The original Star Wars actors – at least for A New Hope – were handed their roles about 40 years ago. A lot has changed in those four decades, and some of what has changed was reflected in the more diverse casting of The Force Awakens. So that led us to wonder: What if we lived in a different galaxy far, far away, where there was no such thing as Star Wars until 2016? If the original trilogy of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were being cast today, what would it look like?
We’ve kept in mind that, if producers held the same casting philosophy as George Lucas and company back in the ‘70s, there would be a mix of newcomers and established stars. Think Mark Hamill (newcomer) and Sir Alec Guinness (well established) as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy; Hayden Christensen (newcomer) and Ewan McGregor (well established) as Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan in the prequels.
So here’s our answer to the question: What If The Original Star Wars Trilogy Was Cast Today?
11 Tilda Swinton as Emperor Palpatine
Ian McDiarmid was fiendishly fantastic as the baddest of the bad in the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious. Today, there’s really no shortage of older actors who would knock this part out of the park. But our favorite choice goes in a completely different direction. What if Palpatine was a woman? And what if that woman was Tilda Swinton? We know she can play evil, thanks to her role as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia movies. She’s already got that pale, gaunt look of a Sith Lord, but imagine her with heartless yellow eyes in the shadows of the Emperor’s black hood, taunting Luke with the words, “Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!”
We went British with Swinton, because so many of the Empire’s leaders seem to have a British accent. Along those lines, Malcolm McDowell, no stranger to playing bad guys, could bring a certain slithery charm to Palpatine. But outside of the UK (and pasty white people in general), wrap this one around your head: Benicio Del Toro. He’s already got the sunken, squinty eyes and he always brings something deliciously unexpected to the screen. Of course, Del Toro has already signed on for Episode VIII, rumored to be a villain.
10 Gary Oldman as Grand Moff Tarkin
Tarkin was originally played to villainous perfection by legendary British actor Peter Cushing, complete with cheekbones that could cut through stone. He was the epitome of cold, ruthless evil, destroying a planet as though he were squishing an ant between his fingers. It’s not a huge role, but it’s a juicy one. So who, today, could project that kind of villainy?
Sir Ian McKellan could certainly exude that nastiness if he wanted to. He was pretty ruthless as Magneto in the X-Men movies and he could easily bring that same kind of subdued ferocity to the role that Cushing had. But a more interesting choice would be Gary Oldman. As we know, he can play almost any role and bring something unique to it, something that would glue your eyes to him. It’s hard to predict what he’d bring to Tarkin or what his take would be. It could be the almost sultry evil he brought to Dracula or the quirky, unblinking ruthlessness of Zorg in The Fifth Element. He even looked Tarkin-esque in Lost in Space (1998, pictured above). Or he could give us something else completely – which is most likely.
8 Martin Freeman as C-3P0
Since 1977, British actor Anthony Daniels has played the anxious protocol droid C-3PO in just about every place he’s appeared, from all seven films, to specials, commercials and animated endeavors. His stiff British charm is hard to separate from the character, which led us to see fellow Brit Martin Freeman in the gold suit. Let’s face it, Freeman is in just about everything these days (and is great in just about everything), so why not Star Wars, too? He’s got the somewhat nasal voice, the slim frame and an effective delivery that can range from dry to outright panic. It would be a shame to not see his expressive face, but maybe even that could be thrown in with a little create CGI work.
But what if we went in a more Canadian direction? Threepio is a protocol droid and what’s more stereotypically polite than a Canadian? With that in mind, Montreal-bred Jay Baruchel would fit nicely into that stiff suit. We know, his voice has more of a “lazy stoner” quality than those Brits, but we’re sure he could stiffen it up a bit. And it would be fun to see the extra humor he’d inject into lines like this classic, directed at Chewbacca: “What have you done? I'm BACKWARDS. You flea-bitten furball! Only an overgrown mop-head like you would be stupid enough to...”
7 Michael B. Jordan as Lando Calrissian
In the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, Lando is described as “a suave, dashing black man in his thirties.” And Han Solo describes him as, “a card player, gambler, scoundrel.” Certainly, based on the first description, Billy Dee Williams was the perfect choice. But who, today, could play both suave and scoundrel? Will Smith could probably pull it off, but he may be too big of a name – and too old.
Michael B. Jordan could be the perfect choice, based on the original descriptions. He’s definitely a rising star, but not too big yet. Maybe slightly on the young side, at 29, but not too much. He could definitely pour on that slick charm, while walking the fine line between hero and anti-hero. But what if Lando wasn’t black? What if he was Latino? Diego Luna, who is already going to star in this year’s Anthology film, Star Wars: Rogue One, would make a particularly captivating Lando. Along those lines, another Star Wars alum, Oscar Isaac, could also be an interesting choice.
6 Edward James Olmos as Obi-Wan Kenobi
George Lucas loved his legendary British thespians, and Sir Alec Guinness definitely fit the bill when he was cast as hermetic Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. So why not go with another knighted actor, Sir Patrick Stewart? He certainly has the disciplined authority figure down pat, thanks to his role in that other iconic sci-fi space adventure, as Captain Picard in the Star Trek universe.
But maybe with this part we shouldn’t hit the nail quite so squarely on the head. Maybe there’s a better option just a little bit outside of the box: Edward James Olmos. He’s not British, he’s not knighted, but he does have the authoritative space adventure character thing down, as Admiral William Adama on the amazing Battlestar Galactica reboot series. He’s the perfect marriage of authority with world-weariness, in both his look and his voice, to play Obi-Wan.
