In an exclusive interview with StarWars.com, the actor discusses his major sequence in The Mandalorian, as well as his Star Wars past and future.
Spoiler warning: This article discusses details and plot points from The Mandalorian “Chapter 20: The Foundling.”
After months of conversation, reflection, and planning, Ahmed Best was ready to take his first steps back into the larger world of Star Wars. At the invitation of Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and Rick Famuyiwa, executive producers of The Mandalorian, he would be playing Kelleran Beq, the Jedi who saves Grogu during the Order 66 attack on the Jedi Temple. But it wasn’t until one specific moment that it all became real.
“As soon as I put the robes on for my first costume test, and I walked on to get approval from Jon and Dave, and they handed me a lightsaber, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m in this,’” Best tells StarWars.com. “And boom, Kelleran Beq came alive.”
The identity of who rescued Grogu during the Jedi purge had long been teased on the Disney+ series. Hazy flashbacks and discussion have been peppered throughout the show, and finally, the truth was revealed in this week’s “Chapter 20: The Foundling”: Best’s Jedi defends Grogu from a clone trooper onslaught, ferries him away in a speeder chase, and finally, escapes to the stars with the young being. It’s a thrilling sequence, and for Star Wars fans who know of Best’s complex history with the saga, there’s an added emotional resonance to seeing him return in such a meaningful way.
Best played Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels and in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and has been open about the pain he’s felt from the harsh reception to the character over the years. So when Favreau and Filoni asked Best to join The Mandalorian, it took some consideration before the actor agreed. “Honestly, I had to think about it. I’ve been in the Star Wars world for such a long time and my story is such a rollercoaster ride of emotions. So coming back to Star Wars wasn’t an easy decision for me. It wasn’t something I could have immediately said yes to. I did have to marinate over it for a bit,” he says. “I mean, I was excited. I don’t think people really understand how much I care about Star Wars. Like, I really care. I really, really care about the storytelling, about the mythology, about the fans. I really want Star Wars to deliver, and if I become an obstacle to that, then I shouldn’t be in it. I don’t want to be bigger than the story. I don’t want to be bigger than the mythology. I want to contribute, I want to add to it. So it took me a minute.” Ultimately, it was the support from the show’s creators that convinced him.
“I was still nervous,” he says, “but it was really Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, and being with them, that made me want to come back.”
While this is Kelleran Beq’s debut on The Mandalorian, it’s actually not the character’s first appearance. Kelleran was originally introduced on 2020’s Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge, a game show created by the StarWars.com team for StarWarsKids.com and YouTube. (Best took Kelleran’s last name from his Star Wars: Attack of the Clones cameo-character, pilot Achk Med-Beq, who pops up in a Coruscant nightclub.) In the digital series, Best is both host and teacher to the competing Padawan teams. Best loved the show and developing Kelleran for it. “I went in deep with Kelleran Beq,” he says. “It’s really special to me. Kelleran Beq was a character in name that I created, I came up with, was really encouraged by the Jedi Temple Challenge team and the StarWars.com team. Everyone just was so graceful in embracing my crazy ideas and bringing it forward, and to see that then migrate over to The Mandalorian is really super special.”
Just like on Jedi Temple Challenge, Best was a creative partner in realizing Kelleran for The Mandalorian. He collaborated closely with costume designer Shawna Trpcic on the look of Beq’s robes and tunic, incorporating elements of his own tribal tattoos, as well as Afrofuturism symbols (Best teaches a course at Stanford), into his outfit’s gold detailing. In addition to the look of the character, Best developed his own view of the Force for Kelleran, and how he experiences the Force. “To me, the Force is not just this thing that Jedi tap into when they want to throw something heavy. The Force is this thing that is constantly moving. You’re always interacting with it. I see it as like, if you’re under water and you’re moving through water, that’s what it feels like moving with the Force,” he says. “So trusting the Force means trusting that these ebbs and flows of this feeling, you can move with.” Best made use of this idea while shooting Kelleran’s scenes.
“In every single situation of this, I’m really trying to tune into this bigger feeling of the Force. When I’m getting attacked by clone troopers, I feel them coming. The waves of the Force are moving me before they even show up. So I know what’s about to happen because I feel the wave, and then I can react to the wave. Same thing on the speeder. I can feel the ship coming, so then I can react to it,” he says. “I see him really having a lot of trust in this ability to surf the Force.”
And building on the backstory he created for Kelleran in Jedi Temple Challenge, Best views his Jedi as a celebration of teaching. In other words, Kelleran truly believes, as another famous Jedi once said, in passing on what he has learned. “I see Kelleran as this journeyman Jedi who becomes a professor, who wants to be a teacher. Not a reluctant teacher, not someone who’s thrown into teaching. Who wants to influence, who wants to show Padawans how to become a greater version of themselves.”
Still, he’s a teacher who can do amazing things. And much of what we see Kelleran do onscreen was done by Best, who has studied martial arts for over 40 years. He developed his own fighting technique for Kelleran, taking inspiration from Bruce Lee and “the style of the unknown,” allowing Beq to “fall into all of these situations and adapt.” But there was one element he really enjoyed. “The lightsaber of it all was really exciting for me,” he says. “I’ve always, always, always wanted to do a lightsaber fight. And even in this one, it’s just like, one tenth of one percent of what I can do. But I was like, ‘Let me get it out there!’” Best also rides motorcycles, bringing another point of connection with the character and scene. “Martial arts and motorcycles, I’m like, ‘I know this. This is who I am.’”
At the time of Best’s interview with StarWars.com, it’s about a week before Chapter 20 arrives on Disney+. He doesn’t seem nervous, but he also doesn’t hide his hopes for the episode and this character. “I really care about how Kelleran Beq will be received. I know this might not be cool to say, but I want everyone who watches Star Wars to look at Kelleran Beq and go, ‘I believe that guy. I want to follow that guy. Where does he go? What happens next?’ I think all the best stories are stories that leave you wondering what happens next,” he says. “I think that’s why Star Wars has survived as long as it has, because all of these characters are characters who have lives.” Indeed, Grogu’s recognition of this traumatic event marks a turning point in his journey as a Force-sensitive Mandalorian, while it also establishes Kelleran as his original protector, devoted to his student and his survival.
With Kelleran’s pivotal role in The Mandalorian, Best’s own Star Wars story has taken on a surprising second act. While the past may have left its scars, Best remains proud of his contributions to the galaxy far, far away, and is excited for his future in it.
“Being a part of Star Wars has been a dream come true since 1997 when I first was cast by George [Lucas]. Jar Jar changed movies, and I don’t think Jar Jar gets a lot credit for changing movies. But Jar Jar was the first CGI main character in movie history. There had been other CGI characters, but the evolution of the fact that you can star as a CGI character, and an actor in performance capture, was really George, was really Jar Jar and ILM and all of us, and it was a significant change in movies. To be a part of that is enormous for me. Especially me coming from the South Bronx — this corny, artsy, nerdy, skinny kid, where Star Wars was the first movie I had ever seen in my life,” he says. “Now, coming back, being in The Mandalorian, part of me doesn’t want to let it go. In The Phantom Menace days, you had to let it go. It was just George doing it. Now, you can do it for a while. You can tell stories in Star Wars and have them be in multiple mediums. As a writer, as a director now, as a teacher now, there is so much more that I want to do that this universe is perfect for, that I don’t want this to be the end of legacy. I don’t want this to be the end of the story. I want this to be the beginning, and a new beginning. Especially through Kelleran Beq.”