Ahmed Best Finally Gets to Celebrate Jar Jar in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Ahmed Best Finally Gets to Celebrate Jar Jar in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

No one deserves their much-delayed accolades as part of the Star Wars franchise more than Ahmed Best, who portrayed Jar Jar Binks in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. The actor was met with the first very public show of vitriol from Star Wars’ toxic fandom, which is something we’re unfortunately much more used to seeing these days.

The bullying for Jar Jar was due in part to adult fans just picking an easy target —a comic-relief character geared for the film’s young audience—and ultimately taking it way too far. The response to the character is something Best recently talked to the New York Times about. “It took almost a mortal toll on me. It was too much,” Best told the paper. “It was the first time in my life where I couldn’t see the future. I didn’t see any hope. Here I was at 26 years old, living my dream, and my dream was over.”

However, as younger fans grew up and Star Wars became even more mainstream, the love for Jar Jar and the prequels as a crucial part of the franchise’s legacy has found more validation. Thanks to the internet, more fans from multi-cultural backgrounds have emerged to challenge people in the fandom who aim to gatekeep Star Wars. “There are a lot of people who want to see Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Darth Vader for the rest of their lives, and they don’t realize that Star Wars is changing,” Best told the Times. “It’s such a cultural phenomenon, and there are few Black voices in Star Wars, so I feel that I’m partially obliged to keep my voice out there.” He has since advocated for actors and talent that represent the franchise who have been bullied by the fandom, including “Kelly Marie [Tran] for sure. She’s a phenomenal actor.” He added that the hate she got for her performance as Rose Tico in The Last Jedi was “completely unwarranted.”

This year, for The Phantom Menace’s 25th Anniversary, there’s so much merch (thanks to Disney and brands like RSVLTS) for fans across generations who have been clamoring for it prominently featuring Jar Jar. “He’s misunderstood, but Jar Jar’s heart is so pure,” Best said of his take on the character now. He also noted that George Lucas believed young fans of The Phantom Menace would grow up and defend the character. “He was right,” Best said.

And Best’s Star Wars journey didn’t end with Jar Jar. He played warrior teacher Kelleran Beq on the children’s show Jedi Temple Challenge, and in an episode of The Mandalorian. As Beq, he shows up for one of the most glorious moments in Star Wars history—as the Jedi who saves Grogu from Anakin’s child-killing wrath during Order 66. To Best, the experience encompassed the love the fandom has showered him with as he’s stepped back into his place as a prominent part of the franchise. “This is going to sound really corny, please forgive me, but it felt like coming home,” he said.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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