LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -

The latest ``Star Wars'' blockbuster is filled with alien creatures
from distant worlds, but some movie-goers are complaining that they
recognize Earth-bound racial stereotypes in many of the characters.

Commentators from The Los Angeles Times to the Wall Street Journal say
filmmaker George Lucas appears to have imbued many of the extraterrestrial
denizens of ``Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace'' with racially
or ethnically tinged caricatures. A Lucas spokeswoman denies the charges.

Much of the dispute centers on the computer-animated character Jar Jar Binks,
an amphibious creature with floppy ears who speaks in a Caribbean-style pidgin
English and acts as a loyal but bumbling sidekick to the Jedi Knights.

Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern called Jar Jar
``a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with
Butterfly McQueen,'' a reference to the actress who played a slave servant
in ``Gone With The Wind.''

Jar Jar also has drawn fire from critics who find him annoying in general
and believe the character did little but provide questionable comic relief
for very young viewers.

Other critics have said a sinister Asian stereotype of the ''Yellow menace''
variety is evident in Nute Gunray, the evil Viceroy of the Federation, while
the physical attributes (big nose, Mediterranean-like accent) and money-
grubbing nature of Watto, an insect-like slave owner, conjures up an offensive
caricature of an Arab or Jew.

Los Angeles Times critic Eric Harrison said the primitive tribe that Jar Jar
belongs to -- the Gungan -- is ruled by a ''fat, buffoonish character,
seemingly a caricature of a stereotypical African chieftain.''

The criticism is not hurting the film at the box office. After a record
opening of $102.7 million in its first five days, the movie grossed $10.9
million by Monday and pulled in another $8.2 million Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for ``Star Wars'' producer Lucasfilm Ltd. dismissed the notion of
 racial stereotyping as ``absurd.''

``There is nothing in 'Star Wars' that is racially motivated. 'Star Wars' is
a fantasy movie set in a galaxy far, far away,'' spokeswoman Lynne Hale said.

``It is populated with humans, aliens, creatures, droids, robots and other
fantastic creatures that have no resemblance to the world we know today,''
she said. ``The way a particular character looks or sounds is part of the
imaginative fantasy that is 'Star Wars.'''

The black actor who provided the voice for Jar Jar, Ahmed Best, has said he
was given wide latitude to develop the character as he saw fit, and
deliberately modeled his speech pattern on Caribbean dialects.

If critics and fans are making comparisons between ``Star Wars'' characters
and racial caricatures, there was little evidence that civil rights leaders
were upset.

``It generated some discussion from staff, and we've gotten a small handful
of complaints from the community'' about the character Watto, said Tamar
Gallatzan of the Anti-Defamation League, which backed Arab-American leaders
in complaining about ethnic stereotyping in the Disney feature ``Aladdin.''

But Gallatzan said her organization's consensus was that the new ``Star Wars''
film was a harmless fantasy and that ``it would be a stretch to say (Watto)
was a Jewish caricature or an Arab caricature.''

However, media arts professor Daniel Bernardi from the University of Arizona
in Tucson said Lucas and other filmmakers often use fantasy as ``plausible
deniability'' for racial stereotypes.

``To deny that there is racial coding going on is silly,'' said Bernardi, a
self-described ``Star Wars'' fan whose book ''Star Trek and History: Raceing
Toward a White Future'' examines the treatment of race in pop culture.

``The fact is, filmmakers cannot help but infuse racial codes into these
characters so they become meaningful,'' Bernardi said. ``The problem is that
George Lucas makes the racial coding stereotypical... so it becomes offensive.''

Bernardi said Lucas has been criticized for his handling of race since the
first ``Star Wars'' was released in 1977. In that picture, he said, there were
no human characters of color.

In the next two ``Star Wars'' installments -- ``The Empire Strikes Back'' and
``Return of the Jedi'' -- Lucas introduced a black character played by Billy
Dee Williams.

Indeed, Bernardi sees ``Phantom Menace'' overall as ``an allegory for liberal
white supremacy.'' Besides viewing Jar Jar's physical attributes as facial
stereotypes -- ``big lips, dreadlocks, bulging eyes and a wide nose,''
Bernardi is troubled by the role he plays in the movie.

``He really is sort of your 'Amos 'n' Andy', Stepin Fetchit, loyal, bumbling
colored other,'' Bernardi said. ``Even when he saves the day, he does it by
accident, so his heroism is sort of a joke, and what makes it more problematic
is he does it in the service of 'whiteness.'''

Lucasfilm's Hale responds simply, ``Jar Jar is a very childlike character,
and from what we've heard, kids are really loving him.''

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