I don’t get shy in the presence of celebrities. I’ve asked Ray Park about his martial arts training, about why he does so much slashing with his famous double-bladed lightsaber and not much stabbing. I met Oscar Isaac in New York earlier this year and told him exactly what I thought of his utterly brilliant performance in Hamlet. I also said I was glad he didn’t die in The Force Awakens and I didn’t stumble over my words once.
Talking to Anthony Daniels about Jar Jar Binks was an entirely different experience. It wasn’t as simple as asking a question and receiving an answer. It was a self-contained encounter and it was a wild ride from start to finish.
Many news outlets have since reported on the answer I got from Daniels, but there’s so much more to that story than the end result. Not only did he answer my question, he asked me what I thought of Jar Jar and he asked me to do a Jar Jar impression! Daniels has such a unique way of interacting with fans and I had the—I wouldn’t call it ‘luck’—unique privilege, shall we say, of being on the receiving end of his chirps.
Let me start from the beginning.
Anthony Daniels is the only person to have appeared in every single Star Wars movie, episodes and anthology films alike. He has 40-years’ worth of stories, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and on-set experiences to tell. I went to FanExpo Canada knowing that if I wanted to ask Anthony Daniels a question, it had to be a good one. That’s either something he’s never been asked before, or something he could tell a funny story about.
It seemed that Daniels was thinking the same thing, because almost as soon as he appeared onstage, he warned the audience that journalists have grilled him for years, and they’ve all asked the same questions over and over again. Silly questions like, “Is it hot in the suit?”
Right. Duly noted. This was definitely not the time to ask stupid questions. At this point, I hadn’t got a fully formed question for him yet. But I will.
After this caveat, Daniels started telling some of those glorious stories that I’d been waiting for. Did you know that the doors on the Death Star were operated by someone using a pulley? Neither did I. According to Daniels, there’s a particular scene where Alec Guinness is caught mid-blink and the footage is cut so that he never finishes the blink. The reason for that, Daniels explained, is that George Lucas wanted the Death Star doors to open and close faster than the pulley guy (Daniels called him ‘Charlie’) was capable of, so they needed Alec Guinness to stay very still while Charlie worked away at the pulley. They later used special effects to increase the speed of the doors, but they happened to catch Guinness in the middle of a blink and that is apparently still visible if you go back and watch A New Hope.
Daniels is a wonderful storyteller. As he talked, he did impressions of the other actors and he used his full range of motion to show us what exact position Alec Guinness was standing in. And of course he did his C-3PO voice, with his arms held out as though he were in costume.
Every so often, he paused his storytelling to let the audience ask questions. To do this, he came down from the stage and wandered through the crowd, question mic in hand. He paced the aisles and the cameras had to follow him around make sure that the large screens got the visual for everyone who was too far away to see with their own eyes.
Everyone wanted his attention, to ask him something.
Now, I had been in line for this panel since 11:00 and it didn’t start until 12:30. This meant that I was among the first 50 or so people in line and so when I was finally allowed in, I got a pretty decent seat. It wasn’t at the very front—that section was reserved for people who had a super expensive VIP pass—but it was in the middle a few rows back, right in front of the stage.
I hoped that my relatively good seat would get me noticed. At this point, my question was going to be “What was the most amusing thing to happen to you while on set?” It wasn’t the best question ever, but I figured that no matter the response, it would be good.
I waved my hand in his direction, hoping that he’d come over here. But instead, his first stop was this boy—maybe 12 or 13 years old. The kid was dressed like Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace. If I recall correctly, he asked if the C-3PO suit was the same in every movie. Daniels said that he got a new suit for The Force Awakens.
“They 3D printed it, which still makes it as heavy as it was,” he said. “The head used to take half an hour to put on. Now it goes on—because they changed the way it fits together—in eight seconds, which means I can take it off after each shot.
After this, Daniels moved on. He came right up close to me and he was so close, just a couple of paces away. I got excited—maybe this time I’d get to ask my question! He was talking, but I wasn’t really listening because I was so preoccupied with the idea of asking my question. I repeated it to myself over and over in my head, so I would get the wording right and wouldn’t make myself look like an idiot.