5 Robert Maillet as Chewbacca
The very first quality any actor would need to even audition for the role of Chewbacca is well-above-average height. And Peter Mayhew, all seven feet, three inches of him, certainly fit that bill. He’s played Chewie in all five films the Wookiee has appeared in. The point is, the height issue narrows down the shortlist pretty quickly.
With that in mind, our first choice is six-foot-ten Canadian ex-wrestler Robert Maillet. Known as Kurrgan in the WWE in the late ‘90s, Maillet has parlayed his wrestling career into a steady acting career, appearing as gigantic characters in films like 300 and Pacific Rim. He has all the physicality and, of course, height to wear the Wookiee suit with panache.
But what would a goofier take on Chewbacca look like? Imagine Stephan Merchant as everybody’s favorite fuzz ball. The star of Hello Ladies and co-creator of The Office stands six-foot-seven, and while much of his charm rests in his goofy, boyish looks and delivery (and none of those would be on display as Chewie), he does have a unique, gangly physicality. To wit, Ricky Gervais described Merchant’s dance style as “upright lizard being given electroshock treatment.”
4 Ron Perlman as the voice of Darth Vader
We’re just going to go with Vader’s voice for this casting call (inside the suit, we just need a capable actor who can shake his hand menacingly, plus an expert swordsman). Arguably the most iconic sounds in Star Wars are lightsabers, blaster fire, Darth Vader’s breathing and Darth Vader’s voice, famously provided in canned baritone by James Earl Jones.
Granted, Jones is still with us at age 85, and might still be the best choice. But if not him, then who? It may just be Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman. At 65, he might be a bit too old to slip inside the helmet as well, but he’s definitely got the vocal skills to be a menacing Sith Lord. Along with his work onscreen, he’s an accomplished vocal talent, with a number of villains under his belt. Plus, he has Star Wars experience, voicing Gha Nachkt in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
If we couldn’t get Perlman, we’d definitely knock on Jeremy Irons’ door. We can imagine his take would be a little different, maybe more theatrical, slimier. After all, he voiced the villainous Scar in The Lion King.
3 Penn Badgley Han Solo
Back in August, we looked at 20 actors who could take the role of Han Solo in the second Star Wars Anthology film, slated for release in 2018. But this is a bit of a different exercise. Harrison Ford was in his mid-30s when he first played Han in 1977, while the Anthology film will take place when he’s much younger, so not all the same actors apply. He’s got to be older and more rugged, more world-weary than Luke, who’s a fresh-faced 18.
Bradley Cooper fits the bill in a lot of ways, but at 41 right now, he’d be a little too deep into his 40s by the time Return of the Jedi would be made. 26-year-old Liam Hemsworth is a solid choice, but might be a little too young and pretty. For our money, a scruffed-up Penn Badgley takes the part. The Gossip Girl star turns 30 this year and has just the right amount of mischief in his eyes.
2 Daisy Ridley as Princess Leia
In the original trilogy, Carrie Fisher brought an amazing combination of much-needed femininity (in a galaxy that seemed far, far away from being gender-balanced), sardonic wit, and leadership to the role of Princess Leia. These days, we seem to be in a golden age for great young actresses who could bring similar qualities to the role. Jennifer Lawrence is the leader of that pack and while she nails all the qualities we want, the one thing working against her is her mega-star status. Like Lucas, we want to go lesser-known with our Leia. (But let’s just fantasize one second about a David O. Russell-directed A New Hope with Lawrence as Leia and Cooper as Han).
We’d give Australian singer/actress, and star of ABC Family’s The Fosters, Maia Mitchell a look – because her look isn’t far off from a young Fisher. Taissa Farmiga would get a shot as well – there’s a little more wisdom in her eyes, a little more of the look of a battle-tested princess. But we wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rey herself, Daisy Ridley, won the part. Nobody would’ve known her from The Force Awakens if Star Wars was just beginning today. But she’s the perfect combination of innocence, intelligence and instinct to make the strategic, romantic, comic and combative sides of Leia seamlessly come together.
1 Freddie Highmore as Luke Skywalker
The original trilogy, of course, is Luke’s arc. He goes from 18-year-old (the script says 18, though based on the timeline from his birth in Revenge of the Sith, he was 19) innocent farm boy to hero of the rebellion and the new hope for the Jedi order. So getting this casting right is crucial. Mark Hamill seemed just right based on the description in the script: “a farm boy with heroic aspirations who looks much younger than his eighteen years. His shaggy hair and baggy tunic give him the air of a simple but lovable lad with a prize-winning smile.”
Dane DeHaan, who starred as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is a very young-looking 30 and looks like a young Hamill. So he’s got a shot. Percy Jackson himself, Logan Lerman, just might be fresh-faced enough to take it, but maybe he’s already too established as Jackson.
But we’re going to go with young Norman Bates himself, Freddie Highmore. He’s a young-looking 24 and has shown a lot of range on Bates Motel. Although his character is unhinged, Highmore has shown the innocence of Tatooine Luke, along with the darkness and rage that begins to spill out in Return of the Jedi. Plus, we can picture him alongside Ridley and Badgley as a solid main trio.
Who else do you think would have been cast? Let us know in the comments!