If it weren’t for some pretty masterful cast members, we wouldn’t be able to forgive the flaws of the Star Wars saga as easily as we do. If it weren’t some pretty uninspired actors, there may not be as many flaws to forgive! Regardless of whether or not they were dramatically powerful or repugnant, they were all memorable and they made the franchise that much more fun to watch. That’s why we love them all…except for one, whom we shall not name just yet.
We’ve taken the most memorable of the most essential roles from the three Star Wars trilogies (excluding The Last Jedi) and ranked their actors according to strength of performance. Of course, we’re taking their actual characters into consideration because let’s face it, not all of them were written well. We can’t fault Hayden Christensen for failing to make Anakin’s more tender moments engaging because the romantic (if you can even call it that) parts of Lucas’ prequel scripts were just terrible overall. For many of them, you can look at it this way: Lucas’ scripts were challenging and we’re looking at how well these actors rose to that challenge, if at all.
21. AHMED BEST AS JAR JAR BINKS
It goes without saying that Jar Jar is the most hated character in the Star Wars universe. It was Binks’ voice, mannerisms and uselessness that got a great many fans seething with rage after The Phantom Menace. None of that, however, is the fault of Ahmed Best. He wore the “costume,” did the voice and tried to keep things fun like he was told to do.
All things considered, Best himself didn’t actually do a bad job playing the character, it just wasn’t great, although you’d be hard-pressed to find any actor who could draw greatness from a lazily written character like Jar Jar Binks. Best was the worst actor in the Star Wars series because he failed to make the character his own. His enthusiasm and dedication to the craft was admirable, but he didn’t bring anything to the character. It was all Lucas and it just wasn’t enough to make Jar Jar seem like more than just a way to sell toys to young moviegoers.
20. JAKE LLOYD AS YOUNG ANAKIN
Few child actors are exceptional enough to believably portray film characters, which isn’t surprising. Most of the them haven’t lived long enough to experience anything with the kind of depth required for drama. Lloyd, who was only 10 years old at the time of his casting, had the additional challenge of trying to make Lucas’ script work.
He was still learning how to be an actor and that was clear in the way he wasn’t always able to make his actions seem organic or even convey the right emotions. Again, he was just a young boy. To his credit, he still managed to make young Anakin seem naturally innocent and a little funny (even if that wasn’t his intention). It’s uneven and sometimes even cringe-inducing but he was certainly not the absolute worst part of The Phantom Menace.
19. NATALIE PORTMAN AS PADMÉ AMIDALA
We know that Natalie Portman isn’t a bad actress, but even she couldn’t save her character from falling victim to terrible writing. Amidala is a politician, passionate about making real change and fighting injustice through the democratic process. She takes the diplomatic approach when she can but she doesn’t shy away from a fight.
When it comes to her character’s notable qualities, Portman is able to convey them all well enough that we believe Amidala wants to see justice and change. We just can’t believe Portman as a politician after The Phantom Menace when we see her out of the makeup as a senator and not a queen. To be fair, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith don’t seem interested in showcasing Amidala’s life as a politician, they seem more interested in showing us her love life. However, as grounded as her performance is, she can’t seem to work with Lucas’ script and that ruins her performance.
18. HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN AS ANAKIN SKYWALKER
There’s a little too much passion in Hayden Christensen’s performance at times. That would be fine if the script itself wasn’t so over-the-top, but it was. It should be noted however that his performance is only really an issue in Attack of the Clones in which the character, and by extension, Christensen, seems whiny and in all honesty, a little creepy.
The plot of Revenge of the Sith was darker and required a little more finesse than what Christensen had previously given us. Thankfully, he was able to deliver a performance far superior to what we’d seen before. There was rage, desperation, inner-conflict– all the right emotions were there, spilling through the screen through some pretty impressive emoting from Christensen. It’s a pity that only came through in the latter half of Revenge of the Sith.
17. SAMUEL L. JACKSON AS MACE WINDU
As awesome as Mace Windu is, he doesn’t always seem as though he fits in with the rest of the Jedi council or even the Star Wars universe at times. The character is unique. Unlike the other jedi, Windu walked a fine line between the light and dark side, though he was without a doubt one of the most dedicated to the Jedi way. That much is conveyed through Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the character throughout the prequel trilogy.
