This week, I’ve been digging through Brian Raftery’s excellent book 1999: Best. Movie. Year. Ever. It chronicles the production and context around the releases of a truly iconic movie year, which included films like The Matrix, Fight Club, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Office Space, and The Blair Witch Project.
In 1999, we also received Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a project so maligned by bloated expectations and creative ego that it’s difficult to determine if the film ever really had a chance to succeed. Raftery tells the story of the movie’s production in his book through the lens of Ahmed Best, who was young musician and dancer at the time. Eventually he’d be recruited to play one of the most derided characters in film history—Jar Jar Binks.
For Best, Jar Jar represented his big break, his chance to achieve artistic success. He remembers shooting the film fondly, recalling stories of shooting in Tunisian deserts while singing the Star Wars theme song quietly to himself. And in Best’s memory, we find the wonderful image of R2-D2 getting high off the set.
“‘We laughed all day long,’ [Ahmed Best] says of his Phantom Menace experience, which included hanging poolside with [Natalie] Portman and [Ewan] McGregor and watching Kenny Baker—the actor who played R2-D2—taking off-the-clock hits from a violet bong,” Raftery writes.
This naturally led me to wonder just how Baker snuck marijuana and paraphernalia into a North African country, though I’m sure the answer is probably something simple like, the rich and famous can get away with stuff us normal folk can’t. Sadly, Baker passed away three years ago at the age of 81, so we can’t ask him ourselves. This is probably one of those stories better left to mystery.