2017 is the 40th anniversary of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the first entry in one of the most beloved motion picture franchises of all time. Over those forty years, Star Wars grew to include numerous sequels, prequels, spin-offs, animated series, and video games (of widely varying quality), and the brand is showing no signs of slowing down. The most recent film in the saga, Rogue One, brought in over one billion dollars at the global box office.
So whatever happened to the folks who starred in those first three space movies? Some of the cast of the original Star Wars trilogy went on to become household names, some of them faded into obscurity, while others are sadly no longer with us; forty years is a long time, after all. Let’s take a look back at the major players in the ensemble cast of the greatest sci-fi story ever told and see what they’re up to today. This is Where Are They Now? The Cast Of The Original Star Wars Trilogy.
20. James Earl Jones/David Prowse
Darth Vader, the conflicted villain of the Star Wars trilogy, was chiefly played by two actors: David Prowse and James Earl Jones. Prowse stood at 6’5″, establishing Vader as an intimidating force to be reckoned with. Before Star Wars, Prowse had a great many credits as a hard-working actor, usually playing a tall monster of some sort, including Frankenstein’s monster in the 1967 comedy spoof, Casino Royale, and Android in four episodes of the 1970s version of The Tomorrow People. In the years since the end of the trilogy, Prowse has more-or-less faded into obscurity, sometimes popping up on British television or Star Wars fan projects. Most recently, he made an appearance in the web series, Mission Backup Earth.
While James Earl Jones never wore Vader’s iconic black suit, the actor’s booming voice became one of the most iconic elements of the entire Star Wars saga. Jones reprised his role as Vader in multiple Star Wars projects, including 2005’s Episode III, 2016’s Rogue One, and several episodes of Star Wars Rebels. Outside of Star Wars, Jones has had a variety of high-profile roles in movies such as Coming to America and the Jack Ryan movies starring Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. Jones’ most notable leading role came long before Star Wars, when he played a boxer based on the legendary Jack Johnson, one of the greatest fighters who ever lived, in 1970’s The Great White Hope. He’s currently set to reprise his other iconic voice role, Mufasa, in the upcoming live-action remake of Lion King.
19. Kenny Baker
Before being cast as rambunctious droid R2-D2 in Star Wars, the 3′ 8″ Kenny Baker worked in a traveling troupe of little people. During the pre-production of the original space fantasy, George Lucas found Baker to be the only person that was both small enough to fit inside the R2 frame and strong enough to operate it, and just like that, a sci-fi icon was born. After attaining stardom as the most popular cinema robot of all time, Baker went on to appear in a bunch of movies, including Labyrinth, The Elephant Man, and Willow.
In 1999, he returned to play R2 in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and stayed on for the entire prequel trilogy. All told, he’s one of just a handful of actors to appear in the same role across the first six Star Wars films. For Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Kenny Baker returned as a consultant, but did not operate R2-D2 himself, as the actor had been suffering from severe respiratory problems for many years. On August 13, 2016, Kenny Baker died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 81.
18. Anthony Daniels
R2-D2 was rarely seen without his friend and counterpart, C3PO, played by Anthony Daniels. Like Kenny Baker, Daniels played his character in all six entries of the first two Star Wars trilogies. However, he also returned in the golden suit for Episode VII, and even made a brief cameo in Rogue One. With this, Anthony Daniels became the only actor to appear in all eight live-action Star Wars movies. He has also voiced C3PO in numerous spin-offs, such as The Clone Wars, Rebels, and even in a brief scene in The Lego Movie, alongside Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian (but more on him in a bit!).
Outside of Star Wars, Daniels is likely best known for providing the voice of Legolas in Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings, and for starring opposite Helen Mirren in two noteworthy episodes of Prime Suspect. No matter what else he does, Anthony Daniels will forever be loved and remembered for playing C3PO, the endearingly anxious protocol droid who keeps on finding himself trapped in situations which call for the exact opposite of etiquette and protocol.
17. Ian McDiarmid
Of all the actors from the original trilogy who reprised their roles in the subsequent prequel trilogy, Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine is the most fascinating. For his role as the cruel ruler of the Empire in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, the 39-year-old thespian wore complex makeup in an effort to look twisted, evil, and extremely old. Sixteen years later, when it came time to play a younger version of the character in 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the actor was the proper age to play Palpatine at this particular stage of his life. It’s funny how some things just happen to work out that way.
