In a galaxy as big as the Star Wars franchise, it can be hard to keep track of who’s who. It’s been nearly 45 years since the original Star Wars movie hit theatres, and it can be hard to remember even the main cast, let alone the supporting one. Today, though, let’s take a look at the big figures in the Star Wars cast, and the actors who played them.
Please note, I’m going to stick to the on-screen cast. There are plenty of great characters in the many novels and comic series, but one has to draw the line somewhere.
The Cast of the Original Star Wars Trilogy
The original Star Wars cast is remarkable for the lack of big stars headlining the film. George Lucas had a policy of all-new faces for his films, although he did manage to score a few famous actors, like Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness, in supporting roles. But for the most part, the Star Wars cast was young, fresh-faced unknowns.
The young farm boy who set out the classic hero’s journey, Luke Skywalker was the centerpiece of the original Star Wars trilogy. He was played by Mark Hamill in all three movies. Interesting side story: Mark Hamill was in a car crash before filming of The Empire Strikes Back began, resulting in some nasty scarring. The writers changed the script to have Luke Skywalker get injured in the opening scene, thus explaining the scars. Mark Hamill reprised his role as Luke in the Disney Trilogy.
The loveable rogue, Han Solo charmed us all with his swashbuckling savvy and occasional heart of gold. Played by Harrison Ford he was an instant fan favorite, and despite recent retcon attempts, he did shoot first. He’s the only main character (so far) to get his own spin-off movie, with Alden Ehrenreich doing a credible job evoking the style and mannerisms of Harrison Ford. Mr. Ford himself reprised the role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Princess Leia Organa
Set up originally as a princess needing to be rescued, Carrie Fisher imbued a strength and wit to her role that became iconic and set a new standard for strong female characters. Carrie Fisher was a firecracker in real life, winning the love of fans anew in her hilarious press tour to kick off the Disney films. Princess Leia evolved into General Organa, but sadly Carrie Fisher passed away suddenly before The Rise of Skywalker began filming.
One of the central figures in the entire Skywalker Saga, Darth Vader stormed onto screens in A New Hope as the archetype villain. He was voiced to perfection by James Earl Jones while the man in the suit was body builder David Prowse. James Earl Jones has also lent his voice talents to Vader’s appearances in the animated television series Star Wars: Rebels.
Described as a “walking carpet” by Princess Leia, Chewbacca was Han Solo’s co-pilot and friend. Portrayed mostly as a sidekick in the Original Trilogy, his character was given some freedom to act in Return of the Jedi and was definitely treated with more respect in the Disney Trilogy. Chewbacca was played by Peter Mayhew for the Skywalker Saga movies, and by Jonas Suotamo in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Peter Mayhew passed away in 2019.
This loveable droid had the first spoken words in Star Wars, and has appeared in all but one of the movies. Played to perfection by Anthony Daniels, his role as a protocol droid got the heroes out of trouble on more than one occasion. Anthony Daniels has been an active ambassador for Star Wars for decades.
The second part of the iconic Star Wars droid duo, R2-D2 spoke in electronic chirps and whistles, and was sometimes an actual robot on set. But more often there was an actual actor inside. Kenny Baker played R2 for the first six movies, passing the torch to Jimmy Vee for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Kenny Baker passed away in 2016.
Introduced in the third act of The Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian was an initially controversial character who redeemed himself in Return of the Jedi. The smooth style of actor Billy Dee Williams made Lando a fan favorite, and this gambler’s charisma was perfectly recreated by Donald Glover in Solo. Billy Dee Williams reprised the role in The Rise of Skywalker.
Everything could have gone wrong by making a puppet into a central character in The Empire Strikes Back, but Yoda won over audiences with his mystery and charm. Full credit goes to voice actor Frank Oz of Muppets fame for bringing this diminutive alien to life. He reprised the role in both the Prequel Trilogy and the Disney Trilogy. Both Oz and actor Tom Kane voice Yoda in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series.
The Cast of the Prequel Star Wars Trilogy
While some of the supporting characters from the Original Trilogy appeared in the Prequels, the story was carried by a new generation of actors.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was a central member of the original Star Wars cast in 1977, played by Sir Alec Guinness in a supporting role for all three movies. But the character moved center stage in Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace, and was played by Ewan McGregor. It was no small feat to capture the spirit of Alec Guinness while making the role his own, but the popularity of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks to his success.
Darth Vader before he turned to the Dark Side, Anakin Skywalker is the central figure of the story from Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith. He appears as a young boy in the first film, played by Jake Lloyd. In the next two films Hayden Christensen took on the role, struggling with wooden dialog to deliver the complex character arc of a good man who chose evil.
Opposite Anakin Skywalker was the love of his life, Padme Amidala, played by Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman. To be clear, she didn’t win her Oscar for her role in Star Wars, struggling alongside Hayden Christensen with terrible dialog and a weak plot. But we know that Natalie Portman is an excellent actress, and no doubt did the best she could with what she had.
Liam Neeson was the exception to George Lucas’ rule of all new faces for his movies, and we’re very glad for it. Playing the maverick Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, Liam Neeson brought a soft gravitas to balance the playfulness of Jake Lloyd. Our one regret is that Qui-Gon’s part in the Star Wars saga ended with Phantom Menace.
Perhaps the single most polarizing character in all of Star Wars, Jar-Jar was the first fully CGI-animated character to join the Star Wars cast. Voice acted by Ahmed Best, Jar-Jar was a central figure in Star Wars Episode I, but fan backlash saw his role significantly reduced in later films. He enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the animated TV series but appeared primarily for comic relief.
