With all the hype surrounding ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, it’s perhaps a good time to look back on the lowest point in ‘Star Wars’ history, 1999’s financially successful but overall panned ‘The Phantom Menace’. While overall, it’s still not a great movie, the most hatred is targeted at Jar Jar Binks, the gangly, clumsy Gungan with floppy ears and a waggling tongue meant to serve as comic relief. The character was created to appeal to children, but failed in that respect and even worse, alienated adult fan who’d grown up loving ‘Star Wars’.
Jar Jar wasn’t just reviled by ‘Star Wars’ purists. He proved to be one of the most hated characters in ANY film EVER. Many even went so far as to call this buffoonish caricature– with his long dreadlok-like “hair” and quasi-Jamaican patois– racist. The ‘Wallstreet Journal’ referred to Jar Jar as “a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit.”
All these years later, the actor who played Jar Jar, Ahmed Best, who thought he’d landed the opportunity of a lifetime (he beat out Michael Jackson for the role!) admits the hurt he felt upon the public’s nasty reaction to the character but has no regrets.
The trained dancer was plucked from the touring Broadway show ‘Stomp’ and drew on his childhood of watching silent film comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in what was the very first motion capture screen performance ever, paving the way for Andy Serkis et al. As Best explained, “This was before motion capture was a thing. They were still writing the software, and they didn’t really know how it was going to work or if it was going to work. I was kind of the guinea pig for all of that.”
He recently opened up about his experience in an in-depth interview with Vice.com but regarding the flood of hate he and Jake Lloyd (young Anakin) took, he is honest but has clearly moved on, saying:
“It’s a very American thing to take somebody down when they’re at the top and a lot if it had to with that; people really wanted to see George crash and burn. Unfortunately, this character was so new, so experimental; he became a lightning rod for all that. It was me, and it was [original Anakin Skywalker] Jake Lloyd who took a lot of the heat for the movie. Fortunately, I was in my 20s. I wasn’t eight years-old like Jake, who I think took it worse. Jake had it far worse than me. I’m a 20-year-old from from the Bronx; I’ve seen and I’ve done things that were a lot harder than criticism in that newspaper. Although it hurt me emotionally and it was hard to take at the time, it wasn’t debilitating for me. I just put my shoes on and went back to work. But Jake had a difficult time…
“To be 100 percent honest, none us, as we were shooting this, had any idea that anything like this was going to happen. At the end of the day, it is the movie business, and if the character doesn’t work for the people who watch the movie then the character doesn’t work. I can’t take that personally.”
The entire interview is very insightful, fair and honest and well worth a full read.
Best has rebounded and has worked steadily ever since, mainly producing comedic short films. His series with partner J. Lee is co-executive produced by Seth MacFarlane and has received network interest. It probably helps that Best isn’t immediately recognizable beneath his CGI disguise.
At any rate, fans may never get over the slapstick mess that ‘The Phantom Menace’ wound up being, but hey, what’s done is done! And from the looks of things, ‘The Force Awakens’ just may wash away the sour taste left by the prequels. Here’s hoping!
Are you still bitter about Jar Jar Binks and the first movie? Or have you, like the actor that played him, moved on?