A-List: Star Wars Actors in Other Roles
By Michael Bentley
May 11, 2005
You loved Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia (er... I mean Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher) in Star Wars. You pretended you were the voice of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) or envisioned yourself as the lovely Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). But have you ever wished you were one of these actors in another movie?
For this A-List, we focus on the best work by Star Wars actors in other roles after they first starred in George Lucas' epic. Some people might subscribe to the theory that the success of Star Wars acts as sort of a cloud over an actor's head in that they are only viewed in that role and people find it difficult to envision them playing anything else. Sort of like the Seinfeld curse; none of the main stars from that series seem to be able to find a steady job since the show's run ended. But as the A-List shows, there are plenty of commendable performances by the Star Wars gang in other films.
Also note that the list excludes Harrison Ford performances. If we were to allow the man who immortalized Han Solo onto the list, then he would likely dominate it with such iconic roles as Indiana Jones, John Book, and Dr. Richard Kimble among others. We will leave Mr. Ford to his own list someday.
And now, without further ado... the best performances by Star Wars actors in other roles.
The 'burbs (Carrie Fisher)
The 'burbs is often treated as sort of the red-headed stepchild in Tom Hanks' cannon of films, but it is actually a wild, entertaining, and very funny picture. It is about a couple of typical suburban goofballs who are on vacation at home for a couple weeks. They suspect that the new neighbors are up to no good, and may have killed a missing elderly man who lives down the street. All sorts of hijinks ensue, but the quality farce is helped along by Carrie Fisher's strong foil to Hanks' vacationing dad.
Field of Dreams (James Earl Jones)
James Earl Jones may not have had a major onscreen role in Star Wars, but his voice acting as evil Sith mastermind Darth Vader is out of this world. You have undoubtedly heard him in other roles as a narrator or other voiceover ("This is CNN."), but perhaps his finest performance was as Terence Mann in the seminal baseball film Field of Dreams. Certainly you know the story, but Jones is perfect as the recluse, obviously based on J.D. Salinger, who journeys with Kevin Costner to experience the joy and wonder of the magical field in Iowa.
Garden State (Natalie Portman)
Portman is great as the carefree spirit Sam in Zach Braff's debut film Garden State. From pure joy to anxiety to sadness, she portrays a wide range of emotions that makes you wonder how George Lucas could have steered his actors so off-course in the Star Wars prequels.
Love Actually (Liam Neeson)
In Love Actually, the simultaneously heartfelt and humorous ensemble piece about relationships and various kinds of love, Neeson is convincing as a widowed father caring for his teen son. While other parts of the film detail romantic love, Neeson's character shows that his love for his son is just as strong.
Shattered Glass (Hayden Christensen)
You knocked him for his relatively soulless performance in Attack of the Clones, but Hayden proves that he can be a respected actor in Shattered Glass. The film is about the fact or fiction world of a young writer for the The New Republic magazine. As it turns out, he fabricated part of or all of more than half of his articles. Whoops. Hayden is quite good at showing the naivety, self-doubt, and even a little regret that the role requires. If you still aren’t convinced, check it out for Peter Sarsgaard's wonderful turn as Glass' boss.
Just missing the cut...
Batman (Billy Dee Williams) - The man who portrayed the shady greaseball Lando Calrissian nabbed a supporting role in Tim Burton's sensation Batman, as two-faced district attorney Harvey Dent.
The Big Red One (Mark Hamill) - Hamill has received positive acclaim for his role as a cowardly private in this WWII epic. If interested, a restored two-disc special edition DVD with additional footage was recently released.
Coming to America (James Earl Jones) - Vader is great as the no-nonsense, quick witted, King Jaffe Joffer in Eddie Murphy's tour de force.
Hannah and Her Sisters (Carrie Fisher) - Fisher is very good as a friend of Hannah's in one of Woody Allen's last great films.
The Simpsons episode "Mayored to the Mob" (AABF05) (Mark Hamill) - Hamill will never come close to his zenith in the Star Wars trilogy, but his self-skewering role as Nathan Detroit in an off-off-Broadway production of "Guys and Dolls" was sublime.
And some other notable roles, before they were in Star Wars...
Beautiful Girls (Natalie Portman) - The high school reunion film where grown men awkwardly realized that Natalie is quite hot (and a great actress to boot).
The Bridge on the River Kwai (Alec Guinness) - In a long and storied career, Alec's finest performance may be in this Academy Award-winning epic about British soldiers forced to build a bridge for the Japanese, for which he also won a statue.
Pulp Fiction (Samuel L. Jackson) - He stars in about 37 films per year on average, but Jackson owes much of his career to Quentin Tarantino's modern classic.
Schindler's List (Liam Neeson) - Liam is the man himself, Oskar Schindler.
Trainspotting (Ewan McGregor) - Young Obi Wan is a delight in Danny Boyle's feature about the ups and (way) downs of drug abuse.