These days, we’re a bit wiser and wary of the ways that “nerds” dominate our pop culture. We recognize the inherent problem with letting a group of obsessive fans have their say when it comes to mainstream pop culture. It’s why we saw such a disturbing reaction to the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. It’s why we see negative reactions over and over when a classic role is recast with an actor of a different race than the original intention. It’s why so many movies these days sacrifice good plotting and character development for “easter eggs” and comic book references that only a few people in the audience will care about.
And it’s what was at the heart of the negative reaction to The Last Jedi, the most recent of the “in-trilogy” Star Wars films. Many fans of the original trilogy wanted something very specific out of the film. Instead, they were treated to a Star Wars movie that was all about subverting the notions of the original films and playing around with the ideas left behind. The fervor was a clear line in the sand that a certain sect of Star Wars fans are always just going to want what they want and any new ideas aren’t really appreciated.
That wasn’t quite the case back in 1999 when The Phantom Menace, the first film in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, was released in theaters. In a way, the near-universal disdain for the prequels was the precursor to what we have today. In the eyes of so many Star Wars fans, the Phantom Menace and the two films that followed ruined so much of what they loved about the original trilogy that they’re terrified of anything that would dare to divert from what they always wanted out of more Star Wars films.
The object of all that ire, more than anyone, even Lucas, was Jar Jar Binks. A well-intentioned comedic sidekick, Binks represented everything wrong with the prequels. A CGI creation who seemed to be there to sell toys to kids and added nothing of value to the story, the hatred for the character was so intense that his role in the next two films was drastically reduced to the point where he became a glorified extra. Jar Jar Binks is cultural shorthand for “disaster.”
That’s probably not what Ahmed Best was thinking when he was cast in the role. More likely, he was thinking this role would make him an international star. Jar Jar would be front and center on the movie posters, in the merchandising, and in the franchise to come. Not only did it not turn out that way, but it effectively ruined Best’s major movie career. And, according to a tweet he posted earlier this week, it drove him to contemplate ending his own life.
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. pic.twitter.com/NvVnImoJ7N
— Ahmed BEst (@ahmedbest) July 3, 2018
There’s a fine line between disliking a character or a film and disliking the people involved in creating the film. The problem is that when you’re obsessive about the film, or any pop culture product, you take it personally. And there’s no reason to ever take Jar Jar Binks personally. He was a terrible character, for sure, and a truly bad idea by George Lucas, but certainly nothing that ever should have made the actor portraying him reach that point.
Thankfully it sounds like Best is on better ground these days. And the outpouring he received in response to the tweet was a testament to that.
Thank you all for your love and kindness. Its been overwhelming. I’m gonna start writing this show. Gonna need help cause I’ve never done this before. I will be trying stuff out and posting it here. Let folks know. Thanks for all your support. It means so very much to me.
— Ahmed BEst (@ahmedbest) July 4, 2018
For the record, Best is still performing as Jar Jar Binks in animated Star Wars TV shows, so he’s clearly found peace with the character. Plus, he’s still getting paid while the rest of us are sitting around getting angry about it. He came out ahead in the end.