A holiday news-slowdown palate cleanser for you. The poll here is more than a year old but it’s been resurrected by Frank Luntz in honor of “The Force Awakens.”
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) December 22, 2015
Naturally he seizes on Jar Jar’s numbers for an easy gag about Congress, but not only is that not the most interesting number from the poll, it’s not even the most interesting detail about Jar Jar. The consensus worst character in all of the Star Wars movies doesn’t even crack 40 percent unfavorable? What? He’s actually within single digits of net positive! What kind of sick cult has Lucas built where even the Shemp of the widely loathed prequels is darned close to being technically “popular”? And before anyone throws this theory at me, let me repeat: This poll is more than a year old. The “Jar Jar as Jedi master” hypothesis was unknown at the time. Which leads to this horrifying thought: What if this poll was taken again now? Would newfound respect from reddit nerds actually push Jar Jar’s favorables into respectable territory?
But forget Jar Jar. Let’s talk about the Emperor.
I can defend the ratings for nearly everyone on this list even when I don’t agree. Two percent unfavorable for Luke Skywalker? Okay. He saved the rebellion and resisted the Dark Side, but even for a teenager he was whiny at times. Two percent thumbs down for Leia? She often seemed grouchy, although you might too if they blew up your home planet. Threepio stuck below 90 percent favorable? Well, the “prissy English fop” shtick does tend to wear. Anakin at +47? C’mon, he was a good guy for the better part of three movies. How about the controversial 58/30 for Anakin as Darth Vader? That’s harder to explain, although I suppose it turns on the big finale in “Jedi” where he saves Luke by chucking the Emperor down the reactor shaft. That’s hard to square with the ratings for Anakin — if popularity turns chiefly on where the character ends up, shouldn’t Anakin get a thumbs down because of the ending of “Sith”? But whatever. Vader’s an iconic character and people remember that he did the right thing for his kid when it counted.
Explain 31/24 for the Emperor to me, though. Unless I’m forgetting something, he doesn’t have a single redeeming moment onscreen. He’s an evil dictator with ambitions for galactic domination who builds superweapons to blow up planets and tries to kill Luke before killing his father. He’s Space Hitler. Americans are rating Space Hitler net favorably. Why? The best I can do to explain it is guess that some people polled simply forgot who “Emperor Palpatine” is, thought the name sounded vaguely familiar, and assumed that he’s Leia’s father or maybe the head of the rebellion or whatever. As a kid, having watched the original trilogy, I knew who “the Emperor” was but the name “Palpatine” didn’t really stick in my head, probably because the characters typically don’t refer to him by his full name. Maybe that’s the problem some people are having here — they’ve seen Episodes IV, V, and VI but not I, II, and III (lucky them) and they’re not placing who “Palpatine” is, so they’re taking a guess and rating him favorably. (Although, in that case, why not just say “unfamiliar”?) Either that or the recent trolling from conservative writers about how the Empire is actually good and the Jedi are a terrorist cult has deeper cultural roots than we thought.
A couple more quick thoughts. One: I will never, ever understand how Han Solo earns even one percent unfavorable. With the possible exception of Harrison Ford’s other iconic character, he’s the most likable hero in modern movie history. Maybe telling Leia “I know” when she told him she loved him rubbed a few people the wrong way? Are there a few Greedo fans out there who refuse to tolerate preemptive force? I got nothing here. Two: Two percent unfavorable for R2-D2? C’mon. The cutesy beeping can get old but that’s like rating a puppy unfavorably because he barks too much. Three: Am I detecting a whiff of racism in Lando’s 45/9 rating? I get that he’s a minor character who starts out by betraying the rebellion, but helping to blow up the new Death Star in “Jedi” pays that debt and then some. He’s like Han in a lot of ways — roguishly charming, brave when necessary, a fine pilot, etc. He should poll at least as well as Anakin “Darth Vader” farking Skywalker. Rock on, Lando.