It's been 32 long years since we last saw our heroes on the big screen in Return of The Jedi. But on Dec. 18, one of the most -- if not THE most --famous franchises in movie history is returning to theaters in the much-anticipated next chapter of their story with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Over the next 20 weeks, we will celebrate the franchise by looking back and ranking the best of the best moments in Star Wars history
In a couple of weeks, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will take us on an insanely auspicious trip back to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.” The assortment of spectacular spots and trailers for the Sequel Trilogy liftoff have been getting us as intimately acquainted with its main characters as possible, with stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac seemingly on the verge of receiving household name status promotions.
However, with our focus being on redeemed unsung background cast members, we will also see how appearing in Star Wars can become a somewhat mixed opportunity for others. Sure, some of these people were already famous and simply enjoyed cameo privileges. However, for others, it was an example of an early, non-propelling rent money payday in a career that would eventually excel further down the line.
With that premise established, here are 15 prominent people who made onscreen appearances in the Star Wars movies. We’re not including voice actors and people whose scenes were cut from the films. Rather, these folks are the Where’s Waldo-esque supporting players who quietly passed through the Star Wars universe in the most intriguing ways.
15. Peter Sumner - Lt. Pol Treidum (Episode IV: A New Hope)
Fans in the U.S. may not have ever overwhelmingly had the name of Peter Sumner on the tips of their tongues. However, in the veteran actor’s native Australia, he’s actually kind of a big deal...ish. There was undoubtedly a moment shocking enough for fans Down Under to spit up their Vegemite when Sumner, a longtime staple on Aussie film and television, showed up in the original Star Wars (A New Hope) as an Imperial officer in the Death Star docking bay control room.
Sumner’s Pol is seen and heard famously attempting to hail the (apparently) ill-fated Stormtrooper known as “TK-421” about not being at his post. Unfortunately, he soon experienced a more unambiguous fate than 421 after meeting the bad end of some infiltrative warfare from the Millennium Falcon crew as he was unceremoniously shot by Chewbacca.
14. Keisha Castle-Hughes – Queen Apailana (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
Fans of Game of Thrones who are still recovering from the underwhelming Dorne storyline may know Keisha Castle-Hughes as the alpha Sand Snake, Obara Sand. However, long before that, she was best known as the prodigious pre-teen, Oscar-nominated star of the 2002 drama, Whale Rider. While always taking roles at a rather sporadic rate, her immediate follow up to that movie was in 2005 for a line-deprived minor role in Revenge of the Sith as Queen Apailana, one of Padmé’s successors to the Naboo monarchy.
Apailana is seen prominently, but briefly at the end of the film, walking solemnly behind the open casket in Padmé’s funeral procession along with the late Senator/Ex-Queen’s former advisor from The Phantom Menace, Sio Bibble.
13. Bruce Spence - Tion Medon (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
The lanky kiwi actor, Bruce Spence normally has one of those faces that you just know. Besides having a long and impeccable resume of film and television roles, Spence also holds the distinction of being a player that George Miller liked so much that he cast him prominently in two Mad Max movies (The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome) for two distinct roles.
Appearing behind heavy prosthetics in Revenge of the Sith, Spence played a lavishly-dressed port administrator on the planet Utapau named Tion Medon. While appearing to be more like a sinister, wrinkly, uglier cousin of Max Shreck’s Nosferatu vampire, Tion actually made the heroic decision to defy threats from the bad guys by letting Obi-Wan Kenobi know that General Grievous and his Trade Federation army was holding him and his people hostage.
12. Tony Cox – Ewok Widdle Warrick (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)
While he is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable dwarf actors in the industry, Tony Cox might be best known for his role opposite Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa (which he will reprise in next year’s Bad Santa 2). However, amongst his vast resume of credentials is a role as a notable Ewok in Return of the Jedi.
Named Widdle Warrick (or Willy), the character actually lives under a sibling shadow of sorts, being the brother of the most famous Ewok of them all, Wicket (Warick Davis). However, Widdle owns total bragging rights for famously helping Chewbacca hijack an AT-ST walker; an awesome feat that his spotlight-hogging brother cannot truthfully match.
Cox went on to reprise the role of Widdle/Willy in two of the subsequent Star Wars TV movies, The Ewok Adventure in 1984 and Ewoks: Battle for Endor in 1985.
11. Jeremy Bulloch - Jeremoch Colton (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
The veteran British actor definitely put in more than his share of time on the big and small screens. However, after donning the Mandalorian bounty hunter helmet and armor as Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy, Jeremy Bulloch was firmly elevated to cinematic royalty...at least to the fandom, anyway. This status had already been established for decades when he made this cameo role in Revenge of the Sith.
