The Phantom Menace, has been around long enough now for most people to know the plot and the characters, and how this film was the emergence of the Sith and the beginning of the end of the Jedi’s way of life. I don’t want to talk about that, I want to address two characters in this film who I think deserve a little bit more credit. This might sound a little bit controversial to most, but I really love The Phantom Menace; I don’t hate Jar Jar Binks, and the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker as a precocious child does make a lot of sense.
Jar Jar Binks is an outcast from his own society, because he is clumsy. Now admittedly he is extremely clumsy, and for the vast majority of the film he is in the way, a danger to others and just generally a nuisance. Even Qui-Gon Jinn at first finds him an annoyance because Jar Jar Bink’s natural response to a dangerous situation isn’t fight or flight, it is freeze. Obi-Wan’s reaction as to why he has been banished though is disbelief that a society would banish someone for being clumsy, even if it is in the extreme. This belief was so ingrained in Jar Jar that he justifies to the Jedi that his people were right to make that decision, perhaps even to the extent that he can’t belief that he can be a better person.
His character arc in the film is more interesting than what most people would imagine, because he is an outcast that does find acceptance, because a few people did believe in him, and gave him the benefit of the doubt, and without him the conclusion of the film wouldn’t have been possible. The filmmakers could have made the conclusion work without Jar Jar Binks being there, and links between the peoples of Naboo could have been made on scanty rumours the Queen had known about her planet anyway, and using technology or the force to find Gungan army. That wasn’t the decision made; they made that connection via a character.
A lot of the criticism of Jar Jar Binks was that he was solely there to make the films appeal to children. So what? Based on his character’s plot in the film, he is a fantastic role model, because it teaches children that no matter how awkward and out of place you feel, how rejected you feel by your society for being who you are, you can still be important. It is perhaps a shame that the only way Jar Jar Binks can be important is because others make him so, and he doesn’t learn self-reliance. Maybe that is a message for adults, that is you do teach your children that they are hopeless that they will eventually learn to believe it so much that they can’t think differently and won’t ever try to help themselves, which is a tragedy.
Looking at Jar Jar Binks from this perspective helps to make sense of Anakin’s character, because in a way while being the opposite he is rejected as well, but because he is a child it is a decision that is made over his head. Fine, he is a bit precocious, and that is perfectly normal; being precocious is not the same as being arrogant even though it does have that connotation. That judgement is made by people who are intimidated and insecure in themselves. People who are threatened by a ‘mere’ child being better than them. It isn’t just adults who are capable of being intelligent, talented and mature; and quite frankly it is about time that people should stop being surprised that children are capable of these things and separated out as weird and abnormal when they do display these traits.
Anakin was raised by his mother to be a good person; he was raised on inhospitable planet controlled by gangsters; and he grew up as a slave, devoid of freedom. Of course he is going to be more streetwise than most, of course he is going to be sensible when it comes to sand storms, of course he is going to help those that he has recognised as good people. He has gifts with the force that make him talented and special; just because he is a child with a voice described as whiny, simply because it hasn’t broken yet doesn’t mean the film as a whole is deemed lesser because of him.
Anakin is the embodiment of most children’s dreams: to be taken seriously by adults and not criticised because if they show a little intelligence, a little bit of maturity and more courage than most to help. That shouldn’t be discouraged in children. Their talents should be recognised and praised, but also explained to them in detail rather than just dismissed off hand when rejected. It should be explained in full to Anakin why the Council feels it is wise to reject Qui-Gon’s proposal to train him.
Anakin uses logic to explain why he is staying in the cockpit of the fighter; why didn’t the Council argue the finer points of why being too old to train in the ways of the Jedi is dangerous. In truth when you’re familiar enough with the Star Wars Universe, you understand why emotional attachment is not a good idea; he grew up loving his mother and fearing losing her. It’s not properly explained to him that being a Jedi isn’t like being like everyone else. I know that because I’m a sci-fi geek who has been watching Star Wars for as long as I can remember. Anakin doesn’t necessarily understand that, which is possibly why we end up with Darth Vader in the end, because while Yoda does explain the path to the dark side, he doesn’t explain how good feelings like love and affection can be the starting point on that journey.