Star Wars has entertained millions of fans and employed hundreds of actors over its 40 year history. It even has its own day — Star Wars Day. Few franchises require such varied performances from their casts. While some actors must deliver Shakespearean levels of emotion, others demand a physical presence and some are just used as comic relief.
This variance in tone ends up delivering a few terrific performances, many serviceable ones, and a few stinkers. Admittedly, there is no common standard to judge talent on. Many rankings are based on the differences between what the actor delivered and what they were capable of versus an absolute judgment of their part. In other cases, the actor can hardly be blamed. Unfortunately for Jar Jar Binks, an insufferable performance is an insufferable performance.
We’ve also baked public consensus into our rankings as we don’t imagine too many people will be defending Hayden Christensen to their dying breath, or denying Harrison Ford his Magnum Opus. The actors who were limited to motion-capture performances or squeezed in to a droid suit are also fair game.
Here are the 8 Best (And 7 Worst) Star Wars Performances.
15. Jake Lloyd as Young Anakin Skywalker (Worst)
It never feels fair knocking an eight year old, and the fact is Jake Lloyd did a terrific job for his age. The fault lies with The Phantom Menace’s writers for placing too much dramatic weight on the young actor’s shoulders. Child actors Lloyd’s age are suited to comedy or forthright drama, not subtle displays of emotional conflict.
Conveying Anakin’s divided emotions over leaving home would be a tall order for even experienced actors, not to mention the Freudian challenge of approaching Padme – Anakin’s adoptive mother/future wife.
The film’s creators would have been better served writing Anakin in as a young teenager and casting an older performer who could do the role’s emotional nuances justice. This also would have fixed the time jump between this movie and Attack of the Clones.
14. Anthony Daniels as C-3PO (Best)
While his accent may sound like something from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, C-3PO is one of Star Wars’ most beloved characters: evidenced by his appearance in nearly every film to date, along with Star Wars animated television shows.
Anthony Daniels is the man behind the golden droid. Part of the genius of C-3PO’s character is that he inhabits both the role of prop and character; we buy him as a bucket of bolts, and integral member of the cast at the same time. This mental juggling act boils down to Daniels’ spot-on delivery, which has remained consistent from A New Hope to The Last Jedi.
Fun fact: Daniels is also a professional mime and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center – and while he may not be fluent in six million forms of communication, he does speak French.
13. Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks (Worst)
This is also a bit of a low-blow: there is no actor alive who could have turned the character of Jar Jar Binks into the lovable rogue he was intended to be. Ahmed Best was given a job, and he delivered as best he could.
Unfortunately, the fact remains that he was instrumental in bringing the despicable creation to life. Of course, we can have sympathize with Best regarding the aspects of Jar-Jar that were out of his control, but he still gave voice and motion to this odious creature.
12. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia (Best)
More than any of her counterparts, Carrie Fisher grew as an actress with the Star Wars franchise: from her first, energetic yet unsteady performance in A New Hope to her final, masterful swan song in The Last Jedi.
While her appearance as a spunky princess in the original trilogy was a spot-on complement to Harrison Ford’s roguish charm, Fisher really shone in his absence. The Princess Leia we see in The Last Jedi is both softer and stronger than her younger self: more sensitive to her companions’ heartbreak, but very much the woman in charge.
11. Benicio Del Toro as DJ (Worst)
This is a perfect example of a talented actor in a lazy role. Benicio Del Toro has long since proven himself with performances in Sicario, Escobar: Paradise Lost, and Traffic: the latter earned him a slew of awards among critics circles and guilds.
Even watching him as the poorly-conceived safecracker DJ in The Last Jedi, one can tell Del Toro is world-class. His potential hides just beneath the surface, crying for a bit of decent dialogue, or even a logical plot line to follow.
His character skates along on confusing motivations and misdirected charm. DJ’s final act, betraying Finn and Rose, makes little logistical – let alone dramatic – sense. We can only hope the writers have corrected course before DJ’s next appearance in the franchise.
10. Daisy Ridley as Rey (Best)
While young actors’ careers are difficult to predict, Daisy Ridley appears to be Star Wars’ breakout lead. Her character, Rey, is not an easy one to nail: good-hearted, but impulsive, and even bitter. In a universe split in to the light and dark side, characters that straddle the line are always the most interesting – and Ridley has the emotional range to deliver.
As the first true female lead of a Star Wars film, Ridley had a lot to live up to – that only increased in The Last Jedi, when she was shown to be the true successor to Luke Skywalker’s iconic legacy. Luckily, Ridley is more than up to the task and her relatable, charismatic performance has put all accusations of Rey being a “Mary-Sue” to the wayside.
9. Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker (Worst)
Hayden Christensen was only 19 when he was cast as Anakin Skywalker and had never appeared in a major Hollywood role. Much like his predecessor Jake Lloyd, he was under a lot of pressure without much experience.
Crew and cast members who worked on the prequels report that George Lucas did little to help his young star. The director followed up poorly written dialogue with disjointed directing, and prioritized visuals and special effects above properly guiding his actors.
