It may make you feel old, but it’s now been 18 years since The Phantom Menace entered theaters and kicked off the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Twelve years after Revenge of the Sith and the films have gone from box office hits and massive fan disappointments to reevaluated ambitious failures. What’s more, the past two years have seen two new films in the franchise, including a prequel, and both have been huge successes with critics and audiences alike.
Rebels, the latest animated series in the franchise, is still gathering praise in its third season, and there's a never-ending stream of novels and comics fleshing out stories across the galaxy. With all the new Star Wars media out there, it's hard not to wonder what the prequels would be like if they were cast today under the current iteration of Lucasfilm and its story group.
Even more intriguing is imagining who would play all of those iconic roles. It’s a safe bet that Frank Oz and Anthony Daniels would both return as Yoda and C-3PO, but beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.
We decided to put our film and TV expertise to use and answer the question: What If The Star Wars Prequels Were Cast Today?
16 Darth Maul - Joe Taslim and Sam Witwer
Darth Maul was front and center in the marketing efforts for Phantom Menace, making it somewhat of a disappointment to see him dispatched during the first Episode of the new trilogy. Lucasfilm seemed to agree, as the character resurfaced during a fascinatingly dark arc of Clone Wars and has had a continued presence on Rebels the past two seasons. Though Peter Serafinowicz did a fine job voicing the character in the original film, Sam Witwer has been undeniably more menacing as Maul in the animated series. As a bonus, it adds to the continuity, much like James Earl Jones continuing to voice Darth Vader in Rebels.
While Witwer could certainly play the physical Maul as well, we decided to take a cue from the original trilogy and pair a stellar voice actor with a fantastic stunt person. The first film had martial artist Ray Park, so it’s only fitting that we cast one of the entertainment industry's best fighters. Who better for the Emperor to choose as his new apprentice than Raid: Redemption star Joe Taslim. He’s something to behold in action, and could bring to Maul a frightening level of fighting proficiency. Mixed with Witwer’s voice, Darth Maul would be the stuff of nightmares for anyone opposed to the dark side.
15 General Grievous - John DiMaggio
General Grievous is one of those ideas that probably looked amazing on paper and then failed spectacularly in execution. The concept of a leader who’s replaced most of their body with cybernetic parts, is known for killing Jedi, and has a respiratory problem sounds like a recipe for the next Darth Vader.
Unfortunately, Grievous’ name signifies a complaint more than bodily harm, as he’s somewhat ineffectual and his hacking cough does little to impress. But the idea of a crazy cyborg wielding four spinning lightsabers that he took from Jedi he’s killed should be an amazing villain, given the right voice actor (and writing).
Hopefully, the Lucasfilm of today would handle the writing deftly, leaving only the right casting choice. Like Witwer and Maul, who better to voice Grievous than someone who’s done it before? Though the villain's had a few voice actors in Clone Wars, we chose John DiMaggio for his sheer range. He’s already played plenty of villains, including the Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood, and he’s been winning over fans for years with his two biggest roles: Bender on Futurama and Jake on Adventure Time. With DiMaggio supplying the voice, General Grievous could be every bit as terrifying as Maul.
14 Mace Windu - Mahershala Ali
It’s no surprise that Mahershala Ali has already turned up as an actor we’d love to see play John Stewart in DC’s Green Lantern Corps film. The actor has had a good couple of years. Not only has his role on House of Cards garnered him praise, but fans were by his performance on Luke Cage last year. On top of that, his turn in Moonlight nabbed him a Golden Globe nomination and the film can’t stop winning awards. Ali's mix of pathos, swagger, and humanity make him the perfect actor to follow up Samuel L. Jackson as the sage yet badass Mace Windu.
Jackson was such a star at the time that he was able to request the hitherto unused color purple for his lightsaber. He brought his calm cool to the film, doling out wisdom as easily as he took down enemies. Ali has proven across his career that he’s got the same balance of insight and menace necessary to embody one of the galaxy’s greatest Jedi, and he’s got the star power to rival Jackson's at that time. As we craft a better version of the prequels, a prestige actor like Ali who’s also intimately familiar with genre characters is a perfect addition to the cast.
