I recently saw a video where George Lucas admitted that the character of Jar Jar Binks was inspired by the Disney character Goofy. And he’s very proud of the Jar Jar character, stating that it is his favorite character in the entire franchise.
However, after recently starting to revisit the prequels, I found myself frustratingly stopped dead when the character of Jar Jar appears. After hearing Lucas talk about the Goofy inspiration, I began to get a sense of what went wrong. It has to do with archetypes.
The reason the IV, V, and VI were so popular is that, according to Lucas, the story is based on a distillation of mythologies from throughout history. Mythological themes, developed over millennia, are potent distillations themselves of what it means to be human. The archetypes found within them speak to us on a level beyond our individual lives and when presented correctly, are automatically and deeply engaging because all these characters live within our individual psyches.
The main characters in the first three movies were archetypal figures, so it would follow that, in order to fit into the contextual realm that Lucas created, the Jar Jar character would also need to be an archetypal expression. He would need to be an expression of something larger than a simple narrative element, otherwise he doesn’t have the necessary gravity to be a player on the Star Wars stage.
And in my analysis, this is where Lucas got it wrong. The two closest archetypes for Goofy are the Fool and the Jester. In an archetypal context, the Fool is either a) just a fool and dies because of it or b) is the vessel for a larger wisdom that the other characters cannot see. Similarly, the Jester is often the only character who can speak the truth which is why the King keeps him around. The Jester and the Fool are essentially the same as long as the character is the vessel for some kind of wisdom.
We know from the movie that Jar Jar is not a vessel of wisdom. I’m not saying that Goofy can’t be an entertaining character, only that as a cartoon character, he doesn’t have an archetypal weight to fit into the story as it was set up in IV,V and VI. In high level story telling, each character is part of the greater wisdom of the story. Otherwise, why tell the story? (This seems to be a point that is utterly lost on, or ignored by, much of Hollywood today.)
One thing that Goofy does do well is entertain children. And perhaps this is the role that Lucas intended for him. The problem is that the story of Jedi knights is a story for teenage boys. It is a story about the trials and realities of life. It is a teaching story about fathers and sons and becoming a man. That’s what myths are: larger stories about life itself. By trying to entertain children at the same time, the story becomes diluted. It’s like trying to give a teddy bear to a teenager. It’s just not of interest and will incite disdain.
What’s done is done, but I was interested to hear Lucas reveal the source of the Jar Jar character. And I think it’s clear Lucas lost sight of the archetypal context of his own story with Jar Jar. Lucas did have the input of Joseph Campbell for the first three movies to help him fine tune the narrative. Without that, he fell back on the method of mashing cinematic source material together – which wasn’t nearly as powerful of a resource as mythology.