‘Star Wars’ Motion Capture/Voice Actor Ahmed Best Recalls The Hatred For His Jar Jar Binks Character

Jar Jar Binks. Invoke the name to any hardcore Star Wars fan and then step back to see the explosion. No one is neutral.

The actor who brought the goofy Gungan character to life, Ahmed Best, had a number of highs and lows attached to his role. Opinions on the character ran hot after his Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace debut 25 years ago.

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Best spoke to People about the role. Not all of his memories were fond.

“Everybody came for me,” he recalled. “I’m the first person to do this kind of (motion capture) work, but I was also the first Black person, Black man.”

Best said he was “ostracized” from doing similar motion-capture work in Hollywood because of the widespread criticism his character received at the time.

He was touring with the Stomp dance troupe in 1997 when a casting director offered an audition at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Ranch. he won both the physical role and the voice.

The voice debuted at a table read with his cast mates — Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and others.

“This was the first time I was going to do the Jar Jar voice in front of people. And to be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to do it at that reading or not. I was like, ‘I might do it, I might not.’ And as I’m reading as the first few pages go by, I’m in my head, ‘Do I do this voice? Do I not do this voice? What do I do?

“Liam has this wonderfully resonant Irish, Mid-Atlantic voice that will just melt you. You know what I’m saying? So I was just like, ‘Everybody sounds so good. Am I going to do this voice or not?’ And then I see the character name coming up and I was like, ‘F— it.’ And I just do it. And everybody in the room goes crazy for it. So I was like, ‘OK, all right. I got that one out. I’m supposed to be here now.'”

Best went back and forth from New York to Industrial Light & Magic’s studios in San Francisco for two years to complete the CGI of the role. He got along well with everyone along the way.

“Everybody was respected, and nobody was bigger than the work,” Best recalls of filming in England. “And I think that was the ethos that we took into doing the prequels. Star Wars is always going to be the thing. That’s the thing we’re working towards. So as much as we can make this world believable, these characters believable, these situations believable, that’s what we’re going to be. We’re not going to be stars above Star Wars. There’s nothing bigger than Star Wars. And I think that’s what made our cast really, really special.”

The cast was “in our little bubble” while filming, he said.

“So when you come out of that bubble, you’re like, ‘Oh man, everybody’s going to enjoy what we just did, because if you feel the way we felt while we were creating, it’s going to be amazing. But there were already kind of preconceived ideas about it, and there is already bubbling under, this online hatred. It was already being talked about even before the movie dropped.”

The online hate only grew after the release of the film in May 1999. It came for not just Jar Jar as a character, but also Best, who received death threats over his performance.

“It really wasn’t easy,” he recalls of the backlash. “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. 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,” Best said.

“Especially with the internet component. Now there’s an entire field of psychology based on it. But at the time, what do I say to a psychologist? I just tried to do the best job that I could do. But George [Lucas] is untouchable and everybody was untouchable. Who wasn’t untouchable? Me. Everyone came at me.”

Best previously admitted he contemplated taking his own life during an early morning on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“I didn’t want to hurt my family like that,” Best now shares. “So it was something bigger than me that made me walk away. I still was lost. I still couldn’t find my footing, and I just felt the injustice of it all. How could I have achieved such a wonderful thing, and then nothing? Nothing. I was longing to continue. I wanted to continue this work. I wanted to continue moving in this direction and seeing what the CGI thing could turn into.”

Casting directors often thought the Jar Jar character was computer generated, and Best had to fight against that. “I was carrying this weight that it was just hard to shake.”

Best says Jar Jar’s Star Wars role diminished and disappeared in the two prequels that followed — specifically 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. After all, But like many fans, he hopes to eventually find out about Jar Jar’s fate.

“I would love just for there to be some really good closure, just to know what happened to Jar Jar. And then I don’t think it needs to be tragic,” Best says.

Best has turned out okay after all tat. He worked as an adjunct lecturer at USC, appeared in Disney+’s Star Wars series The Mandalorian, and is afather of a 15-year-old son who “gets all my attention.

Star Wars: Episode I —The Phantom Menace is now playing theaters ahead of its 25th anniversary on May 19.

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