In The Mandalorian season 3 episode 4, Disney combined our two favourite things: Baby Yoda and nostalgia. Entitled ‘The Foundling,’ the latest episode of the Star Wars series gave us some much-overdue insight into how our favourite little critter managed to escape Order 66. As well as getting glimpses of Stormtroopers and the city of Naboo, we also got to see some Jedi fight sequences up close. But there was one Jedi in particular that caught viewers’ eye.
We watched in wonder as Kelleran Beq swooped in to rescue Grogu from the Great Jedi Purge, heroically battling clone troopers with a lightsaber in each hand before zooming away on a BARC speeder. But the Jedi Master’s actor, Ahmed Best, is far from new to the Star Wars universe.
As many fans picked up on, Best played Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. At the time of their release, the ‘90s movies and ‘2000s movies faced intense backlash by the fandom — and it was Jar Jar that was on the receiving end of a lot of that hate.
The CGI Star Wars character became infamous for all the wrong reasons, as many fans and critics saw Binks as the encapsulation of everything they deemed wrong with the prequel trilogy: cringey, charmless, and irritating to the point of anger.
Struggling to reconcile their rage towards the franchise with the human behind Jar Jar, this led to very vocal sections of the Star Wars fandom piling relentless hate onto Best, who, at the time, was only in his mid-twenties.
“I had death threats through the internet,” Best recalled in an interview with Wired. “I had people come to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’ That’s difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.” According to Best, this abuse by fans was only amplified further by the media and, with Jar Jar being his first major role, had a tangible impact on his career moving forward.
Unsurprisingly, the intensity of this hate campaign and the impact it arguably had on his career began to weigh so heavily on Best, he almost ended his own life. “20 years [ago] I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today,” he tweeted alongside a picture of him and his son on a bridge. “This was the place I almost ended my life. It’s still hard to talk about.”
Needless to say, the fact that Jar Jar almost drove Best to suicide is heartbreaking. The suffering and abuse he endured for his role in the Star Wars movies will permanently stain the Star Wars fandom’s history. And that’s why I’m struggling with the current narrative surrounding his return to the franchise.
If you scroll through Twitter or various headlines about his return, the word ‘redemption’ keeps popping up. Public discourse around Best’s return seems to be centred around the idea that he should be grateful that he has been given a chance to ‘redeem himself’ after playing Jar Jar Binks.
This is troubling to me. By definition, ‘redemption’ refers to “atoning for a fault or mistake,” so to say Best is being given a shot at ‘redemption’ is to say that he is to blame for the backlash surrounding Jar Jar. And if that’s the implication, then that leads us to the worrying conclusion that Best somehow deserved all the abuse he received.
It suggests that the behaviour that led to his being driven to suicide and his career, by his admission, being impacted, was somehow justifiable. If anyone should be seeking redemption or forgiveness, it shouldn’t be the man whose only crime was doing the job he was hired to do. It should be the people whose abuse, and hate campaigns led to Best standing on that bridge.
Next year, it will be 25 years since The Phantom Menace was released, yet the groups that perpetuated the hate against Best seem to have learned nothing. This is evident when one considers how these very groups are at the centre of the ‘redemption arc’ narrative.
It shows that even now, sections of the fandom and the media are still unwilling to accept responsibility for their behaviour. They’re still trying to posit Best as the one who should be seeking ‘redemption’ because he played a character they didn’t like two decades and a half ago.
Above all, I hope Best got a level of catharsis playing The Mandalorian character, not because it’s an act of redemption, but because it’s an act of triumph. Kelleran Beq wasn’t defeated by the clone troopers, and the abuse didn’t defeat Ahmed Best.