically responsible for the bureaucratic rise of the Empire.
The easiest way to fit Jar Jar into the film would have been to have him present at the Rebel base on Yavin 4. He attended Senator Amidala’s funeral at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and his big Gungan heart is clearly with the good guys. Logically and logistically, there is absolutely no reason why Jar Jar couldn’t have been at the table of Rebellion leaders who deliberate over authorizing the guerilla attacks proposed by Jyn and company. The Rebel Alliance first shoots down their pitch — that’s where the name Rogue One originates — but having Jar Jar there to argue passionately for their cause anyway would have gone a long way towards showing that he has evolved from patsy to bold badass.
But there were opportunities to make him even more heroic. Nearly the entire third act of the film takes place on Scarif, a planet that is absolutely covered in water. Jyn and friends sneak into the Imperial base there, looking for the Death Star plans, and eventually, the Rebels swoop in to give them some much-needed backup. There is a Saving Private Ryan-in-a-Pacific-paradise to vibe to the battle scenes, with Rebel soldiers storming beaches and facing down stormtroopers and other Imperial weapons. But beyond soldiers wading through the crystal waters, there is no real amphibious element to the fight, which was a real missed opportunity — both to add a new dimension to the combat, and to work in more Jar Jar heroics.
Sure, he wasn’t the best fighter in The Phantom Menace, and that brought him great shame beneath the oceans of Naboo. But Jar Jar grew up over the years, and became a leader of his people. What’s to say that he did not also become more skilled in both hand-to-hand combat and larger military tactics? Surely there was room for a scene in which Jar Jar leads a crew of Gungan warriors up from beneath the waves, arriving to take down a few plodding AT-ATs and giving cover to the outnumbered Rebels? Just imagine that shrieking “waaahhoooo!” echoing across the blood-drenched coastline, announcing the rise of a new front in the fight for freedom … and now don’t try to pretend that you’re standing up and applauding right this very moment.
The ultimate redemption for Jar Jar, though, would have come at the very end of the movie. The characters in Rogue One were largely expendable, because they didn’t fit into the original trilogy, and their fates reflected that. But even though that’s one of the better aspects of the movie, the death of so many heroes does not sit well with many fans, now accustomed to continuing adventures with big screen protagonists. And Jar Jar could have been instrumental in making these fans happy.
The Death Star eventually opens fire on Scarif, and for the first time, we get a visceral appreciation for the destruction it causes. Its laser is the Star Wars equivalent to an ultra-powered nuclear warhead, and a mushroom cloud begins to spread across the doomed planet. Jyn and Cassian Andor, our two victories heroes, embrace on a beach, resigned to their fate as the waves splash up against them. It’s a poignant moment, for sure, and seeing two selfless Rebels accept martyrdom is moving. The only way to make it better? Having Jar Jar suddenly pop up from beneath the ocean and pulling them into his submarine, before diving back beneath the rising tide. They get credit for being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but still get to live on — and Jar Jar gets the glory.
Rogue One went through significant rewrites and reshoots, and clearly Disney thought that Tony Gilroy’s late-stage work made the movie much better. But had he had the wherewithal and guts to pitch a significant role for Jar Jar Binks, Gilroy himself would have been the ultimate Star Wars hero. Unfortunately, poor Jar Jar is still relegated to third class status, and is likely to stay that way until probably a decade from now, when Lucasfilm and Disney realize theyve exploited every other aspect of the franchise’s past, and tap the Gungan for his deserved day in the sun.