Let’s just admit it: the Star Wars actors are a part of our national consciousness. For whatever reason, George Lucas’s original trilogy resonated with audiences so powerfully that nearly three decades after their release, the films and actors remain a part of our national identity and language, serving as reference points for many of our own experiences and life lessons. Who, for example, hasn’t referred to their difficult boss or mother-in-law as Darth Vader? We can thank the very talented cadre of Star Wars actors for making the films as memorable as they are. Of course, some of the Star Wars actors are more clearly emblazoned in our memories, so let’s take time to recall why they are so important to not just the franchise, but to movie buffs the world over.
Harrison Ford is Hans Solo and Hans Solo is Harrison Ford. More than any of the other iconic roles he has played over the years (and that’s a helluva lot of characters, like Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan, to name just two), Ford is identified as intergalactic space hero Hans Solo, whose story is at the center of the Star Wars films. Just how he got the part of Hans Solo sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie: producer and director Geroge Lucas had hired Ford (who was at the time working primarily as a carpenter) to build some cabinets in his home. That job led to a role in Lucas’s film American Graffiti, which in turn led to work on Francis Ford Coppola’s films The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. Lucas eventually hired him for the part of Hans Solo after being impressed with the way he read lines with other actors who came in to audition for the part. The film went on to become the second highest grossing American film in history, making Ford a superstar upon its release. He went on to star in innumerable blockbusters, including the Indiana Jones series, Blade Runner, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. Currently, he is married to Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart.
Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson has probably appeared in more blockbuster movies than any other actor on the planet, making him one of the highest grossing performers to date. From Star Wars (where he plays Mace Windu in the second trilogy) and Jurassic Park to Kill Bill and Iron Man, he is the man to whom producers turn when they need someone audiences love to see take on the bad guys. It may surprise many to learn, then, that Jackson got his start in acting after joining the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. He studied acting at Morehouse College which eventually led him to work with Morgan Freeman and Spike Lee. In fact, it was his work in Lee’s Jungle Fever which first earned him widespread critical acclaim and notice. He has also appeared in kitschier fare, like Snakes on a Plane, which has led to umpteen parodies, including a few by Jackson himself. Whatever the final judgment, we know that he will be around for many more years to come. Oh, and in case you were wondering what the “L” stands for in his name, it’s Leroy.
If you ask most people who their favorite Star Wars character is, most will say Darth Vader. Why? There’s just something delicious about the way he enjoys being so absolutely evil. It’s as if every cell in his metal body is brimming with evil just below the surface. So it must have been a difficult task for George Lucas to cast the role when time came to start shooting the second trilogy. But it was Hayden Christensen who won the role, and many fans, no matter how they feel about the second trilogy (and we know that’s a big bag of mixed feelings) feel that Christensen did about as good a job as anyone could have playing Anakin Skywalker. Christensen brought the right mix of ambition, confusion, and subtle evil to the role, making audiences fully believe that Anakin would one day become the dreaded Darth Vader. Since the release of the final trilogy, Christensen has worked almost exclusively in more realistic dramas, such as Awake with Jessica Alba and Factory Girl with Sienna Miller. It’s safe to assume that there will be no more fantasy blockbusters on his plate for a while. After all, once you’ve played Darth Vader, the only place to go is down.
Natalie Portman is an incredible actress. We all know that from her work in films like Mike Nichols’s Closer and V for Vendetta. She is clearly an actress for whom the inclination to play roles apart from what is usually delegated to a young woman her age is incredibly strong. Most fans know her as the young Queen Amidala in the second Star Wars trilogy where she was concerned with preserving her empire. What they may not know about Portman is that she is a Harvard graduate (with a degree in Psychology) and a fierce advocate for animal rights. She is currently a vegan after having been a vegetarian since childhood. She also eschews any and all goods made from animals, including fur, feathers, and leather. She is also a young woman who has her priorities straight: when asked if she thought going to college would ruin her film career, she replied, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” We are glad that she chose both!
Carrie Fisher is one of those people with multiple talents: she not only acts, but also writes novels and screenplays that everyone seems to love. Cast as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, she became the fantasy girlfriend of an entire generation of young men. Feisty, fearless and full of femininity, Princess Leia is one of the all-time greatest female leads in Hollywood history. In characteristic self-mocking fashion, Fisher claims she got the part by “sleeping with some nerd.” Fisher was astonished not only by the attention the media gave her, but by the success of the merchandising of Princess Leia figurines, dolls and costumes. Though she has been acting steadily since her star making turn in Star Wars, she prefers to focus her attention these days on her writing. Her much acclaimed autobiography, Wishful Drinking, goes in depth into her battle with alcohol and drug abuse. So popular was the book that it was turned into a Broadway play and enjoyed much success on stage.