It’s difficult to imagine a more universally loathed fictional character than Jar Jar Binks. For most Star Wars fans, Jar Jar—unfunny comic relief in The Phantom Menace and occasional irritant in its two sequels—embodies everything that’s awful about George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. Anyone attempting to re-evaluate those films must first account for the very presence of this computer-generated caricature.
Now, some are doing just that, thanks to an unusually bonkers new theory—a theory that ultimately says more about Star Wars fandom than it does about Star Wars itself. Over the weekend, Reddit user Lumpawarroo posted a lengthy essay arguing that Jar Jar, “far from being simply the bumbling idiot he portrays himself as, is in fact a highly skilled force user in terms of martial ability and mind control.” Amply illustrating these claims with narrative examples and visual evidence, Lumpawarroo eventually asserts that Jar Jar was a devious Sith Lord all along. And not just any Sith Lord: He may well be, Lumpawarroo suggests, “the most powerful person in the galaxy.”
Acceding to this theory entails accepting that a great deal of careful planning went into the much-derided Phantom Menace. According to Lumpawarroo, George Lucas originally intended to reveal Darth Jar Jar’s true nature in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. To this end, he supposedly incorporated an array of miniscule hints indicating that Jar Jar’s incompetence was a mere charade: He waves his hands like a Jedi when trying to persuade other characters and dodges blaster shots he couldn’t possibly see coming, for example But when the character became the symbol of all that was wrong with that first prequel, Lucas “chickened out. The fan reaction to Jar Jar was so vitriolic that this aspect of the trilogy was abandoned.” He subsequently inserted evil Count Dooku in the place that he had intended Jar Jar to fill, giving us “a flat, shoehorned-in character with no backstory.”
Many Reddit users received Lumpawarroo’s theory with almost rapturous enthusiasm. Ideas of this kind have been circulating for years, most often in the form of parody. If Lumpawarroo’s take seems unusually sticky, it’s partially because of its perversely redemptive qualities. The Jar Jar we know represents a crass attempt to appeal to children, and in the process he reminds us that Lucas’ ideal audience has always been a juvenile one. Making him evil lets us believe that the films were mature all along, about and for the grown-ups we’ve become.
Of course, even if Lumpawarroo’s theory were true, the plot it proposes would be a silly one, poorly handled from the start. It’s laughable to suggest that any reveal of a Darth Jar Jar twist could have been met with applause rather than derision. Perhaps the theory also seems credible, then, because it fits with our collective impression of George Lucas as a borderline incompetent doofus who never truly understood what made his series great. Given that this impression was fed by the prequel trilogy in the first place (though we probably should have known from the start), “fixing” Jar Jar by making him evil simultaneously squares with our sense of Lucas as a screw-up and promises to undo the things that let us see him that way.
But to propose that Jar Jar was an evil genius, one has to accept that Lucas himself was a genius as well. Lumpawarroo portrays the director as a master manipulator, subtly planting almost unnoticeable details into battle scenes and dialogue sequences alike. In his auteurish ingenuity, he somehow managed to do so without letting the armies of animators and designers who worked on the films realize what he was up to. If you believe this narrative, Lucas was far subtler, and far more devious, than anyone realized, even as he remained almost comically clumsy. Lumpawarroo thereby leaves us with Schrödinger’s Lucas, a creature suspended in creative superposition, simultaneously brilliant and foolish.
But in reality, George Lucas has always been a good-natured idiot who stumbled into something larger than himself, screwing it up along the way but still getting to join in the celebration when it’s all over. This is, of course, also the role that Jar Jar plays throughout the prequel trilogy.
Ultimately, the Darth Jar Jar theory tells a story about fan desire. Almost accidentally, Lumpawarroo touches on this very point, writing, “If you are able to somehow change the nature of Jar Jar from embarrassing idiot to jaw-dropping villain, suddenly the entire prequel trilogy must be seen in a new light.” Appropriately, it’s “you”—you the viewer, you the fan—who has to make the change here. We embrace theories like Lumpawarroo’s because we love Star Wars, and because we want it to be good. But of course it has always been the fans that have made Star Wars great, perfecting it with their devotion.