How Bruce Lee and Jar Jar Binks Inspired an Iconic Star Wars Duel

Shocked, prepare to be.

Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) fights Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones
The Inverse Interview

In terms of visceral, expertly-choreographed duels, you can’t do much better than the Star Wars prequels. Each film in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy ups the ante, from Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s battle with Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith’s Mustafar duel, a fight that fans are still dissecting to this day. Depending on who you ask, though, the prequel trilogy peaked when Master Yoda was forced to face off against his former padawan, Count Dooku... and finally demonstrate his skills with a lightsaber.

A lot went into Yoda’s big reveal in Attack of the Clones. The 2002 film was the first to remake the character as a computer-generated entity, mostly to accommodate his expanding physicality. Lucasfilm’s creative team has spoken a lot about the process of crafting a digital Yoda, and the hurdles they overcame to do it. But the main inspiration for Yoda’s big duel against Dooku remains an open secret: it all began with Ahmed Best, the actor and martial artist known for playing Jar Jar Binks in the prequels.

Best is best known as the man behind Jar Jar Binks, but he used his considerable martial arts knowledge to craft a great Star Wars duel.


Say what you will about Jar Jar, but without him, we wouldn’t have blockbuster cinema as we know it today. “You don’t get the Na’vi, or Thanos, or Gollum without Jar Jar first,” Best tells Inverse in an interview that will be published in full soon. The actor’s collaboration with ILM would even pave the way to remake Yoda with CGI — but Best was also working behind the scenes to make Yoda’s showcase as epic as it could be.

Best recalls reading the first script for Attack of the Clones, and being struck by the lack of context where Yoda’s duel was concerned. “There wasn’t a lot of description of how Yoda was going to fight,” Best recalls. “As a fan, I was like, ‘This is the first time we’re ever going to see Yoda get down, that we’re ever going to see him move.’”

Before Attack of the Clones, Yoda had never taken on a more physical role. Fans knew him as a seasoned Jedi Master who, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, fought in the Clone Wars. Beyond some powerful demonstrations with the Force, though, no one had ever seen him fight. And with the fabled Clone Wars finally getting depicted on-screen, Best saw a unique opportunity to push the envelope.

“I was thinking this fight could go either way. It could be spectacular, or it could be really silly,” Best continues. “[Yoda] has to be the baddest cat. We have to know why Yoda is Yoda.”

Yoda’s duel against Dooku would be the first to showcase the character’s true potential: “We have to know why Yoda is Yoda.”


He expressed his concerns to Rob Coleman, who served as head of animation on The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. “I was like, ‘Hey, Rob, what’s up with this Yoda fight?’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know what to do. Do you have any ideas?’”

Best had been studying martial arts since he was a child, from Okinawan Goju-ryu (a traditional style of karate) to Jeet Kune Do, the hybrid fighting style created by Bruce Lee. Paired with a healthy fascination of anime, kung fu movies by the Shaw Brothers, and “every samurai movie you could possibly imagine,” Best was bursting with ideas.

“I was like, ‘Rob, come to the crib. We’re going to watch some stuff, and then let’s write this fight.’”

Together, Best and Coleman dove into martial arts cinema and classic anime. From Ninja Scroll and Akira to Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the duo watched countless flicks back-to-back before scripting the fight. By the end of their marathon, Best just had one request: “If you don’t put anything else in this that we talked about, Yoda has to hit that classical, ‘Let’s go’ kung fu pose,” Best recalls telling Coleman, citing the on-guard stances perfected by artists like Lee and Chan. “That was my biggest pitch.”

Best wanted Yoda to hit the classic “let’s go” pose, similar to Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Sure enough, Yoda does hit a pose in the finished product. Best didn’t see the final animation until he went to see the film, and it was well worth the wait. “As soon as I see the shadow of Yoda walk in, I hear the crowd going, ‘Oh, it’s about to go down,” Best recalls. It was one of the prequels’ biggest crowd pleasing moments, and the best example of ILM’s collaborative spirit.

“Rob Coleman and John Knoll, and everybody who worked on the VFX, they were always open and generous with ideas. They never had any kind of ego ... It still surprises me to this day how much Rob trusted me with that — especially with that, because it was such a huge moment.”

The full conversation with Ahmed Best will be published in two weeks for Inverse’s upcoming “Celebrating the Prequels” package.

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