In 'William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace,' Jar Jar Binks Plays the Fool

Apr 10, 2015
Originally published on April 10, 2015 6:30 pm

Jar Jar Binks is one of the most reviled Star Wars characters. But in the hands of Ian Doescher, author of William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First, Jar Jar Binks is a savvy political operative who only plays the fool. His goal is to establish peace between his people, the Gungans and humans.

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Fans of "Star Wars" often prefer not to remember this guy.


AHMED BEST: (As Jar Jar Binks) Mesa Jar Jar Binks.

CORNISH: Jar Jar Binks - he's the long-eared, bumbling, comic relief character from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." He may be the most reviled character in George Lucas's "Star Wars" universe.


But in the hands of Ian Doescher, Jar Jar's character becomes less - shall we say - jarring. Doescher is the author of a series of books that translates "Star Wars" into Shakespearean verse.

CORNISH: Yep, this is a thing, and people love it. Doescher has already published four books, including "The Empire Striketh Back" and "The Jedi Doth Return."

BLOCK: When he sat down to write his latest adaptation, "William Shakespeare's The Phantom Of Menace," he knew he had to do something different with the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks.

IAN DOESCHER: Because I had people saying to me why don't you just kill him off in the first scene and get rid of him entirely?


BEST: (As Jar Jar Binks) How rude.

DOESCHER: I couldn't do that because there's an expectation from Lucasfilm and from people reading these books that were actually telling the stories that are told in the movies.

CORNISH: Lucasfilm doesn't mess around. They own the rights after all, but Doescher says in his version, there's still plenty of the dumb Jar Jar Binks that fans love to hate. But he's given the character secret motivations worthy of the bard himself.

DOESCHER: Shakespeare is known for having these characters who sort of present themselves one way to other characters, but then are presenting themselves totally differently to the audience.

BLOCK: By having Jar Jar address the audience, Ian Doescher gives him new death. Maybe Doescher can convince you himself. Here he is reading an excerpt from "The Phantom Of Menace," where Jar Jar explains to the audience his plan to play the fool.

DOESCHER: (Reading) I shall make introduction in my way, portray the part that I have learned so well. It doth befit the human prejudice to think we Gungans simple, low and rude. I shall approach him thusly. It shall bend him to the path that shall assist us all. Put on thy simple wits now, Jar Jar Binks; thus play the role of clown to stoke his pride.


BEST: (As Jar Jar Binks) Mesa called Jar Jar Binks. Mesa your humble servant.

LIAM NEESON: (Qui-Gon Jinn) That won't be necessary.

BEST: (As Jar Jar Binks) Oh, but it is.

CORNISH: Doescher says in his version, Jar Jar has one ultimate goal - bringing peace between the humans of Naboo and his species, the Gungans.

BLOCK: It may be a stretch to imagine Jar Jar the fool as Jar Jar the strategic-minded operative. But Doescher says fans have been open to his interpretations so far.

DOESCHER: They like the fact that I'm bringing new life to their favorite characters. You know, where they're getting to read things about how the characters are feeling and thinking that maybe, you know, wasn't included in the movies. And so it's something where they liked the way that I've explained more about what that character's doing in that moment.

CORNISH: Now that he's reinvented their most hated character...

BLOCK: Yousa might like Jar Jar Binks.


CORNISH: If you want to weigh in on your love-hate or hate-hate relationship with Jar Jar Binks, Shakespeare or anything else you heard on our show, join the conversation online. You can chat with me on Twitter. The handle is @nprAudie.

BLOCK: I'm @nprmelissablock, and you can follow the program @npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.