What we can learn from the many deaths of Jar Jar Binks

NOTE: This post contains videos that feature Jar Jar getting parts of his body ripped off, and depictions of blood.

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ comes out in 17 days, and ends a storyline that’s been going for over 40 years. While much of that story has been embraced by fans of the saga, there are a few elements that most would like to forget, like Ewoks, the holiday special (if you value your sanity, don’t click that link) and Jar Jar Binks, infamous comic relief (and possible Sith lord). With the advent of computer editing, some fans take it upon themselves to rid the galaxy of the infamous gungan; one such video is ‘Han Solo VS Jar Jar Binks’ by Darren Wallace on Youtube:

For many fans out there, this is the catharsis they’ve dreamed of since 1999 (doesn’t hurt that the CGI is impressive, and the rotoscoping on Harrison Ford is top-notch), but at the risk of incurring the wrath of the Star Wars Fandom, I think this video is a good example of how not to kill off an annoying character. Yes, Jar Jar is smashed into paste, thus fulfilling the dreams of millions, but in the process, Han Solo is turned into a cold-blooded murderer.

Consider what happens: Jar Jar lands on the Millenium Falcon while searching for Anakin, briefly struggles with Han (who attacks him first) before having an ear ripped off, and is then thrown into the void of space before being smashed into bloody paste on the Falcon’s windshield. He’s not attacking Han, he’s not trying to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t dance, goof around, or do any of his usual antics; heck, he even surrenders before being killed! Your mileage may vary on how annoying Jar Jar was in ‘The Phantom Menace,’ (personally, I don’t find him annoying), but in this situation, Jar Jar doesn’t do anything to merit such a painful death. It feels heartless and senselessly cruel, like Zara’s death in ‘Jurassic World’

For the crime of being annoyed at having to babysit a teenager and her younger brother, Zara is eaten alive and drowns in the lightless void of a mosassaur’s stomach. It’s cruel, ghastly, and grotesque, feeling completely unearned for someone who isn’t the main antagonist. Jar Jar’s death here feels the same way: He may be despised by many in the Star Wars fandom, but does he deserve to have such a cruel death? In my opinion, no.

Now, let’s look at another example of a fan-made Jar Jar demise:

This version, while not as cruel as the first, still features Jar Jar being killed despite not doing anything offensive. However, in this version, his tone of voice at the beginning can be interpreted as being sarcastic, so in this video, he at least antagonizes the main character, making his death feel a little more earned, for who doesn’t like to see bullies and sarcastic thugs get their comeuppance?

Here’s a third death, edited together from a deleted scene from ‘The Phantom Menace’

This one features Jar Jar being smashed to pieces against rocks while doing his best impersonation of the Hamburglar. Here, Jar Jar doesn’t die from the actions of others (who, in their defense, try to save him), but from his own mistakes. Thus, this is a neutral death: He dies by own faults, not from being murdered.

And now, a fourth and final death:

This version of Jar Jar’s death goes for comedy and succeds admirably. Here, Jar Jar irritates Vader to no end, refusing to listen to his orders to leave him alone. It’s easy to imagine ourselves being annoyed by someone who’s as bothersome and pestering as Jar Jar, so it’s easy to side with Vader when Jar Jar is ejected into space… only to come back as an even more-annoying force ghost. Yet, despite Jar Jar being murdered, having it played for laughs and with no long-term consequences makes it easy to accept and fun to watch.

When comparing all four of these deaths, a common thread appears: The ones where the Jar Jar is annoying or antagonizing someone else makes his deaths feel more justified. The ones where he’s not trying to harm or do anything evil make his deaths feel less justified. Therein lies the an important lesson:

If an annoying character is going to be killed off, make their death be earned by being annoying, antagonistic, or playing it for comedy.

While it may be cathartic to see a reviled character bite the dust in a bloody manner, and tempting to write such a demise, doing so risks making those deaths feel sadistic. The most satisfying deaths are the ones that are deserved, not the ones that are cruel.

BONUS DEATH SCENE: Minutes after posting this article, I found out that Jar Jar has actually been blown up in an official Disney cartoon! (he gets better, but good grief, the poor guy just can’t catch a break).

