You have so much more to offer
Learning from Star Wars' Ahmed Best and Indiana Jones' Ke Huy Quan
Jar Jar Binks nearly killed Ahmed Best, the young actor who played the awkward, gangly Gungan responsible for delivering the slapstick comic relief of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Ahmed suffered the absolute worst of the backlash to that film over the largely unliked Jar Jar character. “I poured myself into that character,” Best said numerous times in advance of the film’s release.
Now think of every conversation you’ve ever had about Episode I with friends or family. Someone always brings it up. “It was good but yeah, Jar Jar-” is how it starts. Ahmed Best’s character became the scapegoat for Episode I’s less-than-pristine reception. He took it personally. How could he not?
We know Best wasn’t the only one. You can look up what’s become of Jake Lloyd, the boy who played a young Anakin Skywalker in the film. Do you think his life would have been different if the world had loved him in the film that returned Star Wars to the big screen after 17 years?
Ahmed Best took it on the chin from everyone. Even the claims still lobbed at Jar Jar Binks of being some sort of racist, bastardized Jamaican alien with a broken accent. Best built this character. That was all him, not Jar Jar.
“I didn’t see potential” Best has said about that time, “All I saw was fog.”
He walked across the steel beams of the Brooklyn Bridge and thought of his experience skydiving. He liked that falling feeling. Then a gust of wind hit Best, knocking him off balance. He stumbled, and resisted the push of the wind.
He resisted it. For a long time he wanted to die. Then a gust of wind gave him the push….an excuse…all he had to do was let go.
But Ahmed Best held on. His life was not over.
Nothing left to offer?
Just a couple of weeks ago were the 95th Academy Awards. There was some real drama to the ceremony. Not just one but two stories of redemption and hope on full display with the returns of Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan to the public eye. Quan won Best Actor in a Supporting Role, just one of many wins for the action-drama Everything Everywhere All At Once. Quan is 51 years old, but most of the world first met him at age 12 when he costarred as “Short Round” alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom (1984). Others met him shortly after that chapter in the Indiana Jones saga in the lighthearted adventure flick, The Goonies (1985).
Quan got off to a great start in Hollywood, but like with many child actors, things fizzled out.
Before the Oscars, Ke Huy Quan won a Golden Globe for his performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once. His acceptance speech was heavy.
Please watch it if you haven’t already.
“I felt so lucky to have been chosen,” Quan said of his role in Indiana Jones as a child, “As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it, if that was just luck….For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer. No matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid.”
“More than 30 years later, two guys thought of me. They remembered that kid and they gave me an opportunity to try again,” he said, holding back tears. “Everything that has happened since has been unbelievable.”
Quan too felt his life was effectively over. When you’re an actor, working and recognition for that work are nearly impossible to segment from your sense of self-worth. But then again, you probably know that feeling too in some way or another.
Hope abounds. We all have more to offer. But we can’t do it on our own. I’ll briefly explain.
Ahmed Best’s story and life continued, but it took nearly two decades for Best’s relationship with Star Wars to be somewhat redeemed. In 2020 he appeared in a Disney+ series called Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge, a Jedi-themed game show for kids. And in 2023, just last week, Best emerged with a cameo in The Mandalorian, as Jedi Master Kelleran Beq, the Jedi responsible for saving Grogu (Baby Yoda) from death in Order 66. Most people would have swore Star Wars off, but Best accepted the outstretched hand from Star Wars’ showrunners.
Star Wars wronged Ahmed Best. The world was cruel to him and he nearly gave up on it. Now he is Jedi Master Kelleran Beq, for all of time. Jar Jar still looms large in his story, but now its just one short chapter (maybe two).
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A little personal
I’ve been sad this year. Very sad. 2021 was incredible for me on so many levels. My work as a podcaster, writer, media commentator and mentor all culminated in 12 months where I was hosting a freakin political talk show with my name on it for Al Jazeera International, and releasing my first ever book through a major publisher. It was the highest of highs.
Then it was over. My show was not renewed for a second season. My book was out in the world and I did the work of going out to sell it. It did fine, but was not a massive success by industry standards.
It’s Spring 2023, and my heart still aches. I feel like it was the top of the mountain for my career, but I couldn’t stay on top of it.
When Ke Huy Quan said he wondered if “he had anything more to offer” I too have wondered the same thing throughout this time. I feel spent, and like a failure. And boy when that feeling sets in, it starts to become a self-fulfilling sort of attitude. You begin to poison things around you that would otherwise be good.
Like Ahmed Best said, it’s “a fog”. Fear. Self-doubt. Anger. Doing this Substack, This Is The Way, is probably the only constructive habit I’ve developed in this time to try and fight for a way out of the fog.
I know there’s a light. I’ve seen one or two through the fog since that big year. I follow them for a time and then they get lost again. But I’m going to keep searching, because I used to know who I was, and I want to know how I am again. I’ve never thought about “giving up” but I certainly know the hopelessness of resignation and self-doubt.
Seeing Ahmed Best emerge so triumphant after what he experienced, and Ke Huy Quan sharing his story of self-doubt, made me want to share that with you. We all will wander in the darkness for periods of time, but if you hold on, remain open to help and new opportunities, if you follow the lights…you’ll escape the fog. You’ll be home again. And you might just find that home is better than you ever remembered or imagined. Follow the lights.
This is the way.