With an ever-growing galaxy, the roster of actors who have not appeared in the galaxy far, far away grows shorter by the day. There are, after all, only so many British character actors.
So, if possible, let’s narrow down some of the best performances in the Star Wars universe, ranging from the 1970’s right through to the modern era. In no particular order, why don’t we start ourselves off with a classic:
Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi
This one’s a no brainer. Already a veteran thespian by this time, Sir Alec Guinness easily had the highest profile among the cast of the original Star Wars film. He had appeared in some of the most celebrated films of the twentieth century such as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. Initially hesitant to be involved in what he described as “fairy-tale rubbish,” Guinness later changed his mind when the studio doubled his salary and was comforted when Lucas described Kenobi as a kind of Gandalf-like character. Indeed, Guinness was the ideal monk-like mentor who would shape how all Jedi present themselves as a result of his performance.
Frank Oz as Yoda
Ok, stick with me on this one. Puppeteering is a truly unique discipline. After several ideas for the alien Jedi master were rejected, including a live animal with prosthesis, Lucas approached Jim Henson for the task. As he was unavailable, he recommended his college Frank Oz. Lucas was so impressed with Oz’s control over the puppet that he also had him provide the character’s now iconic voice. The “performance” as it were was so well received that there were calls for Oz to be nominated for an Oscar, which the academy disallowed based on the decision that they didn’t consider puppeteering to be on par with a live action performance.
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
It’s never easy filling someone else’s shoes but I think it’s fair to say that Scottish actor Ewan McGregor proved himself more than capable. Each of Ewan’s portrayals as the noble Jedi master of Anakin Skywalker is better than the last. Most notably we witnessed his recent return to the role after a 17-year absence. As a producer on the series Obi-Wan Kenobi, McGregor was able to offer his unique insight on the character he has played for half his life.
Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma
After having her scenes cut from Revenge of the Sith, Irish actor Genevieve O’Reilly would get the chance to bring the rebel senator to life eleven years later in Rogue One. Originally played by English actress Caroline Blakiston in Return of the Jedi, Mon Mothma has long represented the political face of the fight against the Empire. O’Reilly once again returns as the character in Andor and absolutely steals the show. Her ability to wear the mask of a well-meaning troublemaker when she is in fact funding an insurrection against the most powerful organisation in the galaxy speaks for itself. O’Reilly effortlessly displays the struggle of a woman fighting an entire galaxy and all the stress and pain that accompanies such a task.
Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin
Perhaps another strange one seeing as there isn’t exactly a lot of “face time” with the character in question. But that’s exactly the point. Like Yoda, the ability to express without the use of the standard tools a performer is usually equipped with provides a unique challenge and an opportunity to show just how much more there is to giving a performance. With only three scenes across two seasons of The Mandalorian to offer us a glance at the beskar wearing bounty hunter, Pascal must rely on his voice and body language to give depth to the character. Despite having a helmet permanently affixed to his head, Djarin manages to be one of the most emotionally compelling characters in the galaxy and looks pretty darn cool doing it.
Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine
Much like Alec Guinness, the man behind the Emperor is another classically trained thespian. Much like Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma, the Sith Lord must maintain a constant vigil lest his mask be undone by his adversaries. Palpatine spends decades hiding in plain sight as a mild mannered senator when he was in fact the most dangerous person alive. McDiarmid shows us that he certainly has the range to give us both of these personas in the one man. Across nearly forty years, we have borne witness to everything that makes Darth Sidious. From his supreme triumphs to his greatest defeats, Ian McDiarmid has been there for it all.
What’s your favorite performance in Star Wars? Let us know in the comment section below! For all things Star Wars, check out Dork Side of the Force!