13 Count Dooku - Bill Nighy
Whether you know him as Count Dooku, the leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, or Darth Tyranus, the pupil of Sith Lord Darth Sidious, the former Jedi is one of the chief antagonists in the prequels and throughout the Clone Wars. Played masterfully by Christopher Lee, it would take an equally adept actor to master the air of superiority and ferocious power that Dooku commands. Who better to play him in our new cast than Bill Nighy?
Nighy has had a long career full of many stellar performances, but he’s also got a knack for portraying villains of all stripes. He’s walked the line between campy and monstrous as both Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Viktor in the Underworld franchise. He’s also scaled it back to play more benevolently bad characters like Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
With his range, he could do Lee justice by showing the evil of Tyranus, but also the diplomacy and charisma that’s made Count Dooku a figure that so many have rallied behind.
12 Jango Fett - Taika Waititi
Just as the prequels gave us a young Darth Vader before he put on the helmet, they showed us Boba Fett before he became the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter. We don’t actually spend much time with him, however, as the movie focuses more on his father Jango. What makes the Fetts even more interesting is that Jango’s DNA creates the Clone Troopers that both the Republic and Empire employ at different times. As such, an approximation of Temuera Morrison’s face is all over Clone Wars, as both the troops and young Boba.
Because of that, we wanted to honor Morrison’s Maori heritage by going a little left-field with our Jango choice. Though he’s mostly known for comedy, we think What We Do in the Shadows star/writer/director and Thor: Ragnarok helmer Taika Waititi would make for a great Jango.
Though he’s portrayed as fairly poe-faced in the prequels, we think the character could be lightened up a bit and given more of a rakish personality befitting the father of the fan-favorite rogue. Like Deadpool and Han Solo, those who operate outside the law are always easier to root for if they've got a bit of humor in them, so Waititi could bring something much needed to the role of the elder Fett.
11 Bail Organa - Lin-Manuel Miranda
Bail Organa has grown into a fairly important character in the Star Wars universe. After first appearing in the prequels played by Jimmy Smits, he’s most recently popped up in Rogue One as one of the key Rebel leaders. We see Organa bridge that gap in both Clone Wars and Rebels, as the senator slowly becomes one of the founders of the Rebellion. Not only that, but he’s the adoptive father of Leia, meaning any actor who plays him needs to be a loving dad, a statesman, and a firebrand.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of Hamilton, might be the actor born to play this role. He’s got the chops to play a passionate orator, and shares Smits’ New York and Puerto Rican heritage. Plus, we know Miranda can rock that goatee. One of the best things about the prequels was watching politicians have to become freedom fighters as they realized their republic was slipping away from them, and Miranda has the pathos to bring that alive in a young Bail Organa.
10 Mon Mothma - Emma Watson
One of the other key leaders of the burgeoning Rebellion is Senator Mon Mothma. While she was cut from Revenge of the Sith, actor Genevieve O’Reilly was able to "reprise" the role in Rogue One as she’d aged right alongside the gap in the timeline. Because of the film’s proximity to the original trilogy, O’Reilly is effectively replacing Caroline Blakiston, who played Mothma in Return of the Jedi. With her prominent role in both the Rebellion and the franchise, we feel that Mothma needs to have a larger part in the prequels, and a new actor to play the young senator.
Just as O’Reilly and Blakiston share a striking resemblance, Emma Watson could easily pass for both actors. She’s got surprisingly similar facial features, the same tint to her hair, and ups the ante by bringing some serious acting skills to the table. With an expanded role for Mothma, we wanted an actor who could handle the same range required of Organa.
Through her parts in the Harry Potter franchise along with roles in Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Bling Ring, Watson has demonstrated both a deep emotional well from which she can draw, and the ability to play a strong, intelligent leader with a desire for justice— all essential traits for any Rebel leader.
9 Young Padmé Amidala - Rowan Blanchard
For the casting of Queen Padmé Amidala, we decided to deviate from the original prequels by following their lead with Anakin. It’s always been a little odd that Natalie Portman, young as she was, had the task of playing both a teen Padmé and a considerably older one. On top of that, it added to the creep factor a bit having her and the preteen Anakin flirt. To help delineate between the two different time periods of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, we’ve decided to cast both a young and an older Padmé.
