25 years after The Phantom Menace, it's time for Jar Jar Binks's redemption

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

25 years ago, The Phantom Menace hit cinema screens – and Star Wars has never been the same since. Everyone knows the prequels weren't so well received back when they were originally released, but if there was one thing that acted as a lightning rod of sorts for prequel hate, it was Jar Jar Binks. 

In fact, Jar Jar was so heavily criticized that, for a while, he was considered the most hated character in Star Wars. His odd way of speaking, tendency to mess things up, and frequent jokes were decidedly not a hit with the masses or with critics. Ahmed Best, the actor who brought Jar Jar to life, has been very open about the horrific toll the backlash had on him personally. 

All these years later, though, the prequel renaissance is in full swing now that the generation of kids who adored the movies in the '90s and noughties are all grown up. Hayden Christensen has made a triumphant return as Anakin Skywalker twice now (in Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka), and he was the recipient of the warmest of welcomes at last year's Star Wars Celebration. Other recent Star Wars projects like The Mandalorian, Tales of the Jedi/Tales of the Empire, Andor, and the upcoming The Acolyte incorporate settings, characters, or themes from the prequels. They're back in a big way. 

One character who hasn't had his long-awaited redemption, though, is Jar Jar Binks himself. Best has returned as Kelleran Beq, the Jedi who was revealed to have rescued baby Grogu in The Mandalorian season 3, but Jar Jar hasn't been seen in the mainline saga for quite some time. 

Jar Jar is the key

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Personally, I've always loved Jar Jar Binks. I was just two years old when The Phantom Menace originally released, and some of my earliest memories are of becoming obsessed with the Gungan: I even had my own collection of Jar Jar merch. Every time I've rewatched the movies as an adult, I've remained convinced that Jar Jar is just plain fun to have around – his antics never fail to make me smile, even all these years later. 

Not to mention the fact that Jar Jar might, actually, be the most important character in galactic history: he's the character who grants Chancellor Palpatine emergency powers, and we know how that turned out. Then there's the fan theory that he's secretly a Sith Lord, which is going to (sort of) become part of Star Wars canon this year with Lego Star Wars: Rebuild the Galaxy. Even better, Best is returning to voice the character. If we're not going to see Jar Jar back in the main Star Wars universe, at least we're getting some silly, multiverse-style fun instead. 

It's not just within Star Wars that Jar Jar is important, either. As Best himself pointed out, Jar Jar is a vital piece of film history in his own right thanks to the CGI wizardry that brought the Gungan to the screen. "You can't have Gollum without Jar Jar," he told The New York Times. "You can't have the Na'vi in Avatar without Jar Jar. You can't have Thanos or the Hulk without Jar Jar. I was the signal for the rest of this art form, and I'm proud of Jar Jar for that, and I'm proud to be a part of that. I'm in there!"

This month, The Phantom Menace – by far the movie that's heaviest on the Jar Jar – got a theatrical re-release to celebrate its 25th anniversary, which ended up being yet more proof that the prequels have become essential, beloved chapters in Star Wars history. The re-release was a box office hit, earning over $15 million worldwide. It even did better than last year's Return of the Jedi re-release, becoming the second most successful re-release in the last 10 years (only behind Avatar). How's that for the tables turning? Clearly, Jar Jar isn't putting anyone off. 

Long ago, George Lucas himself said: "Jar Jar is the key to all of this." I'm inclined to agree with him. The redemption of Jar Jar Binks is upon us: it's time for him to finally return to the Star Wars saga, where he has always belonged. 

Keep up to date with the galaxy far, far away with our guide to all the upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows.

Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.