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Star Wars: The Acting Awakens — A Guest Blog by Eric Onkenhout

Star Wars: The Acting Awakens — A Guest Blog by Eric Onkenhout

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Star Wars: The Acting Awakens — A Guest Blog by Eric Onkenhout

Star Wars is typically known for its masterful story-telling, and its ground breaking special effects. However, the one aspect that Star Wars is not typically known for is its acting. That is why I want to discuss some examples of great acting performances in Star Wars. When Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope premiered in May 1977, movies with such a profound classic tale of good vs. evil were not the norm–hence the long-lasting effect it had on the following generations. The same goes for the special effects; a whole entire special effects division (ILM) had to be built in order to perform the incredible effects that have influenced movies to this day.

Naturally, and probably especially, because Star Wars was a space fantasy film, the acting was something that was expected to take a back seat and not important enough to get the best performance possible. Well I’m here to shine a light on one scene in each of all seven Star Wars films. I’m not an Academy Award-winning actor, but these scenes have the technical aspects an actor uses to put on a great performance.

tpm1

Starting with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: The dinner scene on Tatooine between Qui-Gon and Anakin, when Jake Lloyd’s character Anakin asks Liam Neeson’s character Qui-Gon Jinn if he’s a Jedi Knight. The response by Qui-Gon is very telling. Neeson’s facial expression reveals that Qui-Gon already knows Anakin is Force sensitive. This scene is fascinating to watch. It’s the beginning of Anakin’s true journey when he helps Qui-Gon earn the money to fix their ship.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones: Two scenes could have been chosen here; the Anakin/Padme scene after Anakin had slaughtered the Tusken camp. Anakin’s tortured soul gets put on full display with Hayden’s acting in this scene. But the scene between Obi-Wan and Jango in their first meeting on Kamino is superb! We sit and watch much like young Boba, the tension in this scene is so thick even a hot knife couldn’t slice this butter. Bravo Ewan and Temuera!

aotc

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: The opera scene between the ever conniving Palpatine and the impressionable Anakin is a turning point in not only Anakin’s fall to the darkness, but in the entire saga. Ian McDiarmid’s acting is so good in this scene. His voice inflections when he goes from talking to Anakin about General Grievous’ location to telling his underlings to “leave us” might seem insignificant, but it lends to his overall manipulation of Anakin. The subtext in this scene is masterful as well. We can tell by Ian’s acting that Palpatine is the one who had killed his master–he doesn’t have to say it. The conversation between Hayden and Ian seems so natural, almost unscripted. It’s the personal scenes like this that are so impactful to the story.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope had two of films most iconic actors in Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. Again, two scenes could’ve been chosen. Alec Guinness’s portrayal of “Old” Ben when he is telling Luke about the Force and his father is acting at its finest. Alec’s facial expression reveals a long history of hardship. The tragedy he has seen has worn him down and changed his image from proud Jedi to weary desert dweller. It is no real surprise that Sir Alec was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role of Ben Kenobi. Peter Cushing’s acting during the destruction of Alderaan scene is a perfect role for Peter to play. His sharp facial features coupled with his cold demeanor give Tarkin his infamous personality.

tesb

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: Mark Hamill’s acting on Dagobah has to be mentioned as some of the best acting in all of Star Wars. For months he was the only live person on the call sheet for shooting scenes. His only other acting partners were a puppet, a droid, and countless snakes and lizards. His amazing acting helped make Yoda more believable. If Mark felt Yoda was real, then the audience did as well. And that is incredibly important. Just like in writing, if the author thinks their characters are real then the reader will feel the same.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi: Much like the Obi-Wan/Jango scene in Attack of the Clones, the Vader/Luke scene on Endor has great subtext, acting and dialogue. This four-minute scene uses dialogue sparingly, but it’s all in the right places. The subtext says more here than it appears. We can see in Mark’s acting that Luke is desperate to change his father back to the light. Again, Mark Hamill’s acting opposite a masked man does not hinder his ability one iota.

tfa

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has incredible acting throughout. The fact that Daisy Ridley had not acted in a movie before this is mind-boggling. She nailed this role. Her humble portrayal of Rey allowed the audience to really connect with her character very easily. Daisy will be seeing a lot of movie roles being offered to her for a long time to come. Oscar Isaac’s and John Boyega’s portrayal of Poe and Finn respectively were equally impressive. There are too many scenes to mention here, but the dialogue between all these actors was so natural, it seemed J.J. Abrams just directed them to make it up as they go.

Having great acting along with a great story and believable special effects is a recipe for a great film saga.

Who knows what great acting we’ll see in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?

Eric G. Onkenhout
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Twitter @willshatter82

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4 Comments

  1. lovelucas
    May 20, 2016 at 10:49 Reply

    Re TPM around the dinner table scene – not only was Liam speaking so much more than he was saying but also the response from Jake is, IMO, one of his best scenes as well. Re AotC: Thank you so much for citing Hayden’s performance in the Tusken confession scene yes and yes to many more. Re Ewan and Tem going back and forth on Kamino: I was at the fan fest/sci fi event in Toronto in 2007 and attended a Tem’s session and asked him specifically about this scene and how good it was. He replied that both he and Ewan were very competitive about who could under play the other so that tension was real and obviously helped nail the scene. Jake Lloyd also attended this event and I asked him about the naturalness of his performance with that of Pernilla August – how they were able to portray a mother/son relationship. He said Pernilla was one of his favorite people on set and the she very kind and generous.

    1. Eric
      June 20, 2016 at 05:08 Reply

      Thanks so cool that you were able to ask Tem about that scene! I’m jealous
      Thanks for reading my blog 🙂

  2. Melinda
    May 31, 2016 at 07:13 Reply

    The acting in the Star Wars films — primarily the prequels — sometimes gets such a bad rap (admittedly, there are a few scenes here and there that could have been a bit … smoother), but when films have actors like Sir Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, Liam Neeson, Ian McDiarmid, and the team of James Earl Jones and David Prowse supporting the main character cast — who gave some great performances, by the way — how can the audience not be pulled into a believable story set in a galaxy far, far away?!! 🙂 There is so much subtext in the Star Wars films that it takes truly gifted actors to get the message across to the audience. Sometimes it’s the slightest tilt of a head, a rise of an eyebrow, the turn of a body. The more I watch the films, the more I pick up. If I wasn’t so enthralled by the actors’ performances, I don’t think I would enjoy rewatching the movies as much as I do. 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this subject, Eric. 🙂

    MTFBWY 🙂

    1. Eric
      June 20, 2016 at 05:10 Reply

      Thanks for the nice comments!
      Yea I always thought the acting in Star Wars was underrated.

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