For the 14 year old queen, we chose rising star Rowan Blanchard. She’s impressed a lot of big names with her work on Girl Meets World, so much so that she’ll be joining Ava Duverney’s A Wrinkle in Time next year. At 15, Blanchard can much more naturally play the young and rebellious ruler, and she’s got the skills to pull off a monarch with a heart of gold.
8 Older Padmé Amidala - Emily Wheaton
Around 10 years pass between the events of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and the age (and actor) difference between Anakin Skywalker is one of our biggest clues to that. With our new Padmé casting, there will be one more visual element to pinpoint the time that’s passed. Now both in their early 20s, the chemistry between Padmé and Anakin can properly blossom into both tension and eventually love in a much more natural way. There’s still a bit of an age difference, but it will be far less jarring than in the original prequels.
Though she’s a couple years older than Padmé would be, we think Emily Wheaton would be perfect to play the older Queen. She’s been steadily gathering acclaim in the UK with a number of TV and film roles, and is poised to break out in the States. We’ve already seen her pull off some ornate royal attire in Gods of Egypt and she’s almost a dead ringer for an older Rowan Blanchard.
7 Obi-Wan Kenobi - Michael Fassbender
Replacing Ewan McGregor as the younger version of Obi-Wan Kenobi from the prequels is a difficult feat, but we think Michael Fassbender is more than up to the challenge. He’s already proven his mettle in genre films like the X-Men franchise and Prometheus. The former even saw him acting in a prequel as the younger version of the fan-favorite Magneto, so the task of playing a young Kenobi would be familiar. He can also turn in an intense performance when he needs to, as he showed us in Hunger. Even better, his age helps fill in one of the Star Wars franchises continuity issues.
Though McGregor ages a bit during the filming of the original trilogy, he’s a good bit too young to transform into Alec Guinness by the time A New Hope roles around. Fassbender's age would help bridge that gap a bit more, making the difference between him and Anakin even more pronounced. There’s no doubt in our minds that if the prequels were to be cast today, Fassbender would be on the top of the list to play Obi-Wan Kenobi.
6 Qui-Gon Jinn - Kenneth Branagh
Just like with McGregor as Obi-Wan, Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn is a tough act to follow. Not only did he project both authority and a rebellious nature (serving as our introduction to a Gray Jedi), but Qui-Gon had a surprising amount of heart.
Long before Neeson was seen as an intimidating presence thanks to his recent revival as an action hero, he was both kind and wise as the Jedi Master keen to bring young Anakin into the fold. As such, we decided to lean towards kindheartedness rather than severity for our casting, and think Kenneth Branagh is the perfect candidate.
Known equally as a director and actor, Branagh has gone from Shakespearean to genre, with roles as the lead in Hamlet, in Much Ado About Nothing, and as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He often leans towards comedy, but both Hamlet and his role in Jack Ryan prove he can be plenty intense when he needs to. He’s also got a bit of a roguish side, making him the perfect person to play Jinn, a Jedi who seems to have his own set of rules by which he plays.
5 Young Anakin Skywalker - Pierce Gagnon
Casting preteen actors is always difficult. For every success like the cast of Harry Potter, there’s a Jacob Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker. Part of the risk is going with a relative unknown, rather than a young actor who’s proven their dramatic chops already. Lloyd had actually acted a few times before, including alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly a good prerequisite to portray the child who will one day become Darth Vader.
To avoid a similar issue, we’ve decided to cast our young Anakin with an actor who’s got plenty of solid genre experience. At only 11, Pierce Gagnon has already been in quite a lot of films. He currently stars in sci-fi series Extant after starting out on One Tree Hill for a number of episodes. In between, he’s been in Looper and Tomorrowland, and will appear in at least one episode of the Twin Peaks revival. Gagnon’s got the dramatic chops to foreshadow the darkness present in the young Jedi and give us an Anakin we can care about.
4 Older Anakin Skywalker - Ezra Miller
We’ll give it to the prequels, they were able to match Lloyd’s relatively lifeless young Anakin when they cast Hayden Christensen as the older version of Skywalker. Though the actor had a brief time in the sun around the prequels, there’s a pretty good reason you don’t see him in much these days.
Watching Christensen act opposite stronger performers like McGregor and Portman was cringeworthy, and his slow turn to the dark side was less nefarious Sith Lord-in-training and more petulant child. It’s a testament to Clone Wars that the writers and voice actor Matt Lanter were able to make the characterfascinating subject he was meant to be after the prequels.
