Ahmed Best's comeback is officially in hyperdrive.
The actor, best known for voicing and performing motion-capture for the much-maligned Gungan Jar Jar Binks in George Lucas's 1999-2005 trilogy of Star Wars prequels, is back — this time in the flesh — as host of the upcoming Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge game show on YouTube's Star Wars Kids channel.
Like a vintage Nickelodeon show (think Double Dare or Legends of the Hidden Temple) filmed at Disneyland’s Galaxy's Edge theme park, the 10-episode series (originally slated for Disney+ before moving to YouTube) tests younglings (sorry, Padawans) paired in teams of two on their abilities to become Jedi knights through a series of strength and knowledge trials.
Best's participation in the show – as Jedi Master Kelleran Beq no less – marks another feel-good moment in the performer's rebound from what had turned into a shaky career sidetracked by derision and scorn in the years that followed his portrayal of Lucas's controversial patois-speaking sidekick. (Watch the first trailer below.)
In 2018, Best revealed that the backlash to his character was so harsh — with the actor even receiving death threats — that he contemplated suicide. "I don’t talk a lot about my experience as #jarjarbinks because a lot of it is very painful. I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today. This was the place I almost ended my life," he wrote in an Instagram post, accompanied by a photo of he and his song overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. "It’s still hard to talk about. I survived and now this little guy is my gift for survival." (At the time Best was considering a Phantom Menace-inspired one-man show which as of late-2019 was still in the works.)
Human decency has since (largely) prevailed, however, with Best, now 46, being re-embraced by the Star Wars community — especially in light of his troubling revelations. A Twitter post he shared the same day in 2018 drew words of support from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, among other notable Star Wars artists, pundits and fans.
In 2019, Best received a massive standing ovation when he was introduced on stage at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago. "You guys are going to make me tear up, and I'm an unattractive crier," he told the "Jar Jar! Jar Jar!"-chanting crowd. In a pre-taped message to fans attending a Phantom Menace 20th anniversary panel, Lucas went as far as naming Jar Jar as his favourite Star Wars character. "Ahmed, you did a fantastic job," he said. "It was very, very hard.”
Jar Jar's rep has also been buoyed in recent years by a prevalent 2015 fan theory that argues the character was not intended as comic relief or strictly for the kiddies, as generally believed, but as an evil secret Sith puppetmaster.
Despite his complicated relationship with Star Wars and its sometimes-toxic fandom, Best has continued to work in the universe in the years since the prequel trilogy wrapped with 2005's Revenge of the Sith, in which his role had been reduced to cameo-sized.
He voiced Jar Jar in seven episodes of the long-running animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-14) and won an Annie Award for spoofing the floppy-eared Naboo native in 2008's Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II. He'll also provide his voice to the upcoming video game Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
With Jedi Temple Challenge, Best feels like a perfect fit for the streaming show in more ways than one. The actor, who Lucas et al discovered for his work onstage in a New York production of Stomp, always had the natural charm and gregariousness you need to be a game-show host.
It's surely one of the reasons Lucas enlisted him for what he envisioned as a scene-stealing fan favorite in Jar Jar, not a perennial punching bag. And while the prequels are generally looked down upon by older Star Wars fans, they tend to be beloved by the generation that grew up with them — which very closely aligns with the YouTube series' target demo.
Here's hoping it's not just the young competitors in Jedi Temple Challenge that rise to the occasion, but Best as well.
Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge debuts on YouTube 3 June.
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