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‘The lowest I’ve ever been’: how playing Jar Jar Binks led to abuse, near death – and saving Baby Yoda | Television

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One foggy night at 3am, the actor who plays Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars found himself clinging to the edge of Brooklyn Bridge. An instant ago, he had been on the public walkway, but now he was teetering on its brink. As the breeze blew around him, he gazed out at the Statue of Liberty. He saw the river below, and as he hung precariously above a 39m drop, one thing kept going through his mind: “I’ll show all of you. I’ll show you what you’re doing to me. And when I’m gone, then you’ll feel exactly what I went through.”

This is the lowest moment of new Ted-produced podcast The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks. It tells the story of Ahmed Best, who played what was meant to be one of Star Wars’ most exciting new characters, only to end up being the first ever recipient of a torrent of online abuse that spilled over into worldwide press coverage. We hear him go from being on the cover of Vanity Fair alongside Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor to receiving death threats – only to make an astonishing comeback. It’s quite the journey.

“I was an enormous Star Wars fan as a kid,” says Best, speaking from LA (the Hollywood actors’ strike doesn’t apply to documentary podcasts). “I loved it so much that my mom went to the fabric store and made Star Wars pillowcases for us, Star Wars sheets, Star Wars clothes.” A couple of decades later, the actor and martial artist was performing with percussive dance troupe Stomp. After one show, he was approached by a casting director who wanted him to audition for a role. When he found out it would be at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch the next day, it blew his mind. “I didn’t know what was happening,” says Best. “I thought it was a prank.”

He turned up, walked through a faux-Victorian mansion filled with display cases containing original lightsabers, and was asked to try out for a role in new Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace – which involved acting like a salamander. He got the part as Jar Jar Binks’s body – the basis for the CGI animations that formed the character – only to talk the production into giving him a spoken role, using a voice he’d previously invented to entertain his young cousins. Soon, he was on set with Hollywood megastars, driving around with George Lucas – who became almost a mentor to him and filming a role that effectively invented motion capture.

“We were doing something that was going to change cinema history,” says Best, of a collaboration with visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic that meant they had to create new programmes to capture what he was doing. This was the first time CGI had been used to generate a major movie character that spoke and interacted as though it were human.

In the Wars … Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd shooting a scene from The Phantom Menace. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

“Even the software was written on my body,” says Best. “There’s still that legacy code in CGI packages today. My physical DNA is in every single CGI character since.”

Unfortunately, the dream soon soured. Even before The Phantom Menace was released, Best tuned in to Conan O’Brien one night, only to find a discussion about how his character would “ruin the movie”. When it came out in 1999, reviews were not kind – and fan reactions were worse. Websites such as JarJarSucks.com or JarJarBinksMustDie.com started springing up. They hosted Photoshop mockups of Binks and Best’s severed heads. Some users called for Binks’s entire race to suffer a horrific genocide. There was Jar Jar porn and homophobic abuse. There were so many hate sites that it created a “web ring” of linked pages that anti-Jar Jar activists could travel between.

The press started reporting on the online hatred, driving it to new heights. Best’s phone number was leaked online, and his answering machine overflowed with death threats. He returned to Stomp and became reluctant to even leave his New York apartment. “It was terrible,” says Best. “It was the lowest I’ve been in my life.”

At the time, it was an internet pile-on that had never been seen before. But today, it’s only too recognisable. “Jar Jar Binks isn’t this rare story from 24 years ago. There are Jar Jars today, who it’s socially acceptable to make jokes about online,” says Dylan Marron, an actor, podcaster and Ted Lasso writer who hosts the show. “I want people to hear what it’s like to survive this abuse.”

Ahmed Best and Dylan Marron (right) recording The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks.
A new hope … Ahmed Best and Dylan Marron (right) recording The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks. Photograph: Evan Perkins

Often the series feels like borderline sociology. It opens with an episode that explains the fever-pitch anticipation that awaited The Phantom Menace: we meet die-hards who attempted to be the first to see the film by camping outside Hollywood cinemas, replete with home offices (“having a desktop computer outside is the most 1999 thing I have ever heard of,” says Marron). The host meets the creator of a Jar Jar Binks hate site in a bid to understand his motivation, only for the interviewee to offer to play “the villain” of the podcast – which Marron refuses (“I haven’t even entertained what would have happened”).

