Wow, So Michael Jackson Was Almost in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace


Long live Jar Jar Binks. In a new interview with Vice, Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar in the second Star Wars trilogy, discusses his turbulent journey from nothingness to notoriety. Among the many haphazard gems in the Q&A, there's an anecdote involving George Lucas and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, that does a good job of sticking out: At Wembley Arena for an MJ concert, Best, along with Natalie Portman and Lucas's kids, went backstage to meet the star. "George introduced me as 'Jar Jar,' and I was like, That's kind of weird," he told Vice. "[At an after-party,] I'm having a drink with George and I said, 'Why did you introduce me as Jar Jar?' He said, 'Well, Michael wanted to do the part but he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup like "Thriller.'" George wanted to do it in CGI. My guess is ultimately Michael Jackson would have been bigger than the movie, and I don't think he wanted that."

Huh. (The butterfly effect that could've impacted both Jar Jar and MJ makes my head hurt.) Best goes on to discuss the initial reviews of Star Wars and his first memories of the character becoming a controversial figure. Below are a few more Star Wars gems from the convo:

Auditions with Lucas are impossible to read:

George is a very quiet person; he doesn't say much. I was doing all of these moves and George had a very specific idea in mind of how the character was supposed to go. He very much wanted him to be more of a Buster Keaton than anything else. I gave him a lot of stuff. I was really—still am—into martial arts and acrobatics, so in my mocap audition, I was doing backflips and high kicks. It was more like athletics and he kept trying to pull me back from being so athletic and being a lot more lanky and long and silly. I eventually picked it up at the end of the mocap audition and he was like, "OK," and walked out of the room.

The New York press will thicken your hide (or break it):

The first person who kind of gave me an idea of where [negative reactions to Jar Jar were] going was a writer from the New York Post. ... Growing up in New York you know which papers give you the news and which papers give you the gossip and the Post was definitely heavier on the gossip side than anything else. But I was really surprised that everyone picked up on that afterward. It's a very American thing to take somebody down when they're at the top and a lot if it had to with that; people really wanted to see George crash and burn. Unfortunately, this character was so new, so experimental; he became a lightning rod for all that.

Episode II was jokingly called Jar Jar's Great Adventure:

That was the first script that we all got when we go to Sydney. It was [George's] joke because he knew it going to leak to the press. That was George's kind of middle finger to the whole, "everybody hates Jar Jar" thing.

For more on Jar Jar and Best, you can read the whole interview here.