It’s long been fashionable to diss the Star Wars prequels, but it’s worth noting that each film at least opened to decent reviews and boffo box office before their reputations plummeted. But there’s one element that was never, ever popular: Jar Jar Binks, the Rastafarian-esque alien who was intended as comic relief and was instead greeted as a distracting annoyance. You won’t find too many Jar Jar defenders — that is, with the noted exception of another prequels star, Liam Neeson.
As caught by IndieWire, the Oscar-nominated actor recently appeared on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM radio show, and he spent some of his time defending The Phantom Menace, in which he played Jedi master and mentor Qui-Gon Jinn. He saved some of that energy for Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar in cinema’s very first all-motion-capture performance. The furor over the character — which was such that his role in the sequels was greatly reduced — drove Best to consider suicide. That was deeply unfair, Neeson said, and it may have even robbed us of a great and diverse career.
“I know a lot of fans and critics didn’t like it and my lovely friend Ahmed Best, who played Jar Jar Binks, came in for a lot, a lot of criticism. To the point where it really hurt his career,” Neeson told Cohen. “And I have to say when I was making that film, he was probably one of the funniest guys and talented guys I have ever worked with. I remember calling my old ex-agent at ICM and said, ‘I think I just worked with the new Eddie Murphy.’ I still believe that.
“Truly, he is one of the funniest guys,” Neeson added. “He had all of us in stitches — including George Lucas. And then bam, the film comes out and he’s attacked, personally attacked by fans and critics for whatever reasons.”
Neeson added that he remains “very proud” of The Phantom Menace, adding, “I got to be a Jedi, got to play with those wonderful lightsabers and stuff, it was terrific. It really was. I liked the movie. I’m proud of it. I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Anyone who would like to give The Phantom Menace — and its two follow-ups, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith — can do so on their current home on Disney+. Surely they’re a better watch than the instantly disliked The Rise of Skywalker, which didn’t even enjoy the luxury of decent initial reviews.