Favorite Moments: Darth Vader vs the Energizer Bunny

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

Aside from the absurdity of the Emperor dispatching a Dark Lord of the Sith to destroy a pink bunny rabbit, this commercial is a great example of fish-out-of-water comedy: in this instance, a big, powerful character who’s normally always in control and feared by everyone suddenly running out of battery power for his lightsaber. Had it took place during one of his lightsaber duels in the films, it would be hilarious to see him scrambling to replace the batteries while avoiding his opponent’s lightsaber, but it’s still funny to see him lose his temper here.

Favorite Moments: What if Anakin Liked Sand?

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

‘What if Anakin Liked Sand?’

Why it’s great

One of my favorite storytelling tropes in fiction is the classic, ‘What if?’, where a an already told story is told again, but with different changes:

*What if the protagonist was evil, and the antagonist good?

*What if the protagonist died before the first act?

*What if the bad guy won?

While comics have been playing with this idea for years, Star Wars has done it only sporadically, with a series of comics that re-imagines the original trilogy with some considerable changes, and an adaptation of George Lucas’ original script. But while all of them are straightforward ‘What if?’ ideas, the video above takes a more comedic approach by playing with what is arguably the goofiest line of dialogue in any Star Wars media:

and turning it into a fairly in-depth discussion about how the Star Wars saga would unfold if Anakin liked… no, loved sand.

What I like about this video is the concept. It’s one thing to do a what-if story based on a serious idea, but rarely do we see one done as a joke around how the most feared Sith Lord in the universe hates sand, and it’s even rarer to see one that’s not only funny (Anakin’s love of sand prevents the Empire from ever coming to power), but somewhat plausible… in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course.

Slow and Focused, Fast and Furious: A Comparison of Two Lightsaber Duels

When fans go see a new film set in the Star Wars saga, they expect to certain elements: spaceships, the Force, Jedi and Sith, space battles, and the inevitable lightsaber duel at the film’s climax. It’s the last that’s perhaps most looked forward to, where the filmmakers to let their creativity shine with excellently choreography, exciting backdrops, and emotional intensity. Yet, it’s easy to forget that the world’s first experience with lightsabers in ‘A New Hope’ was watching a 59 year old space wizard and an asthmatic cyborg poking at each other and doing unnecessary spins on the Death Star. Compared to the duels that came in the prequel and sequel trilogies, the first lightsaber fight in history is charmingly quaint.

But what if the first lightsaber fight of the Star Wars saga was more frantic, chaotic, and dangerous? Thanks to a dedicated fan (fans?), we finally have an answer with ‘Scene 38 Reimagined,’ a remake that uses CGI to allow Obi-Wan and Vader to be faster, more maneuverable, and destructive during their fight.

When I fist learned of the remake back in 2017, I was excited to see how it would turn out, as the trailer showed a fight that seemed to strike an ideal balance between the hard-hitting, rougher duels of the original trilogy, and the flashy (but enjoyable) extravagance of the prequel trilogy. And while the end result is indeed impressive, I noticed that something was missing. Puzzled, I rewatched the video a few times before realizing what it was: the fight’s emotional core.

In the original fight, the focus of the duel is on the emotional state between Obi-Wan and Vader. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other in 20 years. They were once friends and allies who fought to save the Galactic Republic, but are now enemies, and the focus of the fight isn’t on their skills or how powerful their blows are. In fact, most of the fighting is with words: Vader, wanting revenge on Obi-Wan for their duel on Mustafar, tries to crush Obi-Wan’s spirit, proclaiming his power and mastery over the Force. Obi-Wan, however, isn’t moved. He easily brushes off Vader’s taunts and sacrifices himself to help Luke and the others escape.

The reimagined fight, however, takes a different approach. While the verbal spars are still present, a greater focus is placed on the fight itself. And what a fight it is! Lightsabers slice into walls, fires are ignited, punches and headbutts are thrown, the Force is used to hurl both combatants around, and every attack is faster and more powerful than in 1977. It’s a visual treat, and an exciting reimagening of what might have been, had George Lucas possessed the resources to make something dazzling and visceral.

However, there’s a trade-off here: With the cruder lightsaber effects of the time, ‘A New Hope’ had to focus on the emotional aspect of Obi-Wan and Vader fighting. The reimagening’s focus on better, flashier visuals, which, in my opinion, takes the focus away from why the two are fighting. It’s still a fun sequence, but in my opinion, the quieter, more focused fight in the original packs more of an emotional punch. As the sayings go, bigger is not always better, and less is sometimes more: An emotional, intimate focus is what makes the Obi-Wan and Vader fight so compelling, not how they’re great swordfighters.

