Star Wars: The Force Awakens has become the biggest movie in domestic box office history, in part by pretending the George Lucas-helmed prequel trilogy basically just never happened. There are a lot of things to dislike in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, but nothing has come to represent the failings of the films so much as the Jar Jar Binks. From his childish antics, to the poor visual effects execution, to his astoundingly obnoxious dialogue ("Exsqueeze me," anyone?), Jar Jar has become the symbol of everything that fans felt was wrong with the prequels — so much so that officially licensed games are even comfortable taking shots at the character.
What gets lost in all the rancor is that behind the character there was an actor working very hard to pull off what he was being directed to do.
That actor's name was Ahmed Best, and in the latest episode of Jamie Stangroom's YouTube series These Are the Actors You're Looking For, Best reflects on his time as the most-hated character in Star Wars history. Best had only appeared in a handful of short films prior to landing The Phantom Menace, having been noticed by the film's casting director while performing as part of the touring company of Stomp.
"There was no Andy Serkis and Gollum; there was no Na'vi from Avatar."
"One of the biggest reasons why I took it was because of the challenge of it, and it hadn't been done before. There was no Andy Serkis or Gollum; there was no Na'vi from Avatar. There were no Martians from John Carter to kind of be the template for this," he says. "So I was kind of working with George to pioneer this new character form of acting and storytelling. On set, we were all just so focused on the challenge of it and having so much fun that the post-Star Wars stuff was kind of a surprise of everyone."
That "post-Star Wars stuff" was a merciless outpouring of fan indignation, with some hardcore Star Wars fans unable to cope with the cognitive dissonance of Jar Jar's very existence to such a degree that theories still surface that Jar Jar was intentionally moronic the entire time as part of a nefarious Sith-led plot.
But all the self-righteous fan outrage forgets to account for the fact that movies aren't just birthed in a vacuum; they're made by teams of hundreds of people, each doing the best they can to achieve the goals set by the writer and director. Best admits that he did take the fan hatred personally — and why wouldn't he when Jar Jar represented months of his life? "You take pride in your work like any, dare I say, craftsman, so when your work is criticized negatively you feel a little bit of a hit."
"When your work is criticized negatively you feel a little bit of a hit."
That said, Best seems absolutely aware of the beef fans had with the character. "I can understand why, because when they see a character that's purely comical, and purely for the children, they felt probably a bit condescended to," he tells Stangroom. "And I can understand how they wanted a more serious story."
So the next time you're spouting off about how terrible and awful Best was as Jar Jar, just take a moment to remember that the man behind those floppy, weird ear-things didn't write the dialogue. He didn't choose to make Jar Jar a gibbering babytalk goof, or add poop jokes to Star Wars. He was just one of dozens of actors doing their best to bring to life something that was probably dead the moment it was put upon the page.
(I can't really defend the "Jar Jar does the Taken speech" bit, but you should probably watch anyway.)