The trickiest part of the podcast is broaching one of the biggest criticisms of Jar Jar Binks. After the release of The Phantom Menace, film critics, professors and media scholars all claimed that he was racially offensive. They highlighted his subservience to white characters, interpreted his long ears as dreadlocks and claimed that he spoke in “demeaning pidgin English that will give many older viewers an unfortunate reminder of Hollywood’s more blatant racial stereotypes”. Everyone involved in the character’s creation, including Best, deny there was any offensive intent. But Marron hands the mic to Black film critic Aisha Harris to let her explain how, deliberate or not, it’s all too easy to read Binks as a trope known as the “noble savage”.

For Best, the accusation of racism was devastating. As someone extremely proud of his African heritage and a passionate advocate of Black rights, it was the suggestion that he’d allowed himself to be exploited that drove him to the edge of Brooklyn Bridge. Until, that is, a strong gust of wind whipped by, he instinctively held on for safety, and he suddenly realised he wanted to live. He turned, made his way back across a girder so scarily narrow he resorted to crawling (“It was terrifying – just terrifying”) and ran home.

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He moved to LA, and got through filming two more Star Wars movies in which his part was shrunk down further and further (“Here I am, a significant character who changed movies, and then I’m a footnote – I barely appear”). He threw himself into martial arts, went to film school, became a father and moved into producing and directing. Years later, on a trip to New York with his son, he found himself walking along Brooklyn Bridge. He pulled out his phone, took a photo and tweeted how the media backlash once pushed him on to the edge of the bridge. “But now this little guy [his son] is my gift for survival.”

It made headlines around the world. There were huge outpourings of love from gen Z fans – for whom the prequels was their Star Wars – and an avalanche of apologies. Simon Pegg, who once devoted a segment of his Channel 4 comedy Spaced to attacking Jar Jar Binks, came out to say: “I feel so ashamed of the fact that there was actually a human victim in that.”

Best was invited to appear at a Star Wars convention, given a standing ovation, and was cast as the host of a Star Wars gameshow for kids, playing a Jedi called Kelleran Beq. Director Jon Favreau invited him to a two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting, and in March 2023, fans got to watch a Mandalorian episode where Kelleran Beq is revealed as a key part in the backstory to the entire series – the character who saved Grogu’s (Baby Yoda’s) life.

Best as Kelleran Beq in The Mandalorian.
The force awakens … Best as Kelleran Beq in The Mandalorian. Photograph: Lucasfilm Ltd.

“It really felt good,” says Best. “As an artist, I lost my confidence for so many years, but The Mandalorian gave me that affirmation of ‘You were always doing the right thing … It wasn’t you.’”

It also gives him an actual human form in the Star Wars world for the first time. If Jar Jar Binks had allowed people to see there was a real human beneath the CGI, does he think it might have saved him from the backlash? “I don’t think so. We are addicted to nostalgia. Anything that disrupts nostalgia is going to be faced with severe emotional backlash. Regardless of whether I was in makeup or in CGI, the nostalgia of Star Wars would have been broken and we would have had negative reactions.”

Best’s Mandalorian role provided some lovely closure to his Star Wars journey, making his tale perfect for a podcast. “I want folks who listen to recognise what I contributed to the history of cinema,” says Best. “Culturally, Black invention has been repeatedly erased from history and that is an injustice. Since 1997, no other Black man has ever played a main CGI character and that’s a travesty. That has to change and I hope that is recognised.”

So proud of his achievements as a technological pioneer is he that he’s not even sure about the use of the word “Redemption” in the podcast’s title. “I don’t feel like Jar Jar – or I – need redemption. I’m looking at it as our redemption, as the people who love Star Wars.” Given how happy he is with his performance, would he ever play Jar Jar again? “I would never say never. I don’t feel like Jar Jar’s story was ever closed,” says Best. “But right now, I would like to explore more Kelleran Beq. I’d love to do a Star Wars martial arts show – like a Jedi John Wick.” Given all the twists in his life so far, don’t count against it.

