Inside the first-ever 'Star Wars' game show

"Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge" debuts Wednesday.

June 2, 2020, 4:04 AM

Every hero’s journey has the part where the main character returns home, transformed after facing down monsters and assorted evil.

For actor Ahmed Best, his triumphant return to "Star Wars" after confronting his own trials and tribulations comes in the form of the first-ever game show set in that galaxy far, far away.

"Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge" debuts Wednesday with two episodes on and the "Star Wars" YouTube channel. In every episode, three teams of young “padawans” are put through a series of trials designed to test strength, knowledge and bravery on the path to becoming a lightsaber-wielding Jedi Knight.

Best plays Jedi Knight-turned-host Kelleran Beq, along with his trusty droids AD-3 and LX-R5.

“Kelleran is the ultimate temple master,” Best says. “He can appear to be kind of funny, kind of goofy. He gets ribbed a lot by AD-3, the droid. But at the end of the day, what Kelleran Beq is trying to do is make you the best Jedi that you can be.”

The series, 10 episodes in all, was originally slated for the Disney+ subscription streaming service, but Lucasfilm says this way, more kids will be able to watch it for free.

Creators found inspiration in Nickelodeon shows of the 1990s including "Double Dare" and "Legends of the Hidden Temple." But British game shows like "The Crystal Maze," "Raven," and "Nightmare" were a huge influence that series co-creator Scott Bromley felt were perfectly tailored to "Star Wars."

“They made the kids take on roles and personas that weren’t their own, and the kids really fell into this adventure,” says Bromley. “Star Wars exists in its own timeline, and wanting to honor that, we couldn’t have a kid become a Jedi but also be from Temecula and really into soccer.”

The game show marks a return to "Star Wars" for Best, who found himself in a very dark place after providing the voice and physical movements for the digital character Jar Jar Binks in the prequel films.

After "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" was released in 1999, Jar Jar was widely criticized for being a bumbling mashup of racist stereotypes. The Wall Street Journal described the character as a “Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit."

Best, who was in his mid-20’s when "The Phantom Menace" was released, poured his heart and soul into playing Jar Jar. But the toxic reactions and vitriol aimed at the character eventually drove him to consider suicide.

“I felt alone,” Best says. “And anytime you feel alone in a situation that's overwhelming I think you're going to go into some kind of a state that moves into the unhealthy.”

At one point, Best found himself standing on the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge.

“As a black man from New York City, from the Bronx, there's this facade that I can't be hurt,” said Best. “In actuality, I was really just crumbling inside.”

Best decided not to jump that night, and recalled the moment years later when he returned to the same spot with his son.

“I looked at my son and I realized that, ‘I almost didn't have you.' And he's the best thing that ever happened to me in my life,” Best tells ABC News.

In 2018 Best posted a picture to Instagram and Twitter next to his son on the Brooklyn Bridge, revealing for the first time that he’d once considered taking his own life. He says it was like finally declaring victory over the haters.

“Had I not stepped away from the edge of the bridge, my life wouldn't have been as fundamentally changed in such a positive way,” said Best.

Reaction to his post was overwhelmingly positive. In 2019, he stepped onto a stage at the "Star Wars" Celebration fan convention in Chicago and was immediately met with loud cheering and applause from fans that felt like a welcome home.

“I hadn’t stepped on a Celebration stage since 1999. That moment was the moment I realized, ‘I can talk about this now. I can really articulate this in a way that doesn’t bring up painful memories,’” Best says. “And hopefully help, in whatever way that I can.”

Best is now developing a one man show about his experiences, working with the voice of Yoda himself, Frank Oz.

Oz also returned to record new Yoda dialogue for "Jedi Temple Challenge."

“We were so fortunate to have him come back. It was a dream come true, especially for a lifelong Muppets fan,” Bromley said.

Now, Best is hoping to help create unforgettable memories for the young kids who appear on "Jedi Temple Challenge."

“I loved watching kids step on that set and just be marveled at it. And I want kids to watch it and feel like, ‘if I train, if I practice, if I work, I can actually be there,’” he says.

Best is joined by cast members Mary Holland ("Veep") playing the wisecracking droid AD-3, and voice actor Sam Witwer, who recently provided the voice of Darth Maul in "The Clone Wars" animated series.

Even though the show is made for kids, Best and Bromley say each episode is packed with Easter eggs that older "Star Wars" fans will appreciate.

There are Easter eggs referencing the Galaxy’s Edge land at the Disney parks, 1970’s "Star Wars" comics, and even the Ewok TV movies from the 1980s, Bromley says. (He insists the Ewok movies are his favorite "Star Wars" films.)

Best says Kelleran Beq is somehow related to the character he played in a brief cameo during a bar scene in "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," named Achk Med-Beq.

“We don’t know if they are twin brothers, or if Kelleran is Ach Med-Beq’s father or son,” Best teases.

“Also, there’s a relationship between Mace Windu and Kelleran Beq,” says Best, referencing the Jedi Knight played by Samuel L. Jackson in the prequel films.

Best says viewers will just have to tune in to see how they all related. He also says that if asked, and if the script was right, he’d consider playing Jar Jar again.

“I quite enjoyed playing Jar Jar,” he says. “It really depends on what the story is, and how he were to come back.”

"Star Wars," Lucasfilm and ABC News are owned by parent company Disney.

Related Topics