An awful lot of actors have starred in the Star Wars franchise over the years. From its humble beginnings in 1977, when relative unknowns like Harrison Ford became superstars, to its most recent iterations when international superstars like Harrison Ford returned to their humble beginnings, Star Wars has always cast its roles widely and grandly. OK, I jest about Harrison Ford. He is awesome and nobody could ever imagine anyone other than him playing Han Solo, but there really are hundreds, if not thousands, of actors who have picked up a line or two on a Star Wars set. Harrison might be awesome, but there are a lot more fish in that sea.
But, sadly and to our eternal sorrow, not every character in the Star Wars ‘verse has been played by actors of the caliber of Harrison. Sure, there have been plenty of other good performances — James Earl Jones was perfect as the voice of Darth Vader, Anthony Daniels continues to be great as C3PO, and Felicity Jones was a great choice for Jyn Erso in Rogue One. The list of awful actors, and even worse, of awful acting by good actors, is fairly long in the franchise, though. I mean, everybody but everybody knows all about the sh*t-storm of controversy George Lucas created by casting the truly horrendously terrible Hayden Christensen in the prequel movies. That wasn’t the only time we’ve seen a seriously bad Star Wars casting decision, though — there have been many, many more over the years. There have been so many, in fact, that I’ve had to narrow the list down to the 15 worst ever — here they are.
15. Natalie Portman – Princess Amidala
It’s certainly no secret that Natalie Portman is one of the most highly-regarded actresses in Hollywood. These days. But when she was a youngster, her career was almost killed before it could properly begin by her appearance in the prequel trilogy. Perhaps it was her age, perhaps it was a case of nerves, or perhaps it was simply the truly awful dialogue George Lucas saddled her with (something he’s been known to do quite often, to be fair), but this superstar seemed fairly uncomfortable playing the central role of Padme Amidala. She simply didn’t have the snap and pizzazz of, say, a Carrie Fisher, who sizzled in the original trilogy. It’s probably not fair to compare the two, but when you’re cast as a princess in a Star Wars movie, you would think you would give more to your character than a vague loftiness and a serene (uninterested?) smile.
14. Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Here we’ve got a totally different situation where the actual character is pretty much the problem (we’ll see a few more of these as we move on), but the actor doesn’t help either us or themselves with their performance. Maz Kanata from The Force Awakens is a classic George Lucas character — weird, somewhat unsettling, often unintelligible, and possibly vaguely racist and sexist in execution, even if unintentionally. This formula often works for Lucas, but when it doesn’t, it really, really doesn’t. Don’t worry — I have even worse examples of this phenomenon to share with you soon enough, and I’m willing to bet you know what they are! In any case, I’m not sure if up-and-coming young actress Lupita Nyong’o was chosen by Lucas to voice Maz Kanata because he wanted some kind of “ethnic” vibe to the character or because he was besotted by her work in 12 Years a Slave and Non-Stop. If I were a betting man, I’m pretty sure which of those choices I would put my money on, however.
13. Jimmy Smits – Bail Organa
So if there was a guy you would want to cast to play Princess Leia’s father (OK, OK fanboys — adoptive father), who would you rather have than Jimmy Smits? After all, this was a guy who made his bones playing class and integrity all the way on L.A. Law and NYPD Blue. At the time of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, he must have seemed like an obvious choice for George Lucas. There was only one slight problem: Lucas didn’t give this highly-regarded and well-respected actor anything to work with in his role. Instead of giving Smits the opportunity to stretch his acting wings as the voice of reason in the Republican Senate. This is the guy who is fighting for Alderaan, after all! We instead get a two-dimensional version of the actor’s L.A. Law role, with Smits as a well-groomed cipher. Granted, he wears robes in his Star Wars appearances, not 3-piece suits, but even that’s not enough to save his character from complete and utter obscurity.
12. Billy Dee Williams – Lando Calrissian
Some of you are probably not gonna agree with this assessment given that Billy Dee Williams‘s performance as Lando Calrissian (especially in The Empire Strikes Back) is considered canonically awesome. But let’s revisit this, shall we? Lando is supposed to be a hardcore bad-ass, fellow smuggler and “frenemy” to Han Solo. This is, after all, the guy who lost the Millennium Falcon to Solo in a card game. But then, all of a sudden, he’s some kind of freaking interstellar administrator desperately trying to keep Cloud City out of the galactic civil war raging all around him. Here’s the problem with all of that, as I see it: Billy Dee nails the piratical, ex-smuggler routine perfectly, even hitting on Princess Leia in an appropriately roguish way, a la Han Solo. What else would we expect from the smooth-talking pitchman for Colt 45? It’s Williams’s turn as a “governor” that draws my ire. He’s so not believable. I’m not sure what other actor could have pulled off the dual lives of this character better, but I feel like Lucas didn’t even try to find out.
