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Best Performance in the Original Trilogy

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 (Edited)

It’s generally agreed upon that Ewan McGregor gave the best performance in the prequels. I was curious who people thought the best performance was in the original trilogy.

Some would naturally go to Harrison Ford and I agree his is good, but the best? Mark Hamill is dependable but we all know his true talent lies in voice work. Carrie Fisher’s performance is career defining for sure, so you could make the argument for her.

Speaking of career defining, there’s Alec Guinness, who was nominated for his first appearance as Obi-Wan (he of course came to despise how the trilogy overshadowed his distinguished career). There’s also Peter Cushing as Tarkin.

I think most would go to James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader, but let us not forget Frank Oz as the voice and puppeteer of Yoda.

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I liked Ian McDiarmid’s performance most for the prequels and Adam Driver’s most for the sequels. As for the Original Trilogy, I’d have to go with Alec Guinness.

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Harrison Ford was incredible in Star Wars, he’s a charismatic shot of adrenaline to the movie as soon as he appear in the 2nd act. However his performance gets a bit broader in ESB, and by the time of ROTJ he’s become something of a caricature. Guinness also sleepwalks somewhat in ESB and ROTJ.

Cushing is definitely a good shout but considering he’s only in the first film of the trilogy, it’s hard to award it to him.

I’m tempted to say Anthony Daniels or Peter Mayhew. Both created incredibly iconic characters under very difficult performance circumstances.

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Matt.F said:

Harrison Ford was incredible in Star Wars, he’s a charismatic shot of adrenaline to the movie as soon as he appear in the 2nd act. However his performance gets a bit broader in ESB, and by the time of ROTJ he’s become something of a caricature. Guinness also sleepwalks somewhat in ESB and ROTJ.

Cushing is definitely a good shout but considering he’s only in the first film of the trilogy, it’s hard to award it to him.

I’m tempted to say Anthony Daniels or Peter Mayhew. Both created incredibly iconic characters under very difficult performance circumstances.

Peter Mayhew was very talented at what he was able to do with Chewbacca

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Mark Hamill really goes through the full range of emotions in the trilogy more than any other character. James Earl Jones is not far behind with his operatic line delivery but like Anthony Daniels they’re both limited in the face, instead supported through iconic costume design. Hamill just gives so much energy and takes the role so seriously it elevates everything around him, even when he has no other human cast to work with for long stretches.

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The reason I say Peter Cushing, is because of the original question. As a SW mega-fan, the performances of Hamill, Ford, et al are all perfect, and ignited a whole new cinematic world.

BUT, if I try my hardest to step back and view the movies totally objectively, from the viewpoint of a director, playwright, or film aficionado, there is a pretty fair amount of what would typically be called “bad acting” in the OT. I even remember myself (and friends of mine) thinking this in 1977 (but that didn’t stop us from loving the movies). A LOT of critical reviews at the time also gave the film low marks for acting quality, which should come as no surprise given Lucas’ decision to cast mostly unknowns in the lead roles.

However, Cushing’s performance is an exception. At no time is he anything but completely believable. He never looks like he is reading his lines, faking an emotion, or over-acting. His inflection is outstanding and his experience as a dramatic actor are evident. In a setting that is always teetering on the edge of slipping into caricature, he makes the dark world he inhabits real and scary. And whereas some of the actors at times look like they are having trouble buying into what must have seemed at the time like a bad B-movie low mark on their career, Cushing looks 100% immersed, like he took the role very seriously and gave it his Shakespearean best.

BTW, with regards to my “bad acting” comment, above, the prequels make everyone in the OT look like Lawrence Olivier and Ingrid Bergman by comparison.

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Hayden Christensen made a truly credible force ghost.

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Kenneth Colley and Richard LeParmentier for me.

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paja said:

Kenneth Colley and Richard LeParmentier for me.

In general, all the main imperial officers were acted really well.

In ESB, I would even say that I enjoy the scenes with Vader and imperial officers more than the scenes with the main characters. 😄

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In my mind, there’s one that always comes to mind. It’s Anthony Daniels. He carries a lot of the first film and provides pitch perfect comic relief in the second, in a role that could have very easily been a disaster. And he really was a big part in establishing the 3PO personality we know, as Lucas had other plans in mind (used car salesman). Same goes for Frank Oz of course (lesser extent due to not appearing in the first film).

Cushing deserves a lot of credit for knowing exactly what film he was in and nailing it, but if you’re going the ‘veteran actor lends credibility’ route, the answer is obviously Guinness. The film doesn’t work without the gravitas he provides to Luke’s story. I think you could switch out Tarkin with a lesser actor but you can’t switch out Guiness with a lesser actor.

Ford’s skills are obvious, and of course Star Wars is nothing without the cool factor he brings. But credit due to Hamill and Fisher as well, they aren’t the best actors ever of course but they fit so well into those roles. Every time I see the audition tapes of actors they didn’t go with I’m reminded of that.

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Peter Cushing is clearly having fun on SW in a way that Alec Guinness isn’t. Guinness a lot the time IMO is phoning it in, probably feeling like “why did I take this film, this is so cheesy, it’s so beneath me.” Whereas Hammer horror veteran Cushing is quite obviously having a blast and it shows in his performance.

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ATMachine said:

Peter Cushing is clearly having fun on SW in a way that Alec Guinness isn’t. Guinness a lot the time IMO is phoning it in, probably feeling like “why did I take this film, this is so cheesy, it’s so beneath me.” Whereas Hammer horror veteran Cushing is quite obviously having a blast and it shows in his performance.

Disagree completely. Obi-wan is supposed to be a serious character. Even still there are moments where you can clearly see Guinness has portrayed Ben with a good sense of humor. And he was downright furious at Lucas for killing him off and therefore cutting out some of his scenes, so I don’t buy that he thought it was beneath him. He was far too professional to “phone it in,” even in a genre film like this. Even by the time ROTJ was being worked on he was still pushing for more screen time and more stuff to do. Unfortunately he ended up just stuck on a log.

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Really? From what I’ve heard, Sir Alec didn’t really want to come back for ESB, and considered using an eye condition he had as an excuse not to resume his role. In the event, some of Obi-Wan’s lines were shifted to Yoda (as both Dale Pollock and JW Rinzler attest), and Guinness ended up filming on ESB for all of one day.

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”

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He said in interviews that once he started reading the script, he thought the story and characters were really something special. Just some of the dialogue he wasn’t fond of. Guinness and Cushing brought two different approaches to two different kinds of characters, and they both nailed it in my opinion.

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ATMachine said:

Really? From what I’ve heard, Sir Alec didn’t really want to come back for ESB, and considered using an eye condition he had as an excuse not to resume his role. In the event, some of Obi-Wan’s lines were shifted to Yoda (as both Dale Pollock and JW Rinzler attest), and Guinness ended up filming on ESB for all of one day.

Not an excuse, it was a serious issue and they weren’t sure if he’d be able to film at all.

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But as Alan Arnold pointed out, he was well enough to attend protests at 10 Downing Street against a tax that would raise the price of cinema tickets.

If Guinness ever enjoyed working on SW, that time surely passed when Lucas decided to kill off Obi-Wan. It does seem like Guinness regarded that change as an unforgivable betrayal. It almost certainly offended his sense of professionalism, and I don’t think his attitude to the series and to Lucas ever really recovered from that.

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”