Sometimes, though, Jackson brings too much of himself to the character, which makes the dialogue seem slightly inorganic, as if he himself doesn’t quite believe what he’s saying. Make no mistake, he has a lot of really great moments as Windu, but we can’t ignore the moments in which Jackson seems more like Jules Winnfield than Mace Windu.
16. RAY PARK AS DARTH MAUL
Here’s a fantastic character that never got a chance to grow on screen. In The Phantom Menace we see Sidious’ first apprentice hunt Jedi, driven by anger and a desire to kill. It made for some pretty incredible lightsaber duels and was one of the film’s saving graces. Maul’s memorability is in no small part to thanks to Ray Park, who portrayed Maul on screen with his fitting expressions of rage and ability to perform his own stunts.
We also have to mention Peter Serafinowicz for providing a suitably evil voice, despite only having three lines in the entirety of the film. These two actors tried to make the most of Maul’s brief appearances, but it ultimately wasn’t captivating enough to make the character notable for anything other than the lightsaber battles.
15. BILLY DEE WILLIAMS AS LANDO CALRISSIAN
We know some older fans might be shocked to see such a popular member of the Star Wars franchise this far down, but you have to look at this strictly from a dramatic point of view. Did Billy Dee Williams pull off the smooth talking, charismatic administrator of Cloud City? Yes he did. That doesn’t mean his performance was flawless.
If you watch Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, you might notice that his physical acting was oftentimes rigid. His face was far more expressive than the rest of his body but even that’s not saying much because his face wasn’t always all that expressive, either. The important thing is that he nailed the role when it counted. In the exciting moments, Williams could convey subtle panic, like when Lando realized that the rebellion’s fleet had flown right into a trap in Return of the Jedi. He’s a great Lando and far from the worst actor. He’s just not quite the best.
14. CHRISTOPHER LEE AS COUNT DOOKU
This former Jedi was once Qui-Gon Jinn’s mentor, but he grew tired of all the corruption in the senate and quickly fell to the Dark side. He became Count Dooku — an apprentice to Darth Sidious and leader of the Separatist movement. He revealed himself in Attack of the Clones and met his end in Revenge of the Sith but his moments as Count Dooku were memorable thanks to the talents of Christopher Lee.
Obviously, Lee had a lot of acting experience prior to Attack of the Clones. That was clear in his performance, even if he only had a few scenes to show it. He could convey all the complexities of Dooku’s delusions about the dark side and the light in a few well timed expressions without ever making us doubt that Dooku was evil. It just wasn’t enough to stand out as much as we would have liked in those films.
13. JOHN BOYEGA AS FINN
We were introduced to Finn fairly recently and he succeeded in winning us over, but only because of how he was able to work so well with everyone else on screen. Finn is an interesting character: he was the perfect stormtrooper until the attack on Jakku made him realize that being a soldier for the Empire wasn’t for him.
Boyega is able to make Finn seem likeable, but he doesn’t come across as a man as dark as his story implies. There is one moment he has when talking to Maz, when we can almost see the horror in his eyes, but that one moment isn’t enough. We know that he basically grew up training to become the best stormtrooper, but more often than not, Boyega’s portrayal doesn’t quite fit that story. As we said, he’s funny, he’s charismatic and he has a presence; we love him as a character on screen, but we don’t fully believe his backstory, at least not yet. He’s the awesome companion to everyone but we still have yet seem him become anything more.
12. DAVID PROWSE AND JAMES EARL JONES AS DARTH VADER
Darth Vader wouldn’t be nearly as iconic if not for the physical performance of David Prowse and the vocal performance of James Earl Jones. Prowse was able to give the character enough to make Vader seem physically imposing while Jones was able to give him a fittingly threatening voice.
They made the character stand out among other film villains through the perfect combination of talents, for which you have to give George Lucas partial credit. If only the mask and costume didn’t have to cover everything, we could have gotten a better look at what Prowse is capable of, dramatically. Speaking of masks, we have to mention Sebastian Shaw for giving Vader the right amount of emotion in the character’s final moments. Few could have done it better.