The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks is widely available, episodes weekly.


One foggy night at 3am, the actor who plays Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars found himself clinging to the edge of Brooklyn Bridge. An instant ago, he had been on the public walkway, but now he was teetering on its brink. As the breeze blew around him, he gazed out at the Statue of Liberty. He saw the river below, and as he hung precariously above a 39m drop, one thing kept going through his mind: “I’ll show all of you. I’ll show you what you’re doing to me. And when I’m gone, then you’ll feel exactly what I went through.”

This is the lowest moment of new Ted-produced podcast The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks. It tells the story of Ahmed Best, who played what was meant to be one of Star Wars’ most exciting new characters, only to end up being the first ever recipient of a torrent of online abuse that spilled over into worldwide press coverage. We hear him go from being on the cover of Vanity Fair alongside Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor to receiving death threats – only to make an astonishing comeback. It’s quite the journey.

“I was an enormous Star Wars fan as a kid,” says Best, speaking from LA (the Hollywood actors’ strike doesn’t apply to documentary podcasts). “I loved it so much that my mom went to the fabric store and made Star Wars pillowcases for us, Star Wars sheets, Star Wars clothes.” A couple of decades later, the actor and martial artist was performing with percussive dance troupe Stomp. After one show, he was approached by a casting director who wanted him to audition for a role. When he found out it would be at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch the next day, it blew his mind. “I didn’t know what was happening,” says Best. “I thought it was a prank.”

He turned up, walked through a faux-Victorian mansion filled with display cases containing original lightsabers, and was asked to try out for a role in new Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace – which involved acting like a salamander. He got the part as Jar Jar Binks’s body – the basis for the CGI animations that formed the character – only to talk the production into giving him a spoken role, using a voice he’d previously invented to entertain his young cousins. Soon, he was on set with Hollywood megastars, driving around with George Lucas – who became almost a mentor to him and filming a role that effectively invented motion capture.

“We were doing something that was going to change cinema history,” says Best, of a collaboration with visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic that meant they had to create new programmes to capture what he was doing. This was the first time CGI had been used to generate a major movie character that spoke and interacted as though it were human.

From left: Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd shooting a scene from The Phantom Menace.
In the Wars … Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd shooting a scene from The Phantom Menace. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

“Even the software was written on my body,” says Best. “There’s still that legacy code in CGI packages today. My physical DNA is in every single CGI character since.”

Unfortunately, the dream soon soured. Even before The Phantom Menace was released, Best tuned in to Conan O’Brien one night, only to find a discussion about how his character would “ruin the movie”. When it came out in 1999, reviews were not kind – and fan reactions were worse. Websites such as JarJarSucks.com or JarJarBinksMustDie.com started springing up. They hosted Photoshop mockups of Binks and Best’s severed heads. Some users called for Binks’s entire race to suffer a horrific genocide. There was Jar Jar porn and homophobic abuse. There were so many hate sites that it created a “web ring” of linked pages that anti-Jar Jar activists could travel between.

The press started reporting on the online hatred, driving it to new heights. Best’s phone number was leaked online, and his answering machine overflowed with death threats. He returned to Stomp and became reluctant to even leave his New York apartment. “It was terrible,” says Best. “It was the lowest I’ve been in my life.”

At the time, it was an internet pile-on that had never been seen before. But today, it’s only too recognisable. “Jar Jar Binks isn’t this rare story from 24 years ago. There are Jar Jars today, who it’s socially acceptable to make jokes about online,” says Dylan Marron, an actor, podcaster and Ted Lasso writer who hosts the show. “I want people to hear what it’s like to survive this abuse.”

Ahmed Best and Dylan Marron (right) recording The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks.
A new hope … Ahmed Best and Dylan Marron (right) recording The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks. Photograph: Evan Perkins

Often the series feels like borderline sociology. It opens with an episode that explains the fever-pitch anticipation that awaited The Phantom Menace: we meet die-hards who attempted to be the first to see the film by camping outside Hollywood cinemas, replete with home offices (“having a desktop computer outside is the most 1999 thing I have ever heard of,” says Marron). The host meets the creator of a Jar Jar Binks hate site in a bid to understand his motivation, only for the interviewee to offer to play “the villain” of the podcast – which Marron refuses (“I haven’t even entertained what would have happened”).