11. Terence Stamp – Chancellor Valorum
Here’s one of those instances when a truly awesome actor signs up for the obligatory Star Wars “experience” (they do the same thing for the Star Trek movies, interestingly enough), and instead of lighting up the screen, fizzles out limply. Sadly, it happens all the time — sometimes because the actor just isn’t used correctly, which was probably the case in Stamp’s situation. Sometimes, it’s the actors’ fault as they’re just cashing in on a big, guaranteed paycheck or looking to pad their “hipness” quotient. Whatever the case, when you get an actor like Stamp, who is a universally-regarded character actor and a guy who can carry (i.e. steal) a movie, it’s probably best to actually do something with him. You know, give the guy who absolutely killed it as Jor-El on Smallville for eight seasons a role he could dig into. Instead, Stamp was stuck with a few minor scenes in The Phantom Menace, which didn’t take himself, the audience, or the film anywhere.
10. Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Here’s another case of an absolute superstar absolutely blowing it. In Jackson’s case, unlike Terrence Stamp’s, who wasn’t even given any lines or scenes to work with, it’s almost certainly the fault of the actor. Don’t get me wrong — Mace Windu isn’t exactly reciting Shakespeare when he’s onscreen, but Jackson is missing a certain something in his delivery that he has usually has in his other flicks. I mean, this is the man who made Pulp Fiction as cool as it was. You would think handing him some good lines and then standing back while he chews up the scenery would be the way to go for this character. But for some reason, Jackson is pretty tame — restrained even — like the gravitas of being a character in the Star Wars reboot was too much for him to handle. It was pretty weird on all fronts. The fact that the coolest thing about his character was his purple lightsaber, essentially a prop, didn’t help the cause.
9. Daniel Logan – Boba Fett
Ah, now we get into the “meat and potatoes” portion of our show. Now, before I go any further, I should point out a Hollywood truism: child actors are a king-hell b—rd to work with. Yes, they’re cute. Yes, they drive ratings and box office. Yes, they can give a movie a certain something adult actors often can’t. But they are wildly inconsistent, difficult to keep on task, and, shall we say, prone to overacting. Think of a miniature Al Pacino spitting out dialogue and shredding sets, and you’re close to what it can be like working with a child actor in full swing. So… I’m sure everybody knows which Star Wars child actor is most famous for his delivery, but there was another one, too, who almost rivals his more famous competitor. I’m talking, of course, about little Daniel Logan, who almost singlehandedly destroyed the legacy of Boba Fett. I don’t want to rip on child actors too much, but Logan was seriously annoying, and his “acting” decision to be as snotty and as openly pouty as possible was a terrible mistake. Where were the adults?
8. John Ratzenberger – Major Derlin
This one is probably a function of what this guy has become nowadays, which is basically a horrible caricature of his most famous role, but he still deserves mention here for the oddness of the casting choice. My best guess is that either George Lucas was a huge fan of Cheers, which John Ratzenberger was starring in at the time of The Empire Strikes Back, or Ratzenberger himself had blackmail info on Lucas. How else to explain Ratzenberger’s “star turn’ as Major Derlin of the Rebel Alliance on Hoth? The problem here is that Ratzenberger is better known for being Cliff Clavin and then turning that character into a totally ridiculous money-making machine for his various Pixar incarnations. Everybody but everybody knows how annoying he has become as a voice talent, so maybe it’s unfair to put the onus on him for trying to make a name for himself back in the day. Then again, maybe it’s not.
7. Forest Whitaker – Saw Gerrera
Who doesn’t like Forest Whitaker? The guy has been pretty much the epitome of laid-back cool for years now. He’s become like the go-to actor for playing the dogged cop who will get you in the end even when you least expect it. However, someone totally missed the boat when it came to casting him as Saw Gerrara in Rogue One. The biggest problem here is that apparently, the casting people thought Whitaker would break out of his laid-back cop shell to deliver a more fiery rebel-alliance-leader performance. It begs the question, why? Why would Whitaker suddenly become something he has never been? Instead, we get a cipher of a character that not only suffers from poor acting choices but also suffers from a very underfleshed storyline. If you, like me, weren’t quite sure what the hell he was doing with Jyn Erso, then you probably didn’t shed too many tears when he was quickly killed off.
