Although there have been many divisive moments in the ever-expanding Star Wars canon, The Phantom Menace is arguably the most hated effort and the one that has invited the most vitriol from fans and critics alike. The first of creator George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, it was the first time the space opera had returned to the silver screen since the book closed on the original set of films with 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
Understandably, then, fans were expecting big things. However, to say that many were dissatisfied would be an understatement. Whilst there were great things about the film, such as Ewan McGregor in his first turn as Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi and Liam Neeson as his wise master Qui-Gon Jinn, the deadly Sith Lord Darth Maul, and the introduction of one of the series’s most pivotal characters, Padmé Amidala, played by Natalie Portman, fans were still irked.
For every one of these esteemed features was an aspect that fans weren’t happy with. While most of these criticisms were centred around the claim that the film was a glaring example of style over substance, there was one thing that the majority of people were in agreement about: the character of Jar Jar Binks.
Although children enjoyed the character, who was quite evidently included as a form of comic relief, the most sceptical members of the Star Wars fandom were quick to denounce the airheaded Gungan as just another example of studios cashing in. Original fans of the franchise saw Jar Jar Binks as toyetic, where Lucas and/or the studio had seized on a merchandising opportunity. Added to the outrage was the fact that Binks was not at all funny, despite the character’s kind-hearted nature.
When sitting down with Jim Norton and Sam Roberts on SiriusXM this week, Simon Pegg, who has appeared in both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, discussed how the fanbase of the George Lucas series is far more “toxic” than that of Star Trek.
To illustrate his point, Pegg used the negative reaction to Jar Jar Binks as an example and even went as far as to say that he was part of the problem as his hit TV comedy Spaced also mocked the character and The Phantom Menace. To put it into perspective, Binks became so hated that because of the abuse he had received, the actor who played the character, Ahmed Best, revealed in 2018 that he had considered suicide.
“I’ve apologised for the things I’ve said about Jar Jar Binks because of course there was a fucking actor involved and he was getting a lot of flack,” said Pegg. “It was a human being and because it got a lot of hay, he suffered and I feel terrible about being part of that.”
This has made us revisit the best scene in which Spaced ridiculed The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks, which, if anything, is more of a parody of the overly serious Star Wars fanbase and not so much a stinging critique of Jar Jar Binks. This comes in the early stages of episode two of Spaced‘s second series, which follows on from the opening episode where Tim, Pegg’s character’s issues with George Lucas and The Phantom Menace are so severe that he ceremonially burns his merchandise.
At the opening of the second episode, we find Tim having a dispute with a young customer at the comic book shop he works in over Jar Jar Binks. The scene opens with a close-up shot of Tim’s face as he says passionately to the innocent Phantom Menace fan: “You are so blind! You so do not understand. You weren’t there at the beginning. You don’t know how good it was, how important. This is it for you, this jumped-up firework display of a toy advert. People like you make me sick, what’s wrong with you? Now I don’t care if you saved up all your 50p’s, OK, take your pocket money and get out!”
What ensues is the young fan running out of the shop crying and Tim being called into the office by his boss, Bilbo. Tim pleads with him that the damage The Phantom Menace did “still hurts” and “that kid brought in a Jar Jar doll”.
However, Bilbo then disputes this, telling him that kids like Jar Jar, and says that the Ewok from the original trilogy were the same thing, “They were rubbish, you don’t complain about them.” Missing the point, Tim maintains, “Yeah but Jar Jar Binks makes the Ewok’s look like fucking Shaft!”
He is swiftly fired, kicking off the events of the second series. Watch the hilarious clip below.