The trickiest part of the podcast is broaching one of the biggest criticisms of Jar Jar Binks. After the release of The Phantom Menace, film critics, professors and media scholars all claimed that he was racially offensive. They highlighted his subservience to white characters, interpreted his long ears as dreadlocks and claimed that he spoke in “demeaning pidgin English that will give many older viewers an unfortunate reminder of Hollywood’s more blatant racial stereotypes”. Everyone involved in the character’s creation, including Best, deny there was any offensive intent. But Marron hands the mic to Black film critic Aisha Harris to let her explain how, deliberate or not, it’s all too easy to read Binks as a trope known as the “noble savage”.

For Best, the accusation of racism was devastating. As someone extremely proud of his African heritage and a passionate advocate of Black rights, it was the suggestion that he’d allowed himself to be exploited that drove him to the edge of Brooklyn Bridge. Until, that is, a strong gust of wind whipped by, he instinctively held on for safety, and he suddenly realised he wanted to live. He turned, made his way back across a girder so scarily narrow he resorted to crawling (“It was terrifying – just terrifying”) and ran home.

skip past newsletter promotion

He moved to LA, and got through filming two more Star Wars movies in which his part was shrunk down further and further (“Here I am, a significant character who changed movies, and then I’m a footnote – I barely appear”). He threw himself into martial arts, went to film school, became a father and moved into producing and directing. Years later, on a trip to New York with his son, he found himself walking along Brooklyn Bridge. He pulled out his phone, took a photo and tweeted how the media backlash once pushed him on to the edge of the bridge. “But now this little guy [his son] is my gift for survival.”

It made headlines around the world. There were huge outpourings of love from gen Z fans – for whom the prequels was their Star Wars – and an avalanche of apologies. Simon Pegg, who once devoted a segment of his Channel 4 comedy Spaced to attacking Jar Jar Binks, came out to say: “I feel so ashamed of the fact that there was actually a human victim in that.”

Best was invited to appear at a Star Wars convention, given a standing ovation, and was cast as the host of a Star Wars gameshow for kids, playing a Jedi called Kelleran Beq. Director Jon Favreau invited him to a two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting, and in March 2023, fans got to watch a Mandalorian episode where Kelleran Beq is revealed as a key part in the backstory to the entire series – the character who saved Grogu’s (Baby Yoda’s) life.

Best as Kelleran Beq in The Mandalorian.
The force awakens … Best as Kelleran Beq in The Mandalorian. Photograph: Lucasfilm Ltd.

“It really felt good,” says Best. “As an artist, I lost my confidence for so many years, but The Mandalorian gave me that affirmation of ‘You were always doing the right thing … It wasn’t you.’”

It also gives him an actual human form in the Star Wars world for the first time. If Jar Jar Binks had allowed people to see there was a real human beneath the CGI, does he think it might have saved him from the backlash? “I don’t think so. We are addicted to nostalgia. Anything that disrupts nostalgia is going to be faced with severe emotional backlash. Regardless of whether I was in makeup or in CGI, the nostalgia of Star Wars would have been broken and we would have had negative reactions.”

Best’s Mandalorian role provided some lovely closure to his Star Wars journey, making his tale perfect for a podcast. “I want folks who listen to recognise what I contributed to the history of cinema,” says Best. “Culturally, Black invention has been repeatedly erased from history and that is an injustice. Since 1997, no other Black man has ever played a main CGI character and that’s a travesty. That has to change and I hope that is recognised.”

So proud of his achievements as a technological pioneer is he that he’s not even sure about the use of the word “Redemption” in the podcast’s title. “I don’t feel like Jar Jar – or I – need redemption. I’m looking at it as our redemption, as the people who love Star Wars.” Given how happy he is with his performance, would he ever play Jar Jar again? “I would never say never. I don’t feel like Jar Jar’s story was ever closed,” says Best. “But right now, I would like to explore more Kelleran Beq. I’d love to do a Star Wars martial arts show – like a Jedi John Wick.” Given all the twists in his life so far, don’t count against it.

The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks is widely available, episodes weekly.

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