11. OSCAR ISAAC AS POE DAMERON
Many have drawn parallels between Poe Dameron and a young Han Solo and it’s easy to see why. They’re both incredibly sarcastic, they laugh in the face of danger and they’re both great pilots (though one is far greater than the other). Like Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac is perfect for the role, mostly because he makes it his own. We’ve only see a little bit but he’s made it clear that while the two are similar in certain ways, Dameron is not just another Han Solo.
Isaac plays Dameron as a likeable resistance pilot who doesn’t instantly dismiss the good in people or the seemingly impossible like Han did when he heard Obi-Wan talking about the Force. What’s fantastic about Isaac is that from what we’ve seen, we can believe that his character has been through it all. It’s in the way he stood up to Kylo Ren, resisted Ren’s invasion into his mind. He’s confident in what he does without seeming arrogant.
10. FRANK OZ AS YODA
When you mention Star Wars, one of the first characters that comes to mind is Yoda, the 900 year old mentor to hundreds, if not thousands of Jedi knights. His unique speech patterns and voice is one of the reasons why this little green master of the Force is so memorable, but it wouldn’t be nearly as special without Frank Oz’s unique vocal performance.
Before Yoda became a CGI character in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Oz was also the puppeteer responsible for Yoda. While Yoda began as quite an eccentric, mischievous character (years in exile on Dagobah will do that to people), he develops a more serious personality as time goes on, which makes sense. Oz certainly seemed to know what he was doing with the character and how Yoda’s personality would change according to the events of the saga, which is impressive work, but should be expected from a master puppeteer like Oz.
9. DAISY RIDLEY AS REY
Rey is one of the main characters of the new Star Wars trilogy, the new Jedi the entire story seems to be focusing on. If the actress didn’t get her right, the new trilogy would ultimately be a failure. No pressure, right? Thankfully, Daisy Ridley nailed her part as the stubborn, courageous, tech-savvy Rey.
There was power in Ridley’s performance — not an ounce of the typical damsel-in-distress-like qualities found in so many other female characters (which has become a stereotype that is quite rightly getting phased out of Hollywood movies today). Ridley keeps her character grounded in reality, which makes her easy to like and easy to relate to for everyone. We cannot wait to see how she progresses and develops in her character and as an actor.
8. ANTHONY DANIELS AS C-3PO
Over the course of 40 years, Daniels has perfected the role of C-3PO. Playing a droid programmed for etiquette is more difficult than you might think. Daniels had to wear the gold-plated shell of Threepio and ensure that his movements were believably stiff. It clearly worked because it’s hard to tell that there’s actually someone in there and not just a bunch of parts awkwardly trying to simulate human movement.
He has shown dedication to the character, which counts for a lot, not just because he made C-3PO memorable, but because he helped shape the character. He committed to it, even when he didn’t initially agree with the idea, as he revealed in recent interviews. Daniels has mastered the puppeteering and movements so well that, as shown in recent featurettes for The Last Jedi, he teaches others how to play droids for Star Wars.
7. HARRISON FORD AS HAN SOLO
The original bad boy, Han Solo is sarcastic, reckless, occasionally sardonic and materialistic…or so he’d have you believe. Beneath that gruff smuggler’s exterior is a heart of gold and no one understand that better than Harrison Ford, who built on the renegade George Lucas created by famously improvising a couple of lines, keeping Lucas’ oftentimes clunky dialogue from ruining the character.
Ford only got better as time went on. In his final performance as Han Solo in The Force Awakens, he didn’t attempt to recapture the youthful antics of the character many of us grew up with. Instead, he showed us all how Han had changed over the years. He was still up to his old tricks, but he’s more aware of the world around him and more willing to join the fight. Alden Ehrenreich has his work cut out for him in the Han Solo anthology film.
6. ALEC GUINNESS AS OBI-WAN KENOBI
It takes skill to play a weary Jedi knight without boring the audience, but Guinness played an older and wiser Obi-Wan effortlessly because he took his craft seriously. It’s a well known fact that Guinness didn’t much care for Star Wars. He didn’t like dialogue (who can blame him?), he thought it was all too boisterous and he was frustrated with fellow cast members.
You never see any hint of that in his performance, though. Guinness was a true professional and despite his reputation for despising the film, he was grateful to Lucas and he appreciated the films’ tender moments. It shows in his commitment to each scene, how he plays the patient, wise master Jedi, still dealing with the wounds of his past and of his former friend’s fall to the dark side. He brought grace and depth to what might have been an otherwise wacky couple of scenes.
