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Toxic fandom isn’t new among Star Wars fans, and it takes a toll on people’s lives

Just ask Ahmed Best, the man who played Jar Jar Binks

Jar Jar Binks grinning at Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui Gon Jin in the forest of Naboo in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace LucasFilm
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Just one month ago, actor Kelly Marie Tran — who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi — left Instagram amid a wave of harassment. Fans dissatisfied with her role in the latest film made being on social media difficult for her, so she opted to shut her account down and walk away.

But toxic fandom isn’t a new phenomenon for the iconic movie series. It dates back to at least the Star Wars prequels, and according to one actor, it changed the course of his life.

Ahmed Best, the man who portrayed Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, has taken a long time to come to terms with the fallout of his fateful role as the floppy-eared gungan.

“I had death threats through the internet,” Best told Wired last year in a feature-length profile piece. “I had people come to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’ That’s difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.”

Just yesterday, Best shared a photo on Twitter. He said it was taken at the same spot where he contemplated taking his own life.

“20 years next year I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today,” Best wrote. “This was the place I almost ended my life. It’s still hard to talk about.” Also pictured is his young son, whom he says is his “gift for survival.”

The admission that he once contemplated self harm comes during a reflective period for Best. According to his Twitter account, he’s considering producing and performing a new solo show to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace. Part of that introspection, clearly, includes considering how low that period in his life had brought him.

Best isn’t the only actor that was impacted by that film’s legacy. Jake Lloyd, who played the young Anakin Skywalker, was also swept up in the maelstrom. In one candid interview, given just 10 years after The Phantom Menace came out, he openly discussed the harassment he faced for his participation in the polarizing film. In that clip, which has been viewed nearly 2.5 million times, he looks visibly shaken as he recounts it.

“They didn’t let it go,” he said, referring to fans' dislike of the film and, by association, him.

I hope that Best will, one day, talk more about the impact of the harassment he has received throughout his career. Fans who deeply love the Star Wars franchise — or any big brand, be it a video game or a television show — seem so capable of turning their energy into hatred. But, if this era of fan conventions and social media has reminded us of anything, it’s that the writers, actors and other professionals that create these modern masterpieces are human beings. They deserve more respect for what they do, and maybe by sharing his story, Best can help us all move toward healthier dialogues online and in person.

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