Before actor Ahmed Best motion-captured his performance of Jar Jar Binks into the most despised character in the history of Star Wars, there was another name under consideration for the role. A very famous name.
According to Best, none other than Michael Jackson wanted to play Jar Jar. That's right, the late "king of pop" himself wanted to be the comic relief in The Phantom Menace. And he didn't want to merely voice the character, or perform it as motion capture CGI. He wanted to be physically in the movie, portraying Jar Jar in prosthetic makeup.
Contextually, it's easy to understand Jackson's desire to be in the movie. George Lucas was returning to Star Wars and returning to directing for the first time in decades. A real Star Wars movie was really being made, by the man who created the franchise to begin with. And it was going to be the story of how Darth Vader became Darth Vader. Of course everyone in Hollywood wanted in. It was going to be the biggest movie of all time.
We all know how that story ended. The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, and after the incredible hype and excitement faded, fans realized the truth: the movie was a resounding disappointment. And everybody hated Jar Jar.
Ahmed Best, speaking to Vice, said that he hasn't let the vitriol lobbed against Jar Jar affect him (much). But once upon a time, that movie almost turned out very differently.
Best told the story of how before filming began, he attended a Michael Jackson concert with Lucas, Lucas' kids, and actress Natalie Portman. After the concert ended, Lucas took the group backstage and introduced them to Michael Jackson and his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley. Best said that to his surprise, Lucas introduced him to Jackson as "Jar Jar" instead of using his real name.
Jackson was cordial but said very little. Later, Best asked Lucas why he'd introduced him that way.
"Well, Michael wanted to do the part," Lucas explained, "but he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup like 'Thriller.'" Like so:
Best believes Lucas turned Jackson down because he feared the singer "would have been bigger than the movie," and because Lucas wanted to create Jar Jar digitally.
Can you imagine what Jar Jar would have been like, had he been created with physical makeup effects instead of CGI — and played by Michael Jackson? It's hard to say if the movie would have turned out better or worse. It wasn't Best's fault that the film was a disappointment; he was an actor hired to play a part and he did his job the way he was told to do it. Film is a director's medium, and it was Lucas' writing and direction that made The Phantom Menace what it was.
But still. Michael Jackson as Jar Jar Binks? Can you even get your head around that?