Sporting the name Jeremoch Colton, an obvious first name portmanteau of the actor’s full name, his onscreen, face-visible prequel persona was a pilot for Senator Bail Organa. Colton can be seen in the cockpit of the Alderaanian vessel the Sundered Heart during Organa’s mission to find and protect surviving Jedi after Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s implementation of Order 66 declared the lightsaber swingers enemies of the republic.
10. Sofia Coppola - Saché (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
We probably wouldn’t be telling any tales out of school by inferring that George Lucas’ longtime friendship and collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola is the reason that Sofia Coppola managed to get into The Phantom Menace. However, after causing a wave of critical cacophony for her role in The Godfather: Part III, Coppola was ready to transition towards a move behind the camera at the time.
Consequently, despite its virtual invisibility, this role as one of Queen Padmé Amidala’s handmaidens/decoys, named Saché, was actually fortuitous for Coppola’s new vocation. In what would have to be considered the ultimate career day, Coppola fielded a low-maintenance role while hanging around the set and observing the filmmaking process at its highest financial level. Her ensuing directorial debut in The Virgin Suicides was undoubtedly helped by this osmosis opportunity.
9. Joe Johnston - Spacetrooper (Episode IV: A New Hope)
Director Joe Johnston has helmed an impressive array of films from Captain America: The First Avenger to Jumanji, The Rocketeer, and other classics. Yet, years earlier, on the production for the original Star Wars: A New Hope, Johnston got his start in the film industry out of college as a proverbial padawan to a Jedi master in George Lucas.
Working in various capacities from storyboard to visual effects, Johnston, like many others on hand, was tasked with filling scenery in costume; notably Imperial digs. He is credited with playing a black-clad, faceless Imperial Death Star gunner. However, his role as a space-gear-equipped Stormtrooper seen walking outside the surface of the Death Star hangar bay while the entrapped Millennium Falcon made its arrival is more the stuff of legend. In fact, the cameo even inspired Hasbro to give Johnston his own Spacetrooper action figure in 2009, which sported a removable helmet underneath which Johnston’s face is immortalized.
8. Julian Glover - General Veers (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
Modern fans probably know Julian Glover best as the opaquely cunning Grand Maester Pycelle on Game of Thrones. Of course, scratch the surface a bit further on his extensive resume and you’ll not only remember seeing him “choose poorly” as Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but also for this calculating role as General Maximilian Veers in The Empire Strikes Back.
Glover’s role a Veers was a critical part of Darth Vader’s campaign against the Rebels on their newly-found hidden base on the icy planet of Hoth. After the bumbling Admiral Ozzel botched the fleet’s arrival strategy, giving the Rebels enough time to raise their shields, it resulted in both a remotely-delivered fatal Vader force-choke to Ozzel and a costly snow skirmish on the planet surface. However, Veers successfully led his group of devastating AT-AT walkers to victory, becoming one of the few Imperials to actually emerge from the films with an unanswered win.
7. Richard Armitage - Naboo Pilot (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
After rounding up notable television roles in his native U.K., Richard Armitage nabbed a prominent role as Hydra saboteur Heinz Kruger in Captain America: The First Avenger before walking into quite the franchise cash-cow in the $3 billion earning trilogy of The Hobbit films, co-starring as Thorin Oakenshield. The gigs in Middle Earth undoubtedly bumped Armitage into the leading man category, as he is slated to headline a number of film projects.
However, at an early point in his career, Armitage found himself on the set of The Phantom Menace, playing the role of a briefly seen unnamed Bravo 6 Naboo pilot under the command of Ric Olié. The best shot of Armitage’s character shows him standing silent when Padmé, Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi are attempting to persuade Boss Nass to involve the Gungans in the battle against imminently arriving Trade Federation army. Hardly fitting usage for the would-be King under the mountain.
6. Dominic West - Palace Guard Jerus Jannick (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
English actor and current star of Showtime’s The Affair Dominic West is undoubtedly most revered for his portrayal as the brash Baltimore police detective James McNulty on HBO’s The Wire. However, his rather eclectic resume led him to roles in Richard III, Spice World, Chicago and 300. Yet, somewhere early on, he took an interesting detour in The Phantom Menace as a royal palace guard for Queen Padmé Amidala named Jerus Jannick.
West’s Jannick actually holds the distinction of owning a line, as he utters, “Boy’s here to see Padmé” when young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) waits outside a door to see his secret-sovereign, would-be older-woman paramour. It’s certainly a lot more focus than these bit parts normally seemed to yield. However, the duty of “royal doorman” is oddly apropos to the kind of punishing demotion in which The Wire’s McNulty regularly found himself after his latest reckless stunt.