5. ADAM DRIVER AS KYLO REN
Han and Leia’s son fell to the dark side and desired nothing more than to finish what his grandfather, Darth Vader, had started. To that end, he learned the ways of the dark side, helped build a bigger, more powerful death star and started wearing a black mask and jumpsuit. You’d think that, like David Prowse (who played Darth Vader in the original trilogy), the suit would keep Driver from delivering any real emotion, but you’d be wrong.
We could talk about how well he plays Ren with the helmet off but that wouldn’t be enough. The Ren costume is clearly more flexible than Vader’s suit and Driver uses that to his advantage. He’s playing the confused, enraged former Jedi and everything in his stance and mannerisms conveys that emotion. Sometimes his physical performance builds on his vocal one, and sometimes it’s the other way around. It’s the perfect balance, quite ironically.
4. IAN MCDIARMID AS DARTH SIDIOUS
Sometimes when we see villains portrayed on screen, their actors go a little overboard and turn their characters into caricatures of evil. Ian McDiarmid doesn’t avoid this at all. In fact he makes it work brilliantly, which is quite a feat. Darth Sidious is an evil character through and through. He might talk about creating peace in the galaxy but what he really wants is power and control.
McDiarmid conveys hints of Palpatine’s evil in the prequel trilogies, until the time comes for the character to bear it all. Then he starts showing us just how much Sidious enjoys the emotional and physical torment of the people around him. He’s one of the most memorable villains in the Star Wars franchise, not just because the trilogies revolve around his plot, but because of McDiarmid’s impressive, evil performance.
3. MARK HAMILL AS LUKE SKYWALKER
As we get nearer to the top of the list, you’ll start seeing some of the bigger names. Truth be told, they all play their characters extremely well and the difference between the top four is a lot smaller than the the difference between everyone else on this list because everyone on the top four made their characters their own. Mark Hamill did that with Luke Skywalker, which is why in every interview, he shows such depth in his understanding of the character.
That’s one of the reasons why Luke showed real growth throughout the original saga. He turned from being the kid wanting to go to Tosche station for power converters to the Jedi master who fearlessly faced the Emperor in the heart of Sidious’ own base. We could understand that and we wanted to cheer him on because despite all the mysticism and fantastical elements, we could understand Luke. He was just like us. Hamill’s performance gave the films a large part of their depth. That’s something current Star Wars actors need to struggle to do.
2. CARRIE FISHER AS LEIA ORGANA
There weren’t a lot of powerful female heroes back in the late-’70s and ’80s so Leia Organa’s character was refreshing. She wasn’t a Jedi or (as far as we know) an adept fighter, but that didn’t stop her from facing threats to the galaxy head on. Carrie Fisher could pull off wit, confidence and elegance with ease, which helped to cement Leia as an iconic Star Wars character.
It’s because Fisher brought a lot of herself into the character. She certainly didn’t want to play a damsel in distress and she didn’t want to play a constantly angry person either, which is apparently the only way Lucas knew how to write a strong woman. Fisher fixed that. She went on to help edit the Star Wars scripts because she actually really liked it and her commitment to her craft showed with her skills strengthening in her more recent appearance as Leia. Carrie Fisher sadly passed away in 2016 and although we will still get to enjoy her portrayal of Princess Leia one more time in The Last Jedi, she will be sorely missed.
1. EWAN MCGREGOR AS OBI-WAN KENOBI
In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan doesn’t do all that much and when he does, McGregor is able to play him with the youth and boldness befitting of a padawan. By the time we get to Attack of the Clones, McGregor’s Obi-Wan has already become a much wiser Jedi knight and a patient master for Anakin. Finally, in Revenge of the Sith, we see Obi-Wan face the disheartening fall of his student and his friend as well as the destruction of the Jedi order, leading him to live an isolated life in the deserts of Tatooine.
McGregor is able to convey wisdom and the humility that made Obi-Wan seem like the beacon of light whose teachings would keep Luke from falling. McGregor was able to do all that while clearly channelling Alec McGuinness, who first played Obi-Wan and whose physical and vocal mannerisms McGregor kept in mind during his performance. It proved Ewan McGregor’s worth as a phenomenal actor, the best one in the Star Wars films by far.
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