The actor who played Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars franchise has revealed how the vicious backlash against the character left him close to suicide.
Ahmed Best provided the voice and motion capture for the gawky CGI alien in the Star Wars prequels, beginning with 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
At the time he was 25, and it was his first major film role.
Sadly for Best, the reception from fans and the media was terrible.
Jar Jar Binks quickly became the most hated character in the Star Wars universe, and critics branded Best’s cartoonish portrayal a dumbed-down exercise in child-pleasing – or worse, a racist stereotype with a misplaced Caribbean accent.
Best did not name the Star Wars films in his emotional post, but shared a picture with his young son, writing: “20 years next year I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today. This was the place I almost ended my life.
“It’s still hard to talk about. I survived and now this little guy is my gift for survival. Would this be a good story for my solo show? Lemme know.”
The message provoked an outpouring of support from fans and fellow Star Wars alumni – including director Rian Johnson, whose work includes Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
“Lots of love to you Ahmed,” Johnson tweeted. “I think there are many of us who’d get quite a lot from hearing your story.”
Actor Frank Oz, a puppeteer who voiced the Jedi master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), declared that he “LOVED Jar Jar Binks”, adding, “I just will never understand the harshness of people’s dislike of him. I do character work. He is a GREAT character!”
Best replied with gratitude, telling Oz: “Thanks @TheFrankOzJam you’ve always been kind, generous and supportive. Love to you my friend.”
Many Star Wars fans weighed in to share appreciation for the bumbling orange Jar Jar – who in the story is a Gungan general from the planet Naboo.
Some observed that the level of private suffering Best endured – even though he was not recognizable as the face of the character – shows it’s important to remember that actors are just ordinary people doing a job.
“When people make things you don’t like, they’re not trying to hurt you,” screenwriter @BryanEdwardHill tweeted.
Best has touched on the startling toll Jar Jar took on him previously, telling Wired he even got death threats. “I had people come to me and say: ‘You destroyed my childhood’,” he said. “That’s difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.”
Star Wars creator George Lucas has long defended Best’s opinion-splitting character – whom he says was based on the Disney cartoon Goofy. Speaking to the BBC in 1999, he firmly rejected suggestions of any racial stereotyping.
“How in the world could you take an orange amphibian and say that he’s a Jamaican?” he said. “It’s completely absurd. Believe me, Jar Jar was not drawn from a Jamaican, from any stretch of the imagination.
“There is a group of fans for the films that doesn’t like comic sidekicks. They want the films to be tough like Terminator, and they get very upset and opinionated about anything that has anything to do with being childlike.”
In 2015, when asked which Star Wars character he would most like to be, he smiled wryly and replied, “Jar Jar Binks.”