6. Liam Neeson – Qui-Gon Jinn
Here’s another megastar who I wish had been allowed a little bit more room to explore his character. I mean, think about it — Liam Neeson is the man. There’s no one anywhere in the history of acting who’s been better at playing the strong, dignified, middle-aged badass. Weirdly, it’s a role he seems to have been playing for 30 years now. But in Phantom Menace, he’s reduced to playing almost a carbon copy of one of his better roles. Qui-Gon Jinn seems super cool (after all, he’s a mentor figure to the revered Obi-Wan Kenobi, memorably played by Ewan McGregor in the prequels) and should have had more of an impact. As always, bad dialogue and perhaps poor character development have something to do with the failure of Jinn to be awesome, but there’s more than that. Maybe Neeson can be forgiven for his dearth of excitement for the role, but then again, maybe Neeson simply played “himself” without trying hard enough to really explore the character.
5. Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Ugh. Isn’t that what you thought when Kylo Ren tore off his mask only to reveal… that? I mean, perhaps I’m not being nice, but seriously? Adam Driver? You came off as a totally evil baddie with a nasty habit of wearing black and a helmet and an equally nasty lightsaber, but when it came right down to it, you ended up looking like a whiny, soft-eyed, perm-haired pretty boy. It was decidedly not the look we thought we were going to get when you finally removed that helmet. In fact, I almost laughed out loud when I saw the direction casting had gone with the main antagonist of the film. C’mon, guys! Perhaps it’s not Adam Driver’s fault — he didn’t hire himself, after all — but somebody should have paid for a poor execution of the vision of this character. He needs to be scary as sh*t, not a Playgirl model.
4. Andy Serkis – Snoke
Andy Serkis is truly, truly excellent. His characterization of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be remembered forever for its groundbreaking combination of CGI, live action, and voiceover. Gollum was legitimately awesome, and Serkis deserves all the credit in the world for creating such an iconic character out of whole cloth, essentially. The problem, however, is what he did with that talent. It seems that Serkis believes if it worked once, it will work forever, hence his turn voicing supreme Leader Snoke, the ridiculous Sith lord in The Force Awakens. The whole premise is fairly stupid, in my opinion, and unfortunately, Snoke is rumored to be in the next two Star Wars movies as well. But even more upsetting is the fact that Serkis has become a voice talent machine who doesn’t seem to invest himself in the roles as much as he did with Gollum.
3. Jake Lloyd – Young Anakin Skywalker
Does anyone remember the old Monty Python sketch where all the knights of the Holy Grail meet the killer rabbit and flee screaming, “Run Away? Run Away!” That’s my reaction every single time I hear Jake Lloyd’s voice. If you thought Daniel Logan was a nightmare as the young Boba Fett, well, brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Jake’s interpretation of the young Anakin Skywalker might be spot on — for a small child — but for any thinking person, it’s a nightmare of screeching, too-cute bubblegummy sweetness, and truly, magnificently bad lines delivered in the most annoying and cloying way possible. It’s so damn bad that it isn’t even able to flip over to the “so bad it’s good” department. It really is that bad. It’s so bad that I even almost forgot how freakin’ annoying his little “yippees” are — you know, his awful cheers of joy Lloyd sprinkles liberally throughout The Phantom Menace. Ugh.
2. Hayden Christensen – Anakin Skywalker
You’re probably wondering why Hayden isn’t ranked any higher… as if number two on a list of 15 isn’t high enough. But granted, his performances in the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are so horrendously awful that it’s no shock most people put him right at the top of bad Star Wars casting decisions. It’s really hard not to, to be brutally honest. I mean, walking around like a petulant zombie with a vague sneer on your face and a monotone delivery is not the best way to flesh out a character. And this was before Anakin turned bad. Hayden is so bad in his scenes (and he has many, many scenes) that there are basically whole YouTube channels dedicated to his awfulness. I’m not even sure how Ewan McGregor managed to stay in character and deliver such a fine performance as the young Obi Wan-Kenobi after having to work with Christensen in so many scenes.
1. Ahmed Best – Jar Jar Binks
And now we get to it. Introducing the only casting decision that backfired worse than Hayden Christensen — that of the legendary Jar Jar Binks as played by Ahmed Best. I’m sure you’ve heard of Ahmed Best, right? After all, he went on to have a long and glorious career as a Hollywood superstar after voicing the incredibly offensive (I mean that in every sense of the word) Jar Jar. No? OK, you caught me. Since playing Jar Jar, Best has gone on to play… well, Jar Jar. That’s right. For some reason, the most notoriously offensive and awful character in the history of the franchise is still being used, and the guy who provided his insanely annoying voice is still doing so as of 2016. Are you kidding, people? Binks should have been killed off before he ever made it to the screen to begin with. Now, I guess Best deserves the chance to make a living, and it is his biggest role. But seriously? I think I would rather work as a ditch-digger than foist more Jar Jar upon the world.