Nothing brings Star Wars fans together like a little Jar Jar Binks bashing, but mocking a frustratingly misguided character is only fun until someone gets hurt. In this case, that someone is Ahmed Best, the actor who brought Jar Jar to life. According to Entertainment Weekly, Best was beloved on set and almost everyone involved with The Phantom Menace believed he was going to become a fan favorite, so to see Jar Jar instantly become one of the most despised creations in cinema history was a shock. Now Best himself is speaking out about his infamous role in a new YouTube interview with Star Wars fan Jamie Stangroom.
Chatting to Stangroom over Skype, Best comes across as funny, self-deprecating, and very aware of his unusual place in the Star Wars canon. “Star Wars was my first most-hated title in anything, really,” he notes.
A former stage actor who was performing with Stomp when he got cast as Jar Jar, Best was originally hired to just perform Jar Jar’s physicality, à la David Prowse as Darth Vader in the original trilogy. Lucas later hired Best to do the voice work as well, selecting Jar Jar’s now infamous voice from the five or six options Best gave him. (Best describes Jar Jar’s unique vocal pattern as his “generic little kid” voice, which he had developed to entertain his younger family members.)
Initially thrilled to be able to pioneer a new form of CGI character creation before it became more commonplace in The Lord Of The Rings, Avatar, and John Carter, the backlash to the character came as a total surprise to Best. “It didn’t put me off Star Wars,” he explains, “but yeah it was painful.” When asked if he took it personally, Best responds “a little bit.” He adds, “You put a lot of your own personality into it and you get emotionally and personally invested into the work that you do. It’s your work and you take pride in your work.”
But at the same time he also totally understands why fans rejected Jar Jar. “When [fans] see a character that’s purely comical and purely for the children, they felt probably a bit condescended to. And I can understand how they wanted more a more serious story.”
“But by the same token,” Best adds, “the children really liked it. And George’s idea was to make a movie that lasted for 20-30 years, not to make a movie that lasted for one. So the children who saw Phantom Menace are now adults and they’re kind of wondering why everybody had a problem with Jar Jar.” Best and Stangroom go on to discuss Jar Jar merchandise—including that infamous Jar Jar tongue lollipop (“I saw that thing and ran,” Best quips)—and the fact that Michael Jackson campaigned to play Jar Jar and didn’t take kindly to meeting his replacement.
Finally, Stangroom asks Best whether he would ever return to the Star Wars franchise. “No, I think I’ve done my damage,” he explains. “I’m good with where I stand in the Star Wars universe.” But in a magnanimous gesture of goodwill, Best agrees to slip back into Jar Jar’s voice to perform Liam Neeson’s famous Taken monologue (starting at the 8:52 mark). It’s easily the best use of Jar Jar to date.