The Disney franchise Star Wars looked a lot different 45 years ago when the first film in the goliath series was released. First of all, the film had no connection to Disney at all, with this acquisition coming decades later when the fame of Star Wars had bloated to the size of Jabba the Hutt’s glutinous belly, and the critical reception toward the George Lucas-created franchise had gone through a bit of turbulence.
Whilst the original trilogy of the late 1970s and 1980s is beloved, the prequel series, released from 1999-2005, didn’t get the same amount of resounding praise. With the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace kicking off one of the most disappointing trilogies of all time, even the most ardent of Star Wars found it hard to deny that the franchise had lost its way.
Ditching the wild adventures of the original trilogy of films and the intelligently crafted human characters, Lucas indulged in stupid CGI worlds and characters for The Phantom Menace, bringing the infamous merchandise whore Jar Jar Binks to the big screen. Indeed, even more than the strange storyline concerned with taxation and trade disputes, the scapegoat of the disappointing movie was a brand new floppy-eared, waistcoat-wearing fool.
A clumsy Gungan creature exiled from his home and taken under the wing of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Jar-Jar Binks is in the film to provide some comedic relief, doing very little else to improve the story.
Criticism against the character was vocal, with director George Lucas hearing the reception loud and clear. He discussed the impact of the character with actor Robin Williams shortly after the release of the film in 1999, with the actor, who is unrelated to the sci-fi franchise, stating: “It was amazing to see the people’s response to it. It’s a totally creative creature interrelating with humans. Seamless”.
In response, however, Lucas didn’t look at the character quite as favourably, explaining: “It’s funny, I mean the fans hated it, but the fans hated Jar Jar before the movie even came out, before they even knew what he was”.
Williams questioned this before Lucas dived back in to clarify his response. “They don’t like comic sidekicks,” the director stated, adding, “They just can’t take it, you know, in the first film nobody liked C-3PO, they couldn’t stand him. It was like the most repulsive character ever created on film. Then when we did Empire [Strikes Back], nobody liked Yoda, ‘you can’t understand what he’s saying, he talks backwards’, then in the third one, they hated the Ewoks. They just couldn’t stand them, they were too cute, too fuzzy”.
Lucas concludes his thoughts by explaining, “it’s sort of inevitable that the smallest, goofiest character just gets despised”.
The rest of their conversation is dominated by Williams, which is no bad thing, as he and the director discuss how different the film could’ve been with a few accent changes. Performing an impression of Darth Vader as a Scotsman, the two Hollywood icons spend five minutes discussing the highs and lows of the franchise in a highly enjoyable discussion.