For writers, the big lesson that comes from comparing the two scenes is that the emotional context behind a fight is more important than the fight itself. All the fanciest moves, the best fight choreography, and the best visual effects money can buy will only get you so far if your audience isn’t invested in what’s going on. Conversely, if your audience is invested in seeing two characters fight each other, you’ll have a much better chance of creating a great fight that will stick with them for years.

Perfect Moments: My favorite Christmas Moment

Because of the Christmas holiday, I’ll be taking a break from posting until January 3rd. But before then, I’d like to share my favorite piece of Christmas related media. It’s not a movie or a TV special, but – of all things – a commercial for Directv.

While Christmas traditions revolve around giving gifts, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and many festivities, the one aspect of the holiday that often gets overlooked is the wish for peace on earth, and goodwill to all.

Imagine a world where there’s no evil or war. A world where everyone – including villans – are at peace with themselves and each other. It’s a dream that only gets more beautiful the older I get… but one that I know will almost certainly never happen. But thanks to this silly commercial, we can have a glimpse of what such a paradise might look like, where Darth Vader, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger, Dracula, The Mummy, Chucky, Hannibal, and the girl from ‘The Ring’ celebrate Christmas with an ordinary family.

Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it goofy? Oh heck yes. There are other movies and stories that are more emotional, more heartwarming, and that inspire us to be grateful for all the wonderful things in our lives, including our loved ones. But this commercial shows us a world where peace, love, and goodwill reign, and everyone – including the most despicable of people – have turned to the light, and that’s why it’s my favorite piece of Christmas media.

Well, that, and seeing this once-in-a-lifetime image:

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(GIF from this page)

May you all have a wonderful and heartwarming holiday season.

Favorite Moments: The TRON Holiday Special

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

No, this isn’t a long-lost relic from the 80’s that should have stayed lost: this Funny or Die video pokes fun at the Star Wars Holiday Special by imagining what might have happened if TRON had a special of its own. The answer? It would have been as terrible/awesome as it’s infamous real-world counterpart.

While my favorite moment is poor Santa being de-rezzed, the whole video is a great example of the Christmas Special trope, and why it’s a near-perfect formula for comedy gold:

1. Take any franchise and give it a Christmas special, no matter how absurd it might be (Can you imagine a Hellraiser Christmas? How about a Waterworld Christmas?).

2. Have your characters save Christmas.

3. Have said characters learn the True Meaning of Christmas (which may or may not involve Jesus, depending on your audience).

If you’re looking for comedy, you really can’t loose with the Christmas Special: the more outlandish and non-family friendly franchises you get, the better the comedy. Imagine how hilarious it would be if Darth Vader had to deliver presents to all the good Stormtroopers on the Death Star and learn that it’s better to give than to receive. Or imagine Gandalf, Frodo, and the Fellowship traveling to Mordor to save Santa after he’s been kidnapped from Sauron. Or contemplate how amusing it would be for the Umbrella Corporation to feel the holiday spirit and work to make everyone’s Christmas a little merrier while simultaneously trying to destroy with with zombies.

No matter what genre your franchise is, injecting some holiday cheer is a great way to make your audience laugh… even if said franchise involves giant, shapeshifting robots from beyond the stars.

What we can learn from ‘The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny’

 

 

 

There’s one question that has dogged mankind since the moment we could walk upright, form languages, and come into contact with other cultures, a question that every nerd, writer, and child asks at one point in their lives: Who would win if __________ and __________ got into a fight?

There’s no denying how cool it is to see two characters from different franchises, eras, and universes fight it out for dominance, survival, and bragging rights. Admit it: When you were a kid, you loved having all your toys fight one another for no other reason than it was fun. I did; granted, most of my toys opponents tended to be dinosaurs, but it was great. But as we grew up, such questions become relegated to fan fictions or our imaginations as we put our toys away.

Then, come 2005, an animation was posted on NewGrounds that changed Internet culture forever.

I don’t remember when I first saw ‘Showdown,’ but it hooked me from my very first viewing. Here it was, a showdown featuring dozens of pop culture characters duking it out for no other reason that it was cool, set to the beats of a disturbingly catchy song. Now, 13 years later, that song is still as catchy as ever, but what’s great is knowing that this song and video were, at one point, the peak of crossovers, long before the Avengers and cinematic shared universes came into our culture outside of comic books. In a way, this is the precursors to all those things, and though it wasn’t the first, it’s one of the most important.