McDiarmid has popped up on TV and movies here and there (such as in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and City of Vice). His next onscreen role will be on BBC’s Middle Ages fantasy series, Brittania. Still, his first home has always been the stage, and the actor is a longtime member of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.
16. Warwick Davis
Kenny Baker was all set to play Wicket, the little Ewok who Princess Leia befriends on the forest moon of Endor, but had to decline due to a sudden illness. Instead, the role was filled by 11-year old Warwick Davis, who was also a dwarf. During the prequel trilogy and beyond, Davis appeared as a handful of diminutive characters, all of whom are distinguished by having their names start with the letter ‘w.’ This tradition even continued to Rogue One, where he played the pint-sized Rebel badass, Weeteef Cyubee.
After Return of the Jedi, Davis returned to play Wicket in the made-for-television Ewoks movies, before landing his first leading role in the George Lucas-produced Ron Howard film, Willow. Following this, he appeared in his most famous non-Star Wars role, as the title character in the camp horror classic, Leprechaun. While the film is barely watchable save for Davis’s hammy turn as the murderous Irish fiend, it was successful enough to spawn a franchise. Between 1993 and 2003, Warwick Davis starred in six Leprechaun films as the titular troll.
In 2012, Davis starred in a television series parodying his life; in Life’s Too Short, he plays a fictionalized version of himself struggling with middle age and a fading career. The show was created by Davis alongside Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and its morbidly cynical brand of comedy sits comfortably alongside Gervais’s earlier shows, The Office and Extras.
15. Denis Lawson
Wedge Antilles appeared during the big dogfights in all of the original Star Wars movies; he survives the attacks on both Death Stars, and even helps take down an AT-AT during the Battle of Hoth. Actor Denis Lawson played Wedge in all three movies, though his voice was dubbed over in the first two. Only in Return of the Jedi did Lawson’s actual voice come out of Wedge’s mouth.
Denis was offered a part in Episode VII, but he turned them down, saying that bringing Wedge back for The Force Awakens would have “bored” him. Perhaps the actor was simply not interested in a walk-on, “hey, remember me?” sort of role.
Beyond Star Wars, Lawson made his mark on British film and television, with credits in series as varied as Holby City, Jekyll, and Just William. From 2012-15, he starred in the procedural cop comedy/drama, New Tricks.
Fun Fact: While Denis Lawson does not appear in Rogue One, Wedge Antilles does, and not by means of simple recasting; actor David Ankrum, who provided Wedge’s voice in A New Hope, supplies new lines as the character in the form of an announcement broadcast on Yavin 4 in the lead-up to the Battle of Scarif.
14. William Hootkins
The first casualty in the Battle of Yavin, as shown in the explosive climax of A New Hope, was Jek Porkins, played by native Texan William Hootkins; the portly Rebel pilot is killed by turbolaser fire after his ship’s computer malfunctions and leads him into range of the deadly lasers. To the Star Wars fandom, Porkins achieved nigh-mythic folk-hero status; a Rebel pilot so skilled and invincible in combat, the only way he could be taken down was due to a technical malfunction in his starfighter.
After Star Wars, Hootkins appeared in dozens of films, usually as a minor supporting character. Somewhat surprisingly, he only played Santa Clause once, in the 1998 TV movie, Like Father, Like Santa. He appeared in the George Lucas-produced Raiders of the Lost Ark as Major Eaton, one of the men who set Indy on his mission to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. His other high-profile blockbuster came in 1989, when he played the memorable role of Lieutenant Eckhardt in Tim Burton’s Batman. Video game players might recognize his voice in the cult Gamecube classic, Eternal Darkness, in which he played Dr. Roivas, or in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, where he voiced the villainous Dingodile.
Hootkins died in 2005 of pancreatic cancer. His final film, Color Me Kubrick, starring John Malkovich, was released in the United States in 2007. The legend goes that he was in the early stages of developing a film based on the life of silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, but the project wasn’t far enough along to continue after his death.
