In Praise of Ahmed Best: Jar Jar June Day 22

       

The first time I ever watched the 2009 Clone Wars episode “The Gungan General”, I remember exclaiming to my wife, “What the hell?? That’s not Ahmed Best doing Jar Jar’s voice!” I checked the episode guide on starwars.com as soon as the episode was over, and sure enough, it wasn’t Ahmed Best—it was a mysterious voice actor named BJ Hughes. Yeah, it was nice to see Jar Jar on the three BJ Hughes-voiced Clone Wars episodes, but the soul of Jar Jar was MIA. Luckily, Ahmed Best returned to The Clone Wars as Jar Jar, but the whole thing underlined that, in addition to many other things, he’s the true spirit and soul of the character. There’s a quality that Ahmed Best brings to Jar Jar that I don’t think anybody else can capture, and it’s not even really about the familiarity of his voice— most of the other voice actors on the Clone Wars didn’t originate their characters, but I have no difficulty “buying” their portrayals. I feel like the quality that Ahmed Best brings to Jar Jar at this point is a graceful and gleeful sense of defiance, and the character is richer for it.

Jar Jar Binks was a collaboration from the start, and everybody involved—from George Lucas to Terryl Whitlatch to the artists at ILM—was essential to his creation. Ahmed Best, though, gave Jar Jar the spark of life; he made Pinocchio into a real boy. I loved the design of Jar Jar in 1998 just based on seeing him in the first TPM trailer, but I didn’t love the character until I saw the movie. I’m pretty sure I read the Terry Brooks novelization and/or the comic books before I saw TPM; I just couldn’t wait. I liked Jar Jar in those, I thought he was fun and appealingly weird. Upon seeing the movie, and Ahmed Best’s portrayal of him, I loved Jar Jar. Awhile back, on the (refreshingly hater-free…you should register and post there if you haven’t already!)  forums of the indispensable Star Wars Prequel Appreciation Society , I wrote this:

JJB’s design instantly appealed to me…it was so fresh and different from any character in the OT, but somehow felt familiar and classic to me right away. His character/personality more than lived up to the promise of his design; I just got him right off the bat.

I empathize and sympathize with him, but I also like that he’s not merely some pitiable character…at times, JJB is kind of a dick (“ooooh, Maxi-Big, da Force”), and that makes him feel more real to me.

What sums up his character so perfectly to me isn’t even in the movies or The Clone Wars: it was a caption of him in the “Phantom Menace Scrapbook” that gave him the quote, “Why meesa always the one?”.

As often as he’s referred to by his few fans and many foes as “the comic relief”, aside from some of the more slapstick-y physical things that he does, I just don’t see him as that—I see him more as an agent of chaos, but not in a malevolent way…he keeps things interesting and unpredictable. I love the way the other characters play off of him; it kind of adds to their characterizations.

Without Ahmed Best’s acting and his motion-capture performance, I don’t know that the character would’ve resonated with me so much.
      
      
                                       Ahmed Best’s Autograph

Despite all the hatred that’s been rained down upon Jar Jar Binks over the past 13 years, Ahmed Best has stayed heroically far above the fray. I’ve never read a single self-pitying interview with him, never read about him throwing a tantrum somewhere, and I’ve never seen him put down Star Wars or George Lucas…or even the “fans” and half-fans who’ve had nothing but venom for him. Even when he left the role of Jar Jar on The Clone Wars for awhile, he just stated that he wanted to work on some other projects; there was no public drama whatsoever. The thing is, if anybody could ever be said to have the right to vent their frustration, it would be him—but no, just a class act, year in and year out. Just a few months ago, there was a pretty long and positive story about him in the otherwise Prequel-hating Entertainment WeAkly [sorry, LP—I had to link to it :P ]. Beyond Jar Jar, beyond Star Wars, beyond any of that kind of “entertainment” stuff, the way Ahmed Best has carried himself is just plain admirable on a basic human level.

If you’re cynical or intellectually lazy, you might allege that Ahmed Best doesn’t criticize George Lucas or his Star Wars experience in order to keep his meal ticket intact…but that hasn’t stopped a host of other people who’ve worked on Star Wars in some capacity from bashing Lucas/Star Wars, and from what I’ve observed of Ahmed Best over the years, it doesn’t seem like he’d pull his punches if he had something he needed to say—just scan through his twitter account to see that. It seems to me that the kind of people who would accuse him of keeping his mouth shut in order to stay in Lucasfilm’s good graces are just projecting—when you’re a weasel, you kind of expect everybody else to be, too.
      

I’m not only a fan of Jar Jar, I’m a fan of Ahmed Best—though I love the character, Jar Jar is only one thing he’s done in his life, and I’m interested in what Ahmed Best, multi-faceted artist does next; he’s always up to something interesting. He writes…he directs…he acts…he’s a musician. He bats for the cycle. Maybe that’s how he’s able to handle the anti-Jar Jar hatred so gracefully—because he can keep it all in perspective. I’ll end this appreciation of Ahmed Best with a song…this is an ancient website of his, but I’ve never been able to find any of these tunes of his elsewhere (though here’s his myspace with slightly more current stuff). The song “Sweet Child” has been on rotation in my head for literal YEARS; go to “music”, then scroll down, and it’s the second to last song at the bottom: Ahmed Best’s Old Site.

                                                 

yesterday:                                                            tomorrow:
Her Majesty’s Stickiest Tongue                              ?








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