Michael Jackson was the “King of Pop.” But he nearly became the King of Acting Flops. The singer reportedly told Star Wars mastermind George Lucas that he wanted to play goofy Gungan Jar Jar Binks, one of the most despised characters in film history, in the franchise’s 1999 blockbuster, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Ahmed Best, who voiced and provided motion capture for the Binks character, explained Jackson’s interest in an interview with Vice.
“Me, Natalie Portman and George [Lucas]’s kids – we were at Wembley arena at Michael Jackson’s concert,” Best said. “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 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.”
The casting probably worked out better for Jackson in the long run: Jar Jar was panned by critics after Phantom Menace hit theaters, inspiring fan vitriol that hasn’t dimmed 16 years later. (See Daniel Kimmel’s 2011 book Jar Jar Binks Must Die.) Best told Vice that he’s accepted the character’s outcast status – and he understands why Jar Jar’s importance diminished in the two subsequent Star Wars films, 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
“At the end of the day, it is the movie business, and if the character doesn’t work for the people who watch the movie, then the character doesn’t work,” he said. “I can’t take that personally. It’s up to the filmmaker to make sure that not only does the film work for the filmmaker but it also works for the audience. So, because he wasn’t a fan favorite, I can understand why he was scaled back. And, narratively, they moved on to something else. There’s really no room in Revenge of the Sith for him; that was a very dark story. There was nothing about it that needed to be comedic, which was Jar Jar’s whole purpose. Jar Jar’s whole purpose was to bring light and levity. By that time, there was none.”