In October, Ahmed Best posted on social media that he will soon release his new work One Man Show, which details his experience playing Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Best has previously spoken out about the unreasonably harsh reviews and mental health struggles he endured following the release of The Phantom Menace, and stated he is now ready to tell the full story.
Due to loud criticism, Best’s contribution to Star Wars was neglected in many conversations immediately following the release of The Phantom Menace. In the midst of negativity touted by media outlets at the time, many failed to recognize the valuable performance to animation process that ILM and Best’s work helped to pioneer. In addition to this technical innovation, it could also be argued that Jar Jar’s humor was right at home in the Star Wars universe all along. His portrayal built upon the similar lighthearted tone adopted by characters in the Original Trilogy, most notably R2D2 and C3PO’s comedic bickering and Yoda’s first scene in The Empire Strikes Back. While Best’s accomplishment is more commonly understood today, this praise was due long ago.
On a more personal level, I, in addition to much of the “prequel kid” generation, have Jar Jar to thank for my lifelong interest in Star Wars. One evening in 1999, I spotted Jar Jar on the cover of a Star Wars coloring book while grocery shopping with my dad. Through the months-long advertising frenzy leading up to the release of Episode I, Jar Jar’s toothy grin and lanky stature had already become a common sight. I was struck by his strange lizard-like appearance and the otherworldly images inside the book, and upon purchasing it, my dad suggested we watch A New Hope to prepare for the newest installment.
I soon fell in love with the Original Trilogy and became as much of an expert as a kindergartener could manage by the time The Phantom Menace hit theatres. The prequels, and Jar Jar Binks especially, have held a special place in my heart ever since.
It’s often said that “Star Wars is for kids”. While the recent production of Andor may have reignited the debate surrounding this statement, there’s still no denying that much of Star Wars has been, and will likely continue to be, for kids. Jar Jar Binks remains prime evidence of this intention. Despite those who fell into a hateful mob mentality toward Best’s work, many kids (Lucas’s initial target audience) found Jar Jar silly and endearing.
Unfortunately, Jar Jar wasn’t the last character to be subjected to this sort of negativity, and others within the Prequel and Sequel trilogies have since faced varying degrees of unfair judgment. Best’s readiness to speak further on this important issue should serve as a reminder to Star Wars fans going forward: it’s high time for us to learn from our mistakes. To right the wrongs of the past, we should all be quicker to acknowledge and appreciate future actors’ performances, even if it means putting our differences in vision aside. When encountering a Star Wars character that doesn’t resonate with you, perhaps it would be more prudent to first ask: is this character meant for me?
I look forward to hearing more about Ahmed Best’s One Man Show, and anticipate how our fandom can learn and grow from what he may share with us.
Lauren Stringer is a lifelong Star Wars enthusiast. While she loves the saga in its entirety, it all began with The Phantom Menace. And yes, she still has her childhood prequel action figures in her room. When she’s not binge reading the latest Star Wars novel release, she can be found painting, writing fantasy stories, or snuggling her cat.