We first met this character as Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, but we got to know him better in the Prequel Trilogy, first as a senator and then as chancellor of the Republic. Actor Ian McDiarmid was a young man when he played the old Emperor, and then a considerably older man playing the considerably younger Palpatine. But from Episode I: The Phantom Menace through to Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine’s evil just grew and grew. Ian McDiarmid reprised his role in The Rise of Skywalker.
Definitely the most wasted character in the Star Wars cast, Darth Maul burst onto the scene in Phantom Menace as a new Sith Lord. Played by Ray Park and voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, he was an excellent villain, killed off too quickly for fans to really appreciate him. But the character returned in The Clone Wars and Rebels, voiced by Sam Witwer, and became one of the most interesting and dangerous antagonists in Star Wars.
Another Sith Lord, Count Dooku replaced Darth Maul as Palpatine’s apprentice. Portrayed by the great Christopher Lee in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, this character was also rather under-utilized in the live-action movies. But he gained much more depth in The Clone Wars, brought to life by voice actor Corey Burton.
Mace Windu was one of the most anticipated new characters in the Prequel Trilogy, only because he was played by Samuel L. Jackson. Mr. Jackson is yet another brilliant actor handcuffed by the poor writing in these movies, but his sheer on-screen presence was enough to give Mace Windu a sense of awesomeness we all appreciated.
The Cast of the Disney Star Wars Trilogy
The latest generation of Star Wars films have not been without their controversies, but most people agree that they were anchored by a stellar Star Wars cast. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher all returned in their iconic roles, but the heart of the story now rested with new characters.
The center of the new trilogy, Rey started The Force Awakens as an orphaned scavenger and as the trilogy unfolds we learn about her secret past and troubled future. Brilliantly played by Daisy Ridley, Rey is a fun, strong, plucky character who we can’t help but root for. Her innocence slowly fades as her Force powers grow, but she never loses the essence of who she is.
A twist on a Star Wars trope, Finn is a stormtrooper who chooses to flee the First Order and winds up joining the Resistance. He’s an interesting character in The Force Awakens, powerfully portrayed by John Boyega, but as the trilogy progressed Finn unfortunately got more and more reduced until he was little more than a sidekick to Rey. A lost opportunity, unfortunately, for both character and actor.
Played by Oscar Issac, Poe is an X-wing pilot who’s happiest when he’s blowing things up. He’s the first member of the new Star Wars cast we meet, but as a character he remains fairly flat in the first and third movies. He shines brightest in The Last Jedi as an irascible, irresponsible young hot-shot, and also gets some additional screen time in the animated TV show Resistance.
The villain of the Disney Trilogy, Kylo Ren is a complex, tortured young man who breaks the usual Star Wars rules of bad guy being bad guys. Son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, he turns to the Dark Side but never fully embraces the certainty of the Sith. Actor Adam Driver delivers a nuanced performance across three movies.
Full credit to Domhnall Gleeson for throwing everything into the role of Armitage Hux, the sneering, self-serving general of the First Order. His Nuremburg-style speech as Starkiller Base fires its weapon for the first time is an epic moment in Star Wars and the opening war of words between Hux and Poe in The Last Jedi is comic gold. Mr. Gleeson wasn’t given a lot of depth to work with, but he took what he had and ran with it.
One of the most controversial characters in the Star Wars cast, Rose deserves none of the criticism heaped upon her by certain Star Wars fans. A fun, solid character in The Last Jedi, well played by Kelly Marie Tran, Rose somehow became the center of a firestorm in fandom. This resulted in her being sidelined in The Rise of Skywalker and revealed the ugly side of when fans feel a little too possessive of their beloved franchise.
Another CGI character, Snoke was brought to life by actor Andy Serkis using motion capture. A mysterious figure in The Force Awakens, he comes to life as the new face of evil in The Last Jedi, until one of the greatest surprise moments in Star Wars cuts him down to size (literally). While the moment itself was great, the character arc of Snoke left much to be desired.
Other Star Wars Cast Notables
Outside the nine movies of the Skywalker Saga, there are a few other members of the Star Wars cast who truly stand out.
First introduced in the full-length animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka was a controversial figure. But as the series blossomed and her character grew in complexity and depth, Ahsoka became one of the most well-loved members of the entire Star Wars cast. Voiced through all seven seasons by Ashley Eckstein, Ahsoka was brought to live action by Rosario Dawson. A new TV series starring Ms. Dawson is currently in the works.
Another character with his own TV series on the way, Cassian Andor was introduced to fans in the epic film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Played by Diego Luna, Cassian broke new ground for Star Wars by giving us a hero who openly did evil things when necessary. An operative for the fledgling Rebellion, Cassian would murder, lie and steal without hesitation to get his job done. The new TV series should bring a new, welcome edge to Star Wars.
The other half of the leading pair in Rogue One, Jyn Erso is a rich character full of pain who somehow manages to find the courage within herself to bring a new hope to the galaxy. Played by the talented actress Felicity Jones, Jyn is the closest thing to an anti-hero Star Wars has yet created.
Din Djarin (Mando)
Star of the first live action TV series in the franchise, The Mandalorian, Din Djarin is a bounty hunter who breaks the code in order to save a helpless target. Actor Pedro Pascal has a double challenge in his role. First, Mando never takes off his helmet so Mr. Pascal has to rely on his voice and body language to bring his character to life. Second, he’s playing opposite Baby Yoda, perhaps the cutest and most distracting co-star in any Star Wars episode.
A final word has to be offered to a special member of the Star Wars cast: Warwick Davis. In this case we use the actor’s name up front, because he’s played so many characters over the years. First starring as Wicket in Return of the Jedi, Mr. Davis has become a tradition in this sci-fi franchise, with nine cameos in seven movies and a voice part in Star Wars: Rebels. How cool is that?