I was a Jar Jar jackass

How a "Star Wars" fan took aim at a despised Gungan and discovered the power of grass-roots Net campaigning.

Published June 8, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

I didn't realize quite how much Jar Jar Binks of "Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace" is reviled until someone calling themselves JarJarSux sent me a link to his site.

"Jar Jar Binks is Gay!" read a diatribe he had posted there, calling for the alien sidekick's immediate execution. "This particular character stays a little too close to Obi-Wan and company, and who else but the gay male community would wear that sleeveless leather vest? Ever wonder what he does with that tongue of his? Kinky stuff, I bet!"

Bink-ists aren't the most tolerant folk, but their well-publicized cause against the digital creature (who was inserted into frames with less animated humans like Natalie Portman) is an impressive model of people mobilizing on the Net and making themselves heard. It's also a frightening example of a cyber mob mentality gone awry.

I speak from experience. Since launching my Delete Jar Jar! campaign online a few weeks before the release of "Phantom," (I have a good excuse, please bear with me), I've seen the sarcastic rumblings of fans and critics build like a Tattoine sandstorm into a relentless gale of vitriol against the bumbling, Jamaican-flavored "Gungan."

Servile and cowardly, he strikes many as not just a cheap marketing ploy, but a black minstrel-ish stereotype on par with Stepin Fetchit. Perhaps the absolute creative freedom director George Lucas enjoyed while dreaming up the flick's "comic" relief -- with no studio execs and not many an independently minded actor involved -- is a path to the dark side: Lucas also included an alien Shylock slave owner and two villains redolent of Asian "Charlie Chan" thugs in his CGI animated lineup.

Steeped in the sort of adolescent humor that prefers violence to subtlety, hundreds of sites have sprung up demanding Gungan blood. And they won't merely settle for his death -- they want him raped by Sandpeople, dismembered with a light saber and strangled Darth Vader style.

Not that I deserve to take the high road here, but I never invested that much emotion in Binks. "Delete Jar Jar!" was but a prank to piss off some "Star Wars" freaks. Honest. In fact, it was something of a let-down to learn that many of them were thinking along similar -- if more extreme -- lines.

My comparatively humane proposal was to simply edit the prancing homunculus out of the film and release a new version, the cinematic equivalent of what the software industry calls a "patch" for fixing bugs in a program. I soberly explained on the site that since well over half the movie is digital anyway, "Menace 2.0," sans-Binks, could be created in a matter of months or even weeks and rereleased for an even greater box office windfall.

The week "Menace" opened, I received around 2,000 hits and over 200 messages of both support and condemnation. This is nothing compared to the roughly 50,000 hits, 13,000 posts, major media attention and ad banner deals that 23-year-old comic store clerk Jeremy Mueller garnered in the same period for his JarJarMustDie -- but it was exhilarating all the same.

I now understand how the Internet perpetuates even the most banal of movements; the ego boost of immediate feedback. Having my efforts acknowledged with an e-mail as simple as one that read, "Jar Jar? My ass!" made my day. Even better were the irate notes I had hoped to attract in the first place. At least half of my responses were along the lines of this (one big sic in advance):

From: Schnarfr
Subject: Nerd
perhaps you are the most wrong person I have ever seen. Jar Jar although repetitive is histerical and amazing ... are you some kind of mental reject or something that you have it in for star wars that bad you reallly are a nerd nerd nerd and ill say it a gain really big dumb profanity nerd.
thanx for your time
you dumb NERD

If nothing else, at least the pro-Gungan faction has passion.

Interaction with other anti-Jar Jar site owners egged me on further. I conspired boycotts with them, attempted to form a "Jar Jar Stinks!" Web-ring and gave theological advice to a youth starting a new religion based around Jar Jar ("I've converted to Jarism. Have YOU?"). A representative of a Detroit rapper named Stormtroopa asked me to link to his boss MP3 tune, "Jar Jar Binks Must Die!" I was even planning to make good on my phony online promise to forward e-mail to Lucasfilm.

What had been fun mischief was quickly becoming reduced to earnest zeal on my part. Fortunately, I regained a sense of perspective after reading a note from a Binks hater going by the handle of Solrac1970. He described a video he was making with life-size cut-outs and assault weapons to depict the murder "in a most foul way" of Jar Jar. More than one visitor to my Delete Jar Jar! site had told me to "get a life," and after seeing how Jar Jar Sux and Solrac1970 were turning out, now seemed like the time to follow that advice.

I'm through with Bink-ism, though I believe there's a strong chance the community will prevail in eradicating the dreaded character from the "Star Wars" series. After all, it's not like Jar Jar is under contract. Rumor has it that the script for "Episode Two" won't be finalized until September, leaving a whole summer of bitching to change Lucas' mind. The director is said to be hurt by the racist accusations, and his spokespeople are sounding a little defensive. One Lucasfilm representative defended Jar Jar by huffing that "Star Wars" is only a "fantasy movie" and to deconstruct it is "absurd."

But the Internet's power to rally like-minded individuals is not absurd -- it should be respected and feared, especially by entertainment companies like Lucasfilm that heavily market their products through the medium. You give an audience interactivity and it will interact. Hollywood received a lesson in the new rules of the game last week when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans, miffed after the season finale of their favorite show was pulled, posted a digitized version of the episode online for downloading. The otherwise Net-friendly WB network, which runs the show, has been unable to stop the bootlegs.

There's no telling what the greater number of Wars-heads could pull off if they set their obsessive imaginations to it; their kvetching alone has already caused a media sensation. Whether it reshapes the course of a billion-dollar entertainment enterprise or not, the Jar Jar resistance front heralds a future in which Internet crusades affect change. And maybe then, Internet campaigners will fight for an issue dedicated to something a little more substantial than a soulless string of computer code from the planet Naboo.

By Steve Wilson

Steve Wilson is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn.

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