We can’t get enough of tales of what might have been. Earlier this week, we shared the story of how Ian McKellen nearly wasn’t Magneto nor Gandalf. Now, here’s one of how Ahmed Best nearly didn’t play Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels. Instead, none other than Michael Jackson could have played the comic-relief character. But it would have been done much differently. At least visually.
Best revealed the bombshell in a new interview with Vice. Here are the details, as quoted by the site:
That’s what George [Lucas] told me. Me, Natalie Portman, and George’s kids—we were at Wembley arena at Michael Jackson’s concert. We were taken backstage and we met Michael. There was Michael and Lisa Marie [Presley]. George introduced me as “Jar Jar” and I was like, That’s kind of weird. Michael was like, “Oh. OK.” I thought, What is going on? After Michael had driven off, we all go back up to a big afterparty. 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.
It’s difficult to picture, but not impossible. Imagine not only Jackson in the “Thriller” video but also as the Scarecrow in The Wiz, as the titular Captain EO (the Disney theme park exclusive was co-written and executive produced by Lucas) and his various incarnations in Moonwalker. He never became a movie star, but he was a good fit for sci-fi and fantasy, and he loved those kinds of films. Star Wars was said to have been one of his three favorites, along with E.T. and Peter Pan. It’s not a surprise he would have tried to be in the new ones.
What is hard to consider is how different, besides the practical effects employed for the character, the portrayal would have truly been. Best, then and now still a relative unknown in spite of the character’s notoriety, incorporated a lot of his appreciation for Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as well as his physical work from the Broadway show Stomp into the slapstick portrayal, and he also provided the character’s infamously irritating vocals. Jar Jar is George Lucas’s creation, but a lot of the role can be credited to (but not necessarily blamed on) Best.
It’s unclear if the King of Pop would have similarly done an allegedly racist take on Jamaican patois for his version or if the nimble music and dance icon would have or could have done so many pratfalls and other goofy bits. Would Jar Jar have been more soft-spoken? Would he have been lighter on his feet? Most importantly, would he have made the prequels at least a little bit better? We’ll never know, but at least we now have the impetus to dream of the alternate versions of The Phantom Menace and the two installments that followed.
If only we at least had an audition tape to fuel our imagination even more, as we do with Kurt Russell (x2) and William Katt: