35 Years of ‘Star Wars’: Five Great British Actors in the 1977 Classic

Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm)

It was exactly 35 years ago today (May 25) that The Force was first with moviegoers. The original Star Wars — titled just plain Star Wars then but now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope — invaded theaters on May 25, 1977 and helped pioneer the notion of summer blockbusters.

Director-writer George Lucas’ sci-fi adventure film, which was filmed its studio scenes at Elstree and Shepperton Studios in England, launched an additional five movies, millions of action figures, spin-off books, comics, TV shows, video games and parodies (yeah! Spaceballs). (In chronological order of release, the Star Wars films are: 1977’s Star Wars, 1980’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1983’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, 1999’s Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.)

In addition to turning Harrison Ford into an international superstar (and giving costars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill a permanent toehold in Hollywood history), the original Star Wars provided iconic roles for several British actors. Here’s a list of the top five:

1. Alec Guinness
Sir Alec (1914-2000), the London-born star of stage, screen and TV, played Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, the aged, all-knowing Jedi Knight who gives hero Luke Skywalker his first lightsaber and instructs him in use of The Force. He would go on to appear (as a hologram) in the next two Star Wars sequels and has become a star to whole new generations of fans. According to IMBD.com, he received $150,000 for the original film, plus 2 percent of the profits. That 2 percent was enough, Guinness once said, so that after paying taxes, “I can live for the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to, that I have no debts and I can afford to refuse work that doesn’t appeal to me.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR-WM_Ed6W8

2. Peter Cushing
Best known as the star of numerous horror films for the renowned British scary movie powerhouse, Hammer Films, Cushing (1913-1994) oozed supercilious evil as Grand Moff Tarkin, the villainous leader of the Death Star and an ally to Darth