As I was sitting there thinking about my question, Daniels turned away from me and handed the mic to someone else and he kept talking and told her not to say anything. He started tellung us about a deleted scene from Attack of the Clones where Padmé helps put C-3PO’s coverings on and and thus completes him. Daniels ruefully told the crowd that it ended up on the cutting room floor at George Lucas’ behest.
Once he finished that story, he took the mic back and moved on to a man at the front. I was a little surprised that he didn’t ask the girl who held the mic for him whether she had a question.
Anyway, this particular audience member started talking a mile a minute about how excited he is to ask this question. He introduced his question as “number one,” as though he had a list and expected to get through all of the questions on it. Daniels rolled his eyes, as if to say “get on with it!”
In the end, this man’s question was: “How did C-3PO get his red arm?”
There were some audible groans from the audience, for this question has been answered in canon. We all wondered how Daniels was going to react; was he going to patiently re-tell the story, or was he going to say that there’s an answer out there already? After all, this dude sounded so excited to ask this question.
It was the latter. Daniels was as unimpressed as we were.
“Has anyone here read The Phantom Limb?” he asked, by way of reply. A handful of people put their hands up, and some yelled “yes!”
“I am surprised that a huge Star Wars fan such as yourself didn't know that,” Daniels continued. “You should ask someone in here who has read it!”
And that was it! That was all the answer that guy got from Daniels! There was a murmer from the audience. We were all processing how brutal a takedown that was. For his part, Daniels walked back to the stage and sat on the edge as though he had actually answered this poor man’s question.
It was time for more questions. After seeing Daniels completely obliterate the guy before me, I decided to change my question.
On my way into the panel, I had joked that I would ask him what he thought of Jar Jar Binks. Now, I was genuinely curious about his answer and at least I know that question hasn't been asked before and there's no way it could have been addressed in canon.
I put my hand up as high as I could and he looked down near where I was sitting. But he chose a girl near the front. He asked her to join him and she sat next to him on the edge of the stage.
This girl started talking about how her best friend is actually the Star Wars fan of the two but couldn’t be there today and so she'd come to ask a question on her friend’s behalf. It seemed that Daniels was bored already and he asked whether she'd got to the question yet.
Daniels gave off an air of “come on for goodness sake!” and honestly, so did most of the audience. We all wanted to learn something new, or hear another story.
When this girl finally got to her question, it was “Which of the movies was your favorite to work on?”
It was a marginally better question than the one about the red arm.
In short, Daniels said that The Force Awakens was his favourite to work on.The journalist in me is thinking “that's the problem with closed questions.”
So Daniels took some time to talk about working on The Force Awakens and it was sweet but predictable. Though he did offer a tidbit of information about Carrie Fisher’s penchant for Coca-Cola.
“You would be amazed how many shots which she’s in, have a can of Coke hidden somewhere, and the crew were desperate not to feature it,” he said.
He called for more questions. This time, I stood up and stuck my hand up straight. I must've looked super determined, because he pointed to me and said “Come up here.” I went “Who, me?” because was someone right in front of me, also with their hand up. I couldn’t believe that I’d finally get to ask this ridiculous question.
Daniels didn’t clarify and I just seized the chance. Having seen the way he interacted with the other audience members, I was prepared for anything. I could handle his playful sparring. I leapt up onto the stage and he said “I used to be able to do that,” and the audience laughed.
He handed me the microphone. And I, knowing that he wasn’t here for my life story or whatever, I straight-up asked: “What is your opinion of Jar Jar Binks?”
Daniels looked rather taken aback and the audience burst out laughing. There was some applause and cheering, even a couple of joyful whoops, too. I tried not to smirk too hard. This was the affirmation that I needed, that showed me that my question was the best one he had yet to receive.
Daniels shook his head and the audience laughed again. He then asked what my opinion was.
Well, I’m a long-time Jar Jar fan. I have liked him since I saw The Phantom Menace as a child and I’ve come to identify with him more as I’ve grown up. My favourite thing about Jar Jar is that he does his best and always makes mistakes. He’s laughed at and he’s chastised for it. But in the end, it’s his mistakes that lead him to success. He always gets where he needs to be. I like a character who embodies a good work ethic and perseverance.
So without hesitation, I said “I love him! I think he's a hero who did nothing wrong.”
Daniels seemed surprised by my reply, repeating back “a hero who did nothing wrong…” He asked the audience to cheer if they agreed with me, and to boo if they disagreed with me. To nobody's surprise, there were a few scattered cheers, but the boos overwhelmed them and the room practically echoed with the Jar Jar hatred. I know that my opinion is unpopular.