13. Garrick Hagon
The character of Biggs Darklighter was played by Garrick Hagon, a man with a perfectly awesome Star Wars name in and of itself! Anyway, most of Biggs’s scenes were cut from the final film, making Luke’s dramatic reaction to his death feel somewhat unearned. The 1997 Special Edition restores one of Hagon’s scenes, but doesn’t reinsert any of his sequences on Tatooine, though they are present in the bonus features of the 2011 Blu-ray release.
Outside of Star Wars, Garrick is known for playing two different roles in two episodes of Doctor Who, which aired in 1972 and 2012 — a forty-year gap! He appeared sporadically in films and television over the years, including a small role in Batman (though he didn’t share a scene with William Hootkins, unfortunately), and as the CIA director in 2001’s Spy Game, starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. He also played reporters in both Mission: Impossible and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is a fun bit of trivia to pull out at parties.
12. Peter Mayhew
Han Solo’s lanky Wookie companion, Chewbacca, is not a “walking carpet,” as Princess Leia derisively calls him; he is a loyal friend, a fierce warrior, and a sharpshooter with his powerful bowcaster.
Chewie was played by Peter Mayhew, who stands at an imposing 7’3″. The story goes that Mayhew was working as an orderly when he met with Lucas, who cast him immediately after seeing his gargantuan stature. After playing Chewie in the original Star Wars trilogy, he returned for the final entry in the prequel trilogy, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. Mayhew came back to the role once again for The Force Awakens, but due to his age and frailty, he split Chewbacca duties with Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo, who actually stands five inches shorter than Mayhew.
Mayhew is expected to return for Episode VIII and Episode IX, but for the Han Solo spin-off movie, Suotamo will be the only actor to don Chewbacca’s furry costume.
11. Peter Cushing
Star Wars was not a particularly big-budget production, but George Lucas and 20th Century Fox made sure the cast was bolstered by a pair of prestigious ringers. The first of these was Peter Cushing, who played the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin, the Imperial governor “holding Vader’s leash.”
Prior to Star Wars, Cushing had a great many credits on stage and screen, though his most popular roles were as Van Helsing and Victor Frankenstein in the films of the iconic horror house, Hammer Film Productions. He also played Sherlock Holmes in 1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, reprising the role for the 1960s BBC television series and one of his final feature films, 1984’s The Masks of Death.
Cushing suffered from prostate cancer for the last twelve years of his life, dying on August 11, 1994 at the age of 81. In 2016, CGI magic and advanced motion capture techniques allowed, in a way, for Cushing to appear on the screen one last time. For Rogue One, the role of Grand Moff Tarkin was performed by actor Guy Henry, with Cushing’s facial features seamlessly imposed atop of the other actor’s visage. The final effect is striking, and Cushing’s digital presence gives Rogue One an extra layer of authenticity to its place in the Star Wars timeline.
10. Alec Guinness
The other big-name actor who appeared in the original Star Wars film was Sir Alec Guinness, who was actually nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise old mentor of young Luke Skywalker. This was not Guinness’s first nomination, nor would it be his last.
In addition to an honorary Oscar in 1988, Guinness was, all told, nominated five times (including once for his adapted screenplay of Joyce Cary’s novel, The Horse’s Mouth). His sole competitive win came when he was awarded the Best Actor prize for 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai.
After Star Wars, Guinness appeared in such films as A Passage to India, A Handful of Dust, and the made-for-television A Foreign Field. On August 5, 2000, Alec Guinness died due to complications from liver cancer at his home in West Essex. He was 86 years old.
In the prequel trilogy, the role that made him a household name was faithfully taken on by Ewan McGregor, who we may not have seen the last of in the Star Wars universe.
9. Billy Dee Williams
Billy Dee Williams might just be the most handsome man to ever walk the Earth, especially when he’s in costume as Lando Calrissian, the only space-rogue who can give Han Solo a run for his money.
Lando is one of a few main characters from the original trilogy who has yet to pop up in the current wave of Star Wars films, though a younger version of the character is set to be played by Donald Glover in the Han Solo spin-off. Billy Dee Williams has no qualms about returning to his most famous role, having played the character in Star Wars Rebels and the aforementioned cameo in The Lego Movie. He even channeled Lando during a performance on Dancing With the Stars, and has since commented that he “wouldn’t say no” if he were asked to return for the new trilogy.