5. John Ratzenberger - Major Bren Derlin (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
While his live action resume is a bonanza of bit parts, the U.S. Postal Service gave John Ratzenberger the proverbial Publishers Clearing House winning envelope when he nabbed the iconic part of television’s favorite loquacious loser mailman, Cliff Clavin on Cheers. Of course, Ratzenberger also enjoys steady voice work for several of Pixar’s animated epics; notably the Toy Story films and Up. However, eagle-eyed Star Wars fans also know him from Hoth’s Echo Base.
Ratzenberger played the role of the Rebel Alliance’s Major Bren Derlin in The Empire Strikes Back. Derlin was best known as being the bearer of temporarily bad news when he warned Princess Leia that the base’s shield doors needed to be sealed, despite’s Luke Skywalker’s mysterious M.I.A. status. Later on, after the Luke situation was resolved, Derlin is again seen standing with the group during Leia’s pre-battle briefing with Rebel pilots as they prepped for the invading Imperials.
4. Rose Byrne - Dormé (Episode II: Attack of the Clones)
The Australian actress achieved wider visibility with her role in 28 Week Later before finding resounding success in Bridesmaids, X-Men: First Class, the Insidious movies, and television’s Damages. However, that achievement came by way of a rather explosive role years earlier in Attack of the Clones as Senator Padmé Amidala’s loyal companion, Dormé.
Unquestionably devoted, Dormé took on the perilous duty of serving as a decoy for Padmé. Indeed, fellow handmaiden Cordé just made the ultimate sacrifice after a bomb detonated as she was exiting a ship while in full doppelganger regalia. The real Padmé, who was dressed as a pilot, was at her side as she perished. That tragedy was the inciting incident of Clones, causing the Jedi Council to assign Obi-Wan Kenobi and, fatefully, Anakin Skywalker as security detail for Padmé. Yet, Dormé was still at her side, undaunted.
3. Joel Edgerton - Owen Lars (Episode II: Attack of the Clones) (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
Interestingly, no actor has directly benefitted from a minor Star Wars role quite like Joel Edgerton. Having never stepped beyond the boundaries of productions in his home country of Australia, his winning the key part of Owen Lars in Attack of the Clones (a role originated in A New Hope by Phil Brown) became a gateway gig to immediate international exposure in increasingly higher profile films like King Arthur and Kinky Boots.
While Edgerton reprised the Owen role in Revenge of the Sith (for the briefest of scenes,) he never exactly got the opportunity to develop the character, considering Owen’s importance in being destined to raise Luke Skywalker on the famed moisture farm. Nevertheless, the role was a critical first step for Edgerton on his way years later to his star-making turn with some fraternal fist-fighting opposite Tom Hardy in Warrior. From there, it was certified stardom in films like Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby and The Gift.
2. Keira Knightley - Sabé (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
The highest profile actor to come out of the Star Wars cast B-team was undoubtedly Keira Knightley. After achieving stardom with numerous hit films like Bend it Like Beckham, the Pirates of the Caribbean series and Love Actually, Knightley found herself a niche as the queen of period dramas. However, well before all of that, she was first the faux queen of Naboo.
Fitting to the fact that she is often mistaken for Natalie Portman, Knightley caught an early break in The Phantom Menace as Sabé, a decoy of Queen Padmé Amidala. She was so prominent that the movie actually led the audience and characters like Anakin Skywalker under the assumption that she WAS Queen Amidala. Later on, as a disguised Sabé was attempting to warn a resistant Boss Nass of impending threats, the real Queen, Padmé stepped forward, shocking the uninitiated. (Although, anyone exposed to the Phantom Menace merchandising hype, including the character Pepsi cans already knew better).
1. George Lucas - Baron Papanoida (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
After the privilege was given to countless extras and production people, it ended up taking six films in his epoch-altering Star Wars films for creator George Lucas to finally show up onscreen. Indeed, he finally took the plunge in Revenge of the Sith, formally costumed and covered with blue makeup as a character called Baron Notluwiski Papanoida. However, as far as screen presence is concerned, the good Baron firmly falls into the category of the “blink and you miss them” group.
Papanoida can be seen in a quickly passing moment in Sith set in the lobby of the gravity-defying, aquatic-show-hosting Galaxies Opera House, when Anakin Skywalker is running through a crowd to quickly get to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s booth. Papanoida is seen conversing with daughter, Chi, played by one of Lucas’ real daughters, Katie, while his other daughter, Amanda, lurks costumed in the background. In a grim bit of trivia, his son, Jett is seen later in the film as a Jedi youngling cut down by clone troopers.
The Baron Papanoida character later surfaced with greater focus in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, voiced by Corey Burton. He was revealed to be a galactic entertainment mogul and intelligence gatherer.
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