A quick glance at Christensen’s IMDb page shows his career hasn’t been the same since. While the star has claimed his departure from the spotlight was intentional, the Star Wars prequels took him off the map whichever way you look at it.
8. Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe (Best)
Donnie Yen’s blind warrior-monk, Chirrut Imwe, has to be Rogue One’s most memorable character. Yen said the translucent contact lenses he had to wear made the role more challenging than most.
The lenses not only blurred Yen’s vision and impaired his sense of depth, but also required moisture drops every 30 seconds. The obstacle forced Yen to rely less on sight, and more on instinct – helping him to further connect with his character.
However, Chirrut was about more than just high-kicks and backflips; the character’s philosophical inserts brought the Force back into a movie devoid of Jedi, and diluted the film’s overall blockbuster feel. It’s unfortunate we won’t see the character again moving forward.
7. Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux (Worst)
Another example of an underutilized talent. Domhnall Gleeson – son of the legendary Brendan Gleeson – has a short but impressive track record of compelling performances.
To date, almost every movie he has appeared in went on to win multiple Academy Awards, from Brooklyn to The Revenant. While the actor hasn’t found his break out lead just yet, he’s proven capable of hanging with the big dogs in supporting roles.This is why it’s such a pity The Last Jedi squeezes him in to the character of General Hux, providing little more than comic relief to the deathly serious Kylo Ren. Apart from being a little cheesy, the evil duo’s power struggle is annoyingly unrealistic.
The First Order is a bureaucratic machine which would have to employ hundreds of thousands of managers, soldiers, accountants, and laborers. The idea that Kylo Ren could become supreme leader of this institutional behemoth by simply killing his superior, then force choking his next in line, is paper thin.
6. Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker (Best)
It’s hard to assess an actor’s role when that actor is the only person who could play it. While Darth Vader has been portrayed by four different actors, and Obi-Wan by two, due to the timeline, Luke Skywalker’s shoes could only ever be filled by Mark Hamill.
If Star Wars had ended after the original trilogy, Hamill would have been remembered as an energetic young actor who nailed a single, straightforward role.
However, The Last Jedi introduced a new Hamill: capable of grief, vulnerability, and a more nuanced heroism. It will be interesting to see if Hamill rides the film’s wave to reignite a more dramatic career path – or follow his character’s example and remain in exile.
5. Natalie Portman as Padme/Amidala (Worst)
Natalie Portman stated in an interview that The Phantom Menace almost ender her career. While talking with New York Magazine she said “Star Wars had come out … and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me.”
Queen Amidala was a triumph of costume design, but a flop of a character. Her wooden delivery – far from conveying reserved majesty – suggested C-3PO and R2-D2 weren’t the only droids on screen. Thankfully, the legendary Mike Nichols personally vouched for Portman, securing her a role in Cold Mountain, after which she further re-established her credibility in V for Vendetta and Black Swan.
4. Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan (Best)
Obi-Wan is one of the few Star Wars characters lucky enough to have been played by two capable actors. While Ewan McGregor was one of the greatest parts of the prequels, the honor of best Obi Wan Kenobi has to go to Sir Alec Guinness.
Guinness was one of a handful of British actors who made the transition from Shakespearean stage acting to the big screen, and his classical training shines through in every scene. Few actors could have brought both mystery and warmth to the character of old Ben Kenobi, or introduced the force with such quiet reverence.
3. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren (Best)
Kylo Ren, an interesting but unfinished character in The Force Awakens, swiftly becomes the emotional centerpiece of The Last Jedi. At times, Adam Driver rises to a different league from the rest of the cast, although Daisy Ridley fortunately meets his challenge in their emotional stand-offs.
In fact, Adam Driver is so good as Kylo Ren that it’s easy to forget how bad the character could have been in the hands of a less capable actor. The line between brooding intensity and emo-like whininess is razor thin, but Driver delivers on the former through sheer physicality and a natural knack for rage.
2. Brian Blessed as Boss Nass (Worst)
Brian Blessed is Hollywood’s go-to actor for booming voice roles, which made him a natural choice to play Gungan leader Boss Nass. Similar to Ahmed Best’s rendition of Jar Jar, Blessed did exactly what Lucas asked and can hardly be blamed for the final result.
Still, Boss Nass rivals Jar Jar for gimmicky comic relief. Physically, the Gungans’ leader resembles a dissatisfied toad, with the fashion sense of an ancient Chinese noble; his CGI rendering is among the prequels’ poorest – and internet pranksters have even drawn unflattering comparisons to President Trump.
1. Harrison Ford as Han Solo (Best)
Similar to Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Han Solo is the supporting character who you wish was the lead. While Luke provides Star Wars with a moral backbone, Han is all fun. As always, Ford plays the arrogant smuggler to a tee, and his sharp-tongued romance with Fisher transcends mere love-hate cliches.
Fast forwarding to The Force Awakens, Han Solo hasn’t quite matured like his old flame Princess Leia – but that’s exactly what we want. The same old Han, up to his old tricks, unchanged and unchangeable.
Star Wars is about adventure, and adventure boils down to delighting in the unknown. While Luke and Leia bow under the weight of responsibility and failure, Solo remains a risk taker to the end.
Are there any other Star Wars performances we should have included?
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