Outside of Star Wars, Williams starred in 1981’s white-knuckle thriller Nighthawks, alongside Sylvester Stallone and Rutger Hauer, and Abel Ferrera’s Fear City, with Tom Berenger and Melanie Griffith. His most famous non-Lando role was as Harvey Dent in the 1989 Batman movie (though he never shared the screen with William Hootkins or Garrick Hagon). It was intended that he would play Two-Face in a sequel, but the role was inexplicably rewritten and given to Tommy Lee Jones in 1995’s Batman Forever. However, Williams would finally get to play Two-Face in 2017, lending his vocal talents to The Lego Batman Movie.
8. Gary Kurtz
One of the figures most responsible for the success of Star Wars was George Lucas’s partner in producing, Gary Kurtz, who had worked alongside the filmmaker as early as 1973’s American Graffiti. The film became a runaway success and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, though it ultimately lost out to The Sting.
The legend goes that Kurtz parted ways with George Lucas during production of Return of the Jedi, when Lucas decided to reel in his grand ideas for a sweeping saga in favor of a simpler crowd-pleasing ending which saw the Empire create a new Death Star and be defeated by cuddly teddy bears. Return of the Jedi didn’t just divide the fandom over its quality (to an extent; it’s easily the weakest of the original trilogy), it divided the creative team responsible for the production!
After leaving Star Wars behind, Kurtz produced films such as The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz; while both became cult classics in their own right, neither achieved the same commercial success as Star Wars. Kurtz has a handful of films coming up: an animated musical, Offbeat; the sci-fi drama, The Chimeran; and an urban coming-of-age story, Gangster Kittens, which presumably has nothing to do with feline cosplay.
7. Lawrence Kasdan
George Lucas wrote the original Star Wars all by himself, but for the sequel, he brought in outside help. Leigh Brackett (an acclaimed sci-fi author who also co-wrote the screenplay for the legendary 1959 western Rio Bravo) was the first person brought on board to create the script for The Empire Strikes Back, but she tragically died of cancer in 1978, after completing a first draft.
After Brackett’s passing, Lawrence Kasdan was brought on to finish the script after he impressed Lucas with his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the rest is history. Anyone reading this deep in to a Star Wars Where Are They Now? story knows that The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest films of all time, and Kasdan played a highly understated role in the movie’s success. He went on to pen the screenplays for Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, and the upcoming Han Solo spin-off film, though his degree of involvement with The Last Jedi or Episode IX is not entirely clear at this time.
6. Richard Marquand
The third entry in the Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi, was directed by Richard Marquand, who was chosen based on his work for his earlier film, Eye of the Needle, starring Donald Sutherland. Prior to Star Wars, Marquand also directed the rock and roll biopic, Birth of the Beatles, and the cult horror film, The Legacy, starring British rock icon Roger Daltrey of The Who.
Following the tremendous success of Return of the Jedi, the versatile Marquand made the romantic drama Until September and the courtroom thriller Jagged Edge, which became a huge success, earning actor Robert Loggia an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Marquand’s next film, 1987’s Hearts of Fire, starring music’s greatest living legend, Bob Dylan, would turn out to be his last film. On September 4, 1987, Richard Marquand died of a stroke. He was 49 years old. Hearts of Fire was released posthumously, going straight-to-video in the United States.
5. Irvin Kirshner
Before being selected to take the reins of The Empire Strikes Back, Irvin Kirshner was already an accomplished director with a dozen films and a slew of television credits under his belt, including Eyes of Laura Mars, The Flim-Flam Man, and two episodes of the acclaimed police-noir, Naked City.
The massive critical and commercial success of Episode V allowed Kirshner to tackle more big-budget blockbusters, and the first film he made after the acclaimed Star Wars sequel was 1983’s Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery as James Bond. While not an official EON production within the 007 canon, the film was still appreciated by many fans who were happy to see Connery back in his most famous role.
Kirshner’s final theatrically-released directorial effort was Robocop 2, starring Peter Weller and Tom Noonan. After this, he directed the pilot episode of SeaQuest DSV and acted in a handful of movies and took up photography, but was basically retired. In 2010, he died in his Los Angeles home following a years-long battle with lung cancer. He was 87.