Nonetheless, Daniels was bemused and he humored me.
“Why is he a hero?” he asked.
I start to give him the same answer as I explained above. “Because he did his best and—” I began, but Daniels cut me off, shouting “His best was not good enough!”
The audience laughed again. Even if this wasn’t going exactly as I planned, I was relieved that the crowd wasn’t as fed up of me as they had been of the previous questioners.
I tried to finish my explanation by raising my volume.
“He blundered his way to glory!” I shouted.
It wasn’t Daniels who responded. Someone yelled “He gave all the powers to the Empire!”
I smiled. As if that allegation was going to damage my argument!
“’Cause he's a Sith Lord too!” I yelled back enthusiastically. I absolutely love the Darth Jar Jar theory. I accept that it’s unlikely, but I don’t think it’s implausible. I also think it would make for a great story. Imagine, Jar Jar as an undercover Sith Lord! If that were true, he’d have been even less suspicious than Palpatine himself! Either way, I remain a staunch Jar Jar supporter.
Daniels paused. “Say that again?” he asked, though it sounded more like a demand. I looked him in the eye and I spoke very, very slowly, enunciating every syllable.
“Jar Jar Binks. Is. A. Sith. Lord,” I said.
He didn’t offer me a reply to this assertion and instead changed the topic by asking me to do a Jar Jar impression! I wasn’t expecting to have to show off my acting chops here, but I was unfazed by this odd request. I used to do Jar Jar impressions all the time as a kid, and if my memory served me correctly, I wasn’t bad. I remember being pretty pleased with my Jar Jar voice. So I shrugged and put my tongue against my bottom teeth to try and achieve that unique muted sound.
“Mesa Jar Jar Binks! Mesa your humble servant!” I said.
It was not nearly as good as I remember it being. It was too high-pitched and I wasn’t muted enough. There was some laughter and a few sad claps.
“That was really horrible,” Daniels said. I wasn’t upset—he wasn’t wrong. Though there was some small part of me what wanted him to appreciate it the same way that I had appreciated my eight-year-old self.
Only now did he take the mic back and start answering my question. “I will tell you what my opinion is,” he promised. He started talking about Ahmed Best. He called him, “a terrific actor, a terrific mover. Terrific inventive brain, highly intelligent.”
I could see where this was going. He was going to say that he didn’t like Jar Jar Binks. Why else would he start by praising the actor who played him? If he liked Jar Jar, he would just’ve come out and said that he liked him.
“George’s son, Jett, was thrilled by that performance that Ahmed did, perfectly,” Daniels continued.
Then, he paused. And with perfect comedic timing, he said, deadpan: “But Jett was ten years old.” And everyone started howling with laughter, me included.
“Now, I wasn’t. So for me, Jar Jar was— a bit like the Ewoks—grown past that sort of stage. Ten year-olds, 11 year-olds, 12-year olds, eight year-olds adored Jar Jar. It was a very very good thing to do. Anybody remember Jar Jar when they were eight, nine, ten? And now you are 20-something, aren’t you?”
It was a rhetorical question to the audience, but I muttered “I'm 23.” I was lucky that nobody could hear me.
“I hugely admire Ahmed Best, he got very bad press for doing it.” Daniels paused again. I could tell that he was coming to the end of his answer.
He turned to me and said “Very good question.” I couldn’t help but feel pleased, even though the previous questions were hardly competition. He came over to me, and patted me on the back as though he was consoling me about the loss of a relative.
“Jar Jar was not for me,” he said.
Fully expecting this answer, I gave him an overly dramatic curt nod, as though he were rejecting my ideas due to “creative differences.”
He told me to exit using the stairs at the side of the stage. I'm still not sure why he did this, maybe it was safety protocol? As I left the stage, the audience was still laughing and applauding. I thought they were reacting to Daniels’ answer, but then I saw him gesture towards me, as though he were a show host and was seeing me off for the evening.
It was a rather a nice send-off, which makes me want to think that he enjoyed our brief time together.
So, now you know how Anthony Daniels feels about Jar Jar Binks. The question that nobody was wondering about. Although his opinion was very different to mine, the interaction was thoroughly satisfying.