To match the layered fury, confusion, and ultimate heart of Anakin, Ezra Miller seems like the natural fit. At 24, he’s around the right age to play the older Anakin, and his roles in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them have proven he can play a tortured soul hiding a darker nature. There’s also a lightness and charm to him, which we’ve seen teased in his DCEU appearances as The Flash. Miller’s one of the best young performers working today and just what the prequels need to provide us with a proper emotional journey for Anakin, from Padawan to Sith Lord.
3 Jar Jar Binks - Tom Kenny
Many might wonder why we would even include Jar Jar Binks in our speculative remake of the prequels. After all, if the movies were made today, it’s hard to imagine a character like Binks appearing. K-2SO in Rogue One, however, proved that a secondary character who mostly serves as comic relief can still exist in the Star Wars universe and not simply feel like a cheap effort to sell toys. On top of that, Jar Jar has popped up a number of times in Clone Wars, so it’d be hard to not have him appear in the prequels.
What we are proposing, however, is that his role be drastically reduced in Phantom Menace, and for the character’s unsettlingly speaking style be altered. In order to craft a truly humorous and enjoyable Jar Jar, there’s no one better than Tom Kenny. Just like John DiMaggio, he’s an Adventure Time veteran, voicing Ice King and a number of other characters. He’s also got a ton of performances under his belt, from Spyro and Iron Man to Penguin and M.O.D.O.K. Most famously, he voiced Spongebob Squarepants himself. If you’re going to shamelessly try to sell toys to kids, at least get a man who’s made a career out of playing funny and poignant kid-friendly characters.
2 Ahsoka Tano - Kiersey Clemons
Our penultimate casting choice never actually appears in the original prequels, but she’s got a massive role in Clone Wars. One of the toughest bits of continuity to swallow is that the entirety of Clone Wars sees Anakin and Obi-Wan fighting alongside fellow Jedi Ahsoka Tano. What’s more, Ahsoka is Anakin’s Padawan and one of his closest friends. It makes it all the stranger to go back and watch Revenge of the Sith with the character never mentioned. Given her strong role in current Star Wars canon, there’s absolutely no way the prequels would be made without introducing this key character.
Ahsoka helps bring out Anakin’s humanity, and shows what he’s like as a mentor. By including her in Revenge, it would make Anakin’s transition to the dark side even more heartbreaking. Though they were estranged by the point the movie occurs, we think she could easily be brought into the last film.
To play her in live action, we’d love to see Kiersey Clemons in the role. Though we haven’t yet seen her Iris West in The Flash, the casting means she likely already has chemistry with Ezra Miller. Regardless, she blew us away in Dope and is poised to be a huge star. She’d need a bit of fight training, but that’s fairly standard for these types of movies. Clemons has the look, age, and skills to finally bring one of the biggest fan-favorite characters from Star Wars to life and add that little something extra to the prequels.
1 Sheev Palpatine - Ian McDiarmid
We debated keeping the original cast for a number of roles on this list, but felt that it wouldn’t do to overplay that hand. There is one role, however, that’s just as iconic as James Earl Jones’ and Frank Oz’s portrayals of Vader and Yoda, respectively.
First appearing in Return of the Jedi, Ian McDiarmid has played the Emperor, otherwise known as Darth Sidious, in all 4 Star Wars films in which the character has appeared. He also, of course, played the pre-Emperor, Senator Sheev Palpatine from Naboo. More than any other character, his progression from seemingly noble senator to the most evil ruler in all of fandom was a fascinating journey to watch. What made it even better was that the man pulling political strings as Palpatine was the same actor who first portrayed the sinister Emperor in the original trilogy.
Continuity like that just shouldn’t be messed with, and there’s no one better to continue playing the Emperor in a recast series of prequels than McDiarmid. Doing so lets him once again reprise his role from Jedi, and thanks to the Emperor’s mutilated face, the fact that McDiarmid has aged doesn’t much matter. He could seamlessly slide in as a Palpatine looking eerily familiar to the one seen in the Clone Wars animated series, only to become a spitting image of Darth Sidious from Jedi. As long as he’s still alive and acting, there's no need to cast anyone except McDiarmid as the evil Emperor.
Who would you cast if the Star Wars prequels were made today? Let us know in the comments!