Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace has gone from totally reviled to somewhat beloved over the years, and Liam Neeson, who played Qui-Gon Jinn in the film, wants you all to know he’s made peace with the project. In a new interview, Neeson said he enjoys the movie and has nothing but good things to say about Jar Jar Binks and the actor who played him, Ahmed Best.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was a big deal. It was the first Star Wars movie in decades, and George Lucas returned to write and direct. The hype leading up to the film was immense. People would buy movie tickets just to go watch the trailer on the big screen, then walk out of the movie they had paid to see. Fans lined up days in advance. Even folks who were Star Wars agnostics could not resist the film’s call.
And then the movie came out. And, well, you know the rest. The reviews at the time actually were pretty good (Roger Ebert gave it a rave!), but the general consensus, which only increased over time, was that the film was a dud. The prequel trilogy as a whole would go on to be disdained for years. And then…a weird thing started to happen. In recent years, people who grew up with the prequels began to insist that they were, in fact, pretty darn good. That they were unjustly maligned and that they deserved more praise.
I’m not one of those people. Sorry. The prequels are bad, folks. But if you like them, that’s fine! Because you’re not alone. For example: Liam Neeson, who starred in The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn, recently confirmed he’s a fan of Episode I. Speaking with Andy Cohen (via EW), Neeson said: “I’m very proud of the film, I got to be a Jedi, got to play with those wonderful lightsabers and stuff, it was terrific. I liked the movie.”
This is a bit of a change for Neeson. “I’m really not a huge fan of the genre,” the actor said in the past. “I think it’s Hollywood with all the bells and whistles and the technical achievements and stuff — which I admire –but I have no desire to go into the gym for three hours every day to pump myself up to squeeze into a Velcro suit with a cape.” However, in that same interview, Neeson did add: “The first Star Wars, I was in that, that was 22 years ago, and I enjoyed that because it was novel and that was new. I was acting to tennis balls, which were ultimately going to be little fuzzy furry creatures and stuff. That was interesting, acting-wise, to try and make that seem real, but that was the last. It’s quite exhausting.”
In the newer interview with Cohen, Neeson also took a moment to defend Ahmed Best and Jar Jar Binks. The digitally-enhanced Gungan became a bit of a punching bag for fans who took issue with, well, just about everything involving the character. Unfortunately, this backlash had serious effects on Best, leading him to even consider suicide at one point. In the years since, however, the fandom has come around to embracing Best. He appeared at the Star Wars Celebration in Chicago in 2019, and hosts the YouTube series Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge.
“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 had 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. Truly, he had all of his in stitches — including George Lucas.” And then, just for good measure, Neeson added once again: “But I liked the movie.”
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