While defending “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM radio show this week, Liam Neeson brought up how extreme backlash to the film from “Star Wars” fans robbed Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best from a career that could have rivaled Eddie Murphy. Best performed in motion capture and provided the voice for Jar Jar Binks in George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequel trilogy. Outrage over the character drove Best out of Hollywood and got so extreme it even led the actor to contemplate suicide.
“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 said. “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.”
Neeson continued, “Truly, he is one of the funniest guys. 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 starred as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in “The Phantom Menace” and said he remains “very proud of the film,” 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.”
Earlier this month, Neeson’s “Phantom Menace” co-star Ewan McGregor spoke to Empire magazine about the “Star Wars” prequel films and how reception to the three movies has changed over time. Neeson’s character was killed in “The Phantom Menace,” but McGregor’s Obi-Wan would continue to lead the prequel series in follow-up films “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith,”
“You know, our films weren’t much liked when they came out, by my generation who loved the first ones,” McGregor said. “I think people of our generation wanted to feel the way they’d felt when they saw those first three movies when they were kids, and George [Lucas] wanted to take our ones in a different direction, he had a different idea. It was tricky at the time, I remember. But now, all these years later, I’m really aware of what our films meant to the generation they were made for, the children of that time. They really like them. I’ve met people who, they mean a lot to them, those films, more so than the original three, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding?’”
McGregor will reprise the role of Obi-Wan in an upcoming Disney+ “Star Wars” television series. Best, meanwhile, returned to the “Star Wars” franchise earlier this year as the host of the Star Wars Kids YouTube series “Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge.”