Jar Jar Binks Actor Ahmed Best on 'Star Wars: Phantom Menace' Backlash

Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best opened up about how the backlash he received for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace kept him from wanting to work for years following the 1999 release.

In a conversation with People in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first installment in the Star Wars prequels, Best reflected on how his portrayal of the character marked a major milestone in the film industry but also had its downsides.

Jar Jar Binks was the first character in a live-action film to be created through motion-capture technology, with the actor being the first to play that type of role. However, Best recalled the negative feedback about the character at the time and how he was a target for harassment from the fanbase, which resulted in him stepping back from acting for some time after the project.

“Everybody came for me,” he told the publication. “I’m the first person to do this kind of work, but I was also the first Black person, Black man.”

He explained that, despite being the first actor to do such work, he was “ostracized” from doing similar gigs because people didn’t like his character, even though he had nothing to do with how Jar Jar was written.

Before the film was even released, Best experienced online hate, which he considers “the first textbook case of cyberbullying,” and it only grew after Phantom Menace hit theaters. What made it worse, however, was that the hate wasn’t just directed at his character, it was also directed at him as a person, and he received death threats over his performance.

“It really wasn’t easy,” he said. “I was very young. I was 26. And it’s hard to have this idea that the thing you’ve been working all your life for, you finally get it, and you’re finally in the big leagues and the highest level of the game, and you hold your own. All of these years you’re just like, ‘I belong at the top of the game. I belong at the highest level.’”

He continued, “And then all of a sudden people pull the rug out from under you. And I was just like, ‘What is happening now?’ My career began and ended. I didn’t know what to do, and unfortunately, there was really no one that could help me because it was such a unique position; it had never happened before in history, especially with the internet component. … But George [Lucas] is untouchable, and everybody was untouchable. Who wasn’t untouchable? Me. Everyone came at me.”

Best previously revealed he contemplated suicide following the backlash he received for playing Jar Jar, despite the character being loved by children and Lucas himself. (He went on to appear in the two other films in the prequel trilogy: Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.)

In general, Phantom Menace received lots of criticism from Star Wars fans. Liam Neeson, who played Qui-Gon Jinn, addressed the backlash in September 2020 when he sat down with Andy Cohen for an episode of Radio Andy and noted he enjoyed making the film and thought it turned out well.

“I like the film. I’m proud of it and proud to have been a part of it,” Neeson told Cohen. “I got to be a Jedi. I got to play with those wonderful lightsabers and stuff. It was terrific, Andy, it really was.”

He also noted how he was very distressed over how the fanbase treated Best.

“He came into a lot of criticism, I mean to the point where it really hurt his career,” the Taken star said. “And I have to say when I was making that film … he was probably one of the funniest guys and talented guys I have ever worked with.” He added that he was so impressed with Best that he even told his manager that the actor could be the next Eddie Murphy, sharing at the time, “I still believe that.”

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