The Phantom Menace has been a punching bag for Star Wars fans and detractors alike since its release in 1999. And even though the first installment in George Lucas’s controversial prequel trilogy is an easy movie to poke fun at, it’s also all too easy to forget that the people who made the film can get bruised by those jokes.
In an emotional Twitter post on Tuesday, Ahmed Best — who played the target of so much ire, Jar Jar Binks — revealed that he contemplated taking his own life when the negative reviews started rolling in. “20 years next year I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today,” the now-44-year-old actor wrote in a message that accompanied a picture of him and his son looking at what appears to be the New York City harbor from the vantage point of the Brooklyn Bridge. “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.”
Best — who said in an interview with Wired last year he received “death threats” after the film’s release — shared the same photo on Instagram, opening up about his depression.
I’ve been thinking of doing a twenty year #ThePhantomMenace solo show next year. 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. It’s still hard to talk about. I survived and now this little guy is my gift for survival. I’m ready to tell this story but I’m curious to know if a show like this is something people want to see. Lemme know. #depressionisreal #survivor #soninmyeyes #fathersonvacay
A post shared by Ahmed Best (@bestahmed) on Jul 3, 2018 at 1:01pm PDT
There’s no question that Best has had to endure the brunt of The Phantom Menace backlash over the years, largely because he committed so completely to delivering the broadly comic performance the Lucas wanted. With his admittedly cringe-inducing accent and penchant for annoying pratfalls, the floppy-eared Gungan was supposed to be the movie’s scene-stealer, but instead stole the audience’s attention for all the wrong reasons.
The director himself seemed to realize that he had miscalculated the character’s appeal, because Jar Jar’s screentime dwindled in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). In the canonical 2015 novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, author Chuck Wendig wrote the sad coda to Binks’s story, depicting him as an elderly, ostracized street performer trying vainly to entertain children on his home world of Naboo.
Thankfully, Best’s own life and career are in a much better place than his alter ego’s. In addition to appearances on such shows as Robot Chicken (where he often reprises the role of Jar Jar) and Cougar Town, he’s also branched out into directing short films and recording albums. And as the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace approaches next year, the proud father is contemplating writing and headlining a solo stage show about the making of the movie and the post-release fallout.
In his Twitter post, the actor indicates that the story of how he contemplated leaping from the Brooklyn Bridge might be among the stories he tells onstage. Since disclosing his near brush with suicide earlier today, July 3, his feed has been flooded with well-wishers, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson.
Lots of love to you Ahmed. I think there are many of us who’d get quite alot from hearing your story.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) July 3, 2018
I’m impossibly glad you’re still here.
— Bryan Young, Shill (@swankmotron) July 3, 2018
And I’ve been fortunate enough to get invited to three Star Wars premieres and I’ve been sure to wear a Jar Jar necktie to every single one of them.
— Bryan Young, Shill (@swankmotron) July 3, 2018
Like so many other Star Wars fans, I can’t express how grateful I am to have you as part of our community
— Star Wars Explained (@StarWarsExplain) July 3, 2018
I never knew it got so bad for you. I’m so sorry. For what it’s worth, I was 17 when the movie premiered and I was psyched for your portrayal because I saw your photo in a magazine where you were out in the desert being a creative badass. I’ve always loved Jar Jar.
— Tess Fowler (@TessFowler) July 3, 2018
Yes please tell your story. With the uglier parts of fandom rearing it’s head once again attacking people they don’t like in a movie, it would be good to hear the story of someone this happened to, the real life consequences and how they rose above it.
— Jason B. Williams (@JasonBWilliams1) July 3, 2018
I just want to tell you that when I first saw The Phantom Menace, I fell off the couch laughing at your line, “Exsqueeze me!” I hope you know there are fans out here who love and appreciate you and what you did with Jar Jar. ❤️❤️❤️
— Elaine Tveit (@tveitlight25) July 3, 2018
It’s a refreshing alternative to the trolls that drove new Star Wars stars Kelly Marie Tran and Daisy Ridley off of social media. Somehow, we feel like Best’s best work is still ahead of him.
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