Though short, this song and music video offers some valuable lessons for those of us who want to write our own crossover fights:

If logic is no object, then nothing is off the table in a crossover

How can Shaq take on Godzilla? Where did all the good and bad guys come from when they started fighting in Tokyo? How can an ordinary human deflect bullets with his hand? Such logic isn’t needed to enjoy the sight of so many characters fighting each other: One part of crossovers that makes them so special is how rare and unique they are. Remember how excited everyone was when Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ was first announced and then released? It was a once-in-a-decade event and was so exciting because a movie crossover involving so many characters from different films, all fighting together for the very first time in Hollywood history. While we’ve gotten three more such superteam crossovers (soon to be four), ‘The Avengers’ was so memorable that we were willing to accept any flaws or cliches the film had (ragtag group of different individuals fighting amongst each other – literally – before coming together to fight a common enemy), and ‘Showdown’ is the same. It’s so cool to see all these characters fighting that logic is temporarily thrown out the window.

Consider having a good guy fight to save others even during a free-for-all

In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the video, Optimus Prime rushes in to stop a skyscraper from falling after Godzilla hits it with his tail. Though this moment costs him his head, it speaks volumes about Optimus’ character, in that in the middle of a battle to the death between every fictional character, he stops to try and save innocent lives. Doing a similar act for your own fights is a great way to show that someone really is a hero who puts others ahead of themselves.

Consider the pros and cons of focusing on a small group of main characters in a free-for-all

Every story needs a main character that the audience can focus on or follow, and free-for-all battles are no exception. Here, the protagonists are Batman, Abraham Lincoln, Shaq, and Jackie Chan, and most of the video focuses on them. However, consider changing up the roster of secondary characters as your story goes on; while it’s cool seeing Abraham Lincoln wielding an assault rifle, a machete, and go pole-vaulting to try and take on a shape-shifting robot from outer space, I can’t help but feel it would be cooler to have other characters come in during the song’s second act to shine, even if only for a few seconds each. Who wouldn’t want to see, say, Spider-Man running around with a machete, or Solid Snake pole-vaulting into Optimus? Part of the charm of these giant fights is seeing a large group of characters fight, so it’s smart to give everyone time to shine, no matter who they are.

Consider including a character so powerful that it requires others putting aside their differences and teaming up to defeat them

He only does two things in the song (kick Indiana Jones in the crotch and kill Batman), but Chuck Norris’ appearance marks him as the most powerful and badass character in ‘Ultimate’ He’s so powerful, in fact, that it takes the combined might of over 20 other characters to take him down in the bloodiest battle that the world ever saw. And even cooler, most of them would be mortal enemies outside of ‘Ultimate’; where else would you see every single Power Ranger fighting alongside Darth Vader and Benito Mussolini?

The advantage of bringing in uber-powerful characters into your story is that they immediately dominate the battlefield, forcing other characters to to put aside their differences, even if only for a few moments, to work together for their own survival, giving you a unique opportunity to have characters who would never otherwise tolerate each other be forced to do so, leading to moments that are either awesome, funny, or a mix of both as they interact and play off each other.

Consider making the survivor/winner of your big fight an unknown who isn’t a fighter

Just who would win in a winner takes all fight of pop culture characters? Depending on who you ask, there’s an infinite number of possible victors, ranging from the strongest, the fastest, smartest, or the most clever. ‘Ultimate’ bucks that trend by having the victor not be a muscle-bound warrior, a magical wizard, or a dictator, but Fred Rogers, host of ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’.

What’s great about this ending is that the victor of such a bloody battle isn’t even a warrior, but a kind, gentle man who, by all accounts, never raised his voice or said anything unkind about anyone. It’s unexpected, it’s novel, and even heartwarming to see someone opposed to violence standing as the greatest character in pop culture, and mourning all those who perished (though, personally, I think the seppuku was going a bit too far).

The Takeaway

When doing an incredibly awesome crossover that involves lots of fighting, you have more leeway to break the laws of physics or logic in order to get something cool. Consider following a core group of characters, but remember that your audience will want to see everyone get a moment to shine, especially when dozens of them have to team up to take down a particularly powerful character, and to see good guys/gals doing little deeds to try and help others, even at the cost of their own personal safety. And when it comes to endings, consider having someone unexpected win, instead of the most popular character.