The TPM Books: A Binks-centric Review

...well, there are certainly enough books based on SW1/TPM out there! books, indeed, for every taste and budget. they run the range from pricey ($25 for the Terry Brooks official novelization) to semi-pricey ($19.95 for gorgeous things like the Episode 1 Visual Dictionary) - to about $4 for your very own copy of Watch Out, Jar Jar! --which both Hazel and i agree you need, but that's another story. what i'm most interested in considering, and i hope you are too, is: how do these various volumes agree and disagree in their presentation of and details about our favorite Gungan? what would you recommend to a new reader?

(Note: right, i will be focusing on these books in terms of their relative Jarishness, which means i won't have much to say about, say, I Am A Droid or Anakin's Quest. no insult to these fine little books, but they don't add much to the world's body of Gungan info, and that's what we're here for. maybe some other time.)

so let's break 'em down: (if a title's clickable, you can buy it at

Books for Big Frogs:
STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE (Lucas Books/Del Rey/Ballantine), by Terry Brooks, based on the story and screenplay by George Lucas.
SW EPISODE 1: THE VISUAL DICTIONARY (Lucas Books/DK Publishing), by David West Reynolds
SW EPISODE 1: INCREDIBLE CROSS-SECTIONS (Lucas Books/DK Publishing), by David West Reynolds

Books for Little Frogs:
STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE (Lucas Books/Scholastic), by Patricia C. Wrede, based on the story and screenplay by George Lucas.
STAR WARS EPISODE 1 JOURNAL: QUEEN AMIDALA (Lucas Books/Scholastic), by Jude Watson

Books for Tadpoles:
SW EPISODE 1: WATCH OUT, JAR JAR! (Lucas Books/Random House), by Kerry Milliron, illustrated by (renowned SF artist and Godzilla maniac!) Bob Eggleton
SW EPISODE 1: JAR JAR BINKS (Random House), by Kerry Milliron, illustrated by (renowned comics artist!) Ken Steacy

to begin: the two David West Reynolds books are simply marvels, and there's no way i can praise them too highly. they have everything! you can't get through them without feeling equal awe at the thoroughness of the Lucas Team's design work, and the incredible persistence and dedication of Reynolds and his art and fact-checking team.

i especially love them for the little details about Gungan culture and structure that weren't mentioned in the film. where else could you find out that the little ridges along the outside edge of a Gungan's upper ear are called haillu and are "for display" (what, do some Gungans pierce 'em?=)? --or exactly why JJ was booted out of Otoh Gunga:

"Jar Jar is reticent about the reason for his exile from Otoh Gunga, glossing over the fact that he accidentally flooded most of Boss Nass's mansion and several adjoining bubbles [!!] while working as a waiter at a high-class party. As this was not Jar Jar's first serious accident, or even his first serious flooding accident, Boss Nass was furious, and Jar Jar was exiled from his own city under pain of death." (He also apparently once "inadvertantly opened half of the Otoh Gunga Zoo bubbles"! talk about a trouble magnet!=)

--or check this illuminating little paragraph, from Incredible Cross-Sections:

"To outside eyes the Gungan sub pen might look like an elaborate and beautiful structure of special significance; however, within Otoh Gunga it is just an ordinary docking port. Gungans believe that everything they make speaks of who they are, and that everything they construct should add to the beauty of their world."

--wow, there's a life philosophy for you! imagine how it would improve things here if we worked from that principle? but i digress...

it's the fiction we're really here to consider, though, and that's where Brooks comes in. now i have to be honest with you: i've never been too impressed with his writing. it's detailed enough, but it's always felt somewhat clunking and awkward to me, without much flow or color. and that's how this volume feels to me as well. granted, we don't know what he was given to work with, and some of these problems may not be his fault. but this is my least favorite of the novelizations i've read.

understandably, since it takes time to produce a 300+ page novel, Brooks must have been set to work on the earliest possible complete version of the screenplay. so, while from the Gungaphile standpoint two things immediately stand out as odd about this version, i think we can safely say they're no fault of TB's.

one is the Gungan speech pattern, which evidently wasn't quite established when Brooks set to work. the now-familiar "yousa" and "mesa" don't yet exist. Jar Jar in particular is partial to the bright greeting "heyday ho!", which seems to have been telescoped into "hidoe!" by the time we meet him, and while he attempts to call the Jedi by name his best tries are "Obi-One" and "Cap'n Quiggon" (ow). Very little of JJ's actual filmed dialogue appears here, and very little of his dialogue as given here appears at all in the movie, which makes it exasperating for anyone who hopes to use the book to work out what he actually says - this is true of other characters as well. whole passages of dialogue we see here don't otherwhere exist. 'tis bothersome...

the other thing the observant Jarist will note is that it was, apparently, originally intended for JJ to form his closest attachment to little Anakin and appear in a number of scenes with him. one can see the logic in this: a little boy and an alien with no official standing would be alike shut out of the Senate, the Jedi Council, and other important high-level gatherings, and could understandably become friends while waiting outside a succession of closed doors for the grown-ups to settle things. thus we have dialogue between them on Coruscant, after the Podrace, at the victory parade, and elsewhere - all gone from the final product. (if I'm not mistaken, in fact, Anakin in the movie never addresses him at all; even when he saves JJ from being reduced to orange goo by Sebulba, he's talking to Qui-Gon about him, not to him directly.)
--in my opinion, the final decision - to have Jar Jar's closest human friend be Amidala - has eversomuch more dramatic and mythic resonance and just makes more sense, and should be applauded. but it's still interesting to see how different things once were. (--one wonders if the original idea was for Jar Jar to be attached to Anakin into the next film and be his sidekick. imagine the distress to his good-natured heart as he watched his friend slowly turn to the Dark Side...)

in general, one can't help but wonder why certain scenes and lines, obviously present in the screenplay since they appear in multiple novelizations, were cut out. cases in point: