Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best speaks out on terrible online abuse after The Phantom Menace

Best, 50, said it was the ‘first case of cyberbulling’

Louis Chilton
Sunday 05 May 2024 13:52 BST
Jar Jar Binks first appearance in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar Binks in the divisive 1999 Star Wars prequel Episode I – The Phantom Menace, has reflected on the intense backlash he received.

The Phantom Menace was panned by most – but not all – fans and critics when it first came out, with much of the criticism focusing on the buffoonish character of Jar Jar, a Gungun from the planet Naboo.

Best, who provided the voice and motion capture reference for Jar Jar, previously spoke about his mental health struggles following the backlash, revealing that he once considered taking his own life.

“Everybody came for me,” he told People magazine, in an interview coinciding with the film’s theatrical re-release on Star Wars Day (4 May).

Alluding to the groundbreaking nature of his motion-capture performance, which pre-dated The Lord of the Rings’s Gollum, he said: “I’m the first person to do this kind of work, but I was also the first Black person, Black man.”

Best said he was “ostricised” from similar work in the industry thanks to the backlash surrounding the character, despite being uninvolved in the writing process. Much of the criticism of Jar Jar focused on the cartoonish, child-friendly nature of his humour, and the broad, Jamaican-influenced patois in which he spoke.

The actor, now 50, argued that his was the “first textbook case of cyberbullying”, which extended to attacks on himself as a person.

“It really wasn’t easy,” he said. “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.’”

Jar Jar Binks, as seen in ‘The Phantom Menace’
Jar Jar Binks, as seen in ‘The Phantom Menace’ (LucasFilm)

He added: “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.

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“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, especially with the internet component. … But [Star Wars director George Lucas] is untouchable, and everybody was untouchable. Who wasn’t untouchable? Me. Everyone came at me.”

The story does at least end happily for Best: he has subsequently been embraced by the Star Wars community, and featured in the recent series The Mandalorian, playing a Jedi Knight.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

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