One of the oldest techniques in building a cast of characters is using the clown as an important functionary in the framework of the story. One common misunderstanding with Star Wars audience members is the importance of the clown. For every given story, the function of the clown will be slightly different. In the case of the Star Wars movies, the function of clown is very specific. Besides comic relief, the clown is intended to be an unwitting catalyst that brings two unrelated groups of characters together in a unified effort entirely by accident.
Jar Jar Binks is perhaps the least understood of all of the Star Wars characters. He is essential to the plot of Episode I because C-3PO is unable at that time to play a central role in the movie’s plot because he is stuck at Anakin’s house for larger reasons that I may or may not undertake later. Anyhow, we have in Jar Jar, a character who is incapable of seeing beyond the nose on his face. He is a counter point to Qui Gon who is deeply aware of “the living force” and therefore all that is going on immediately around him. Yet, despite Jar Jar’s clueless state of mind, he is able to connect the queen of Naboo and the chief of his more primitive society with each other. This creates not only a victory for our characters, but also a symbiosis between the two intelligent species on the planet of Naboo.
He is also the unwitting catalyst that leads to the Chancellor’s grasping of unmitigated military power in Episode II. While the immediate consequences of this appear to be positive for our characters as it allows them to be saved from death at the hands of Count Dooku and his droid armies, it is actually disastrous for the Jedi Order and the Republic. It is the first step away from democracy and towards Imperial rule. And yet, without the function of the clown the ultimate purpose of our six part saga–the balancing of the force–could not take place. Therefore, Jar Jar is ultimately a pivot point for the destruction of the Empire.
Despite the uneasiness that some feel towards Jar Jar as being a legitimate Star Wars character, he in fact fits very nicely into the function of the clown as originally presented by Lucas in the original trilogy. As may be suspected, the clown in that part of the series is C-3PO. The first time the function of the clown is presented in the original films is at the very beginning of Episode IV (the one you all may know as Star Wars). If you will remember, 3PO is the unwitting character responsible for putting together Obi Wan and Luke by encouraging Luke to choose R2 instead of some other droid. Without knowing it, 3PO starts the entire action of Luke’s adventure rolling by including him in R2′s little quest. The reason R2 doesn’t fit the clown function is that he is not unwitting. He is shrewd and always better informed than anyone else in the story.
3PO also fits the mold of the clown in the case of the Ewoks. It is through his dumb agency that the Rebels on the moon of Endor are put into friendly association with the Ewoks. And it is therefore his agency that creates the entire rebel victory. Because without the Ewoks the sheild would have never come down and without the shield coming down, Lando could have never blown the main reactor and the second Death Star would have stayed in tact, leading to only a victory over the Emporer not his network of officers. So, you can see that the character of Jar Jar fits in quite nicely with the archetypes of the entire saga.
S. Aaron Hall a.k.a. MovieMan is a writer with interests in film theory with a special interest in the Star Wars saga. For more on the Star Wars Archetypes read my Movie Blog.