4. George Lucas
The man behind it all is George Lucas, without whom there would be no Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and today’s world would be a very different place. Lucas studied film at the University of Southern California, after which he directed his first feature-length film, THX 1138, a science fiction tale with a heaping helping of social commentary. Though considered a cult classic today, THX failed to leave an impression on 1971 audiences. His next film, 1973’s American Graffiti, a nostalgic throwback to the fleeting innocence of 1950s teenagers, became a surprise hit, but was but a drop in the bucket compared to what Star Wars would achieve.
After returning to his galaxy far, far away with the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Lucas similarly revived Indiana Jones in 2008 with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, while also moving forward with original films like 2012’s underrated Red Tails and 2015’s animated dud Strange Magic.
Now that he has sold LucasFilm to Disney and left Star Wars in the care of other creative minds looking to make their mark on the franchise, Lucas spends most of his time on his philanthropic endeavors. He created the George Lucas Educational Foundation in 1991 with the intent of innovating the American educational system. He is currently working on developing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art; after false starts in San Francisco and Chicago, it was announced in January 2017 that the museum would be built in Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
3. Harrison Ford
Perhaps the most famous actor of all time, Harrison Ford played rogue-ish bad boy Han Solo in the first three Star Wars flicks. The character didn’t appear in the prequel trilogy, of course, but Solo returned with righteous aplomb in 2015’s The Force Awakens. In the meantime, to say that Harrison Ford made a name for himself as a Hollywood leading man is a tremendous understatement.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, Patriot Games, Witness, Blade Runner, The Fugitive, What Lies Beneath, Air Force One… the list of hits goes on and on. Simply put, Harrison Ford is a national treasure, one who has long been solidified in his place as one of the biggest movie stars of all time.
In recent years, Ford has returned for distant sequels to his most iconic films, starting with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, and then continuing with The Force Awakens. Next up, the actor is set to reprise his other famous sci-fi character, Rick Deckard, in Blade Runner 2049, starring opposite Ryan Gosling. And, to be clear, as far as we know, he’ll have no involvement whatsoever in the upcoming Han Solo prequel.
2. Carrie Fisher
The Star Wars universe may have been populated almost exclusively by men, but when it came to the ladies, they went for quality over quantity. Carrie Fisher was Hollywood royalty, the daughter of stars Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She was only 5’1″, but she was larger than life itself, and her personality truly came out in her written works, such as her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, and its film adaptation, for which she wrote the screenplay. She wrote several more fictional books, loosely based on her own life and experiences, including Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, and The Best Awful. She also wrote more overtly non-fiction prose, such as Shockaholic and Wishful Drinking, the latter of which was based on her one-woman stage show. She also acted as a script doctor for films as varied as Sister Act, Last Action Hero, and The Wedding Singer. She was a hard-working lady who showcased her talent onscreen and behind the scenes.
Carrie returned to her most famous role in 2015’s The Force Awakens, and even consented to her likeness being used to digitally recreate a young Leia Organa in Rogue One. On December 27, 2016, just days after Rogue One’s release, Carrie Fisher died following complications from a heart attack she suffered on a plane from London to Los Angeles. Just one day later, Carrie’s heartbroken mother, Debbie Reynolds, died of a stroke.
Carrie Fisher’s final film role is Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, which will be released on December 15, 2017.
1. Mark Hamill
The Star Wars trilogy is all about the journey of Luke Skywalker, a young moisture farmer who sees beyond his expected fate and embarks on the grandest of adventures. That plucky hero was played by Mark Hamill, a virtual unknown who immediately became a household name. Post-Star Wars, despite hits like The Big Red One (with Lee Marvin), many of his other films were critical and commercial duds, like 1989’s Slipstream (produced by Gary Kurtz) and 1991’s The Guyver.
However, Hamill quickly found a new career as a voice actor, where he enjoyed tremendous success as The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. His portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime was so acclaimed that he continued to voice the character for decades, including in the Batman Arkham video games and the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke. On television, Hamill played The Trickster in the 1990 TV series, The Flash, and reprised the character in the popular CW adaptation of DC’s Scarlet Speedster.
Mark Hamill returned to Star Wars, first to provide the voice of Darth Bane in an episode of The Clone Wars, and then in The Force Awakens, as Luke Skywalker. While his role in that film was but a mere cameo, he is expected to take center stage in The Last Jedi, due out in December.
Who’s your favorite Star Wars character? Are you hoping to see Lando Calrissian and Wedge Antilles in The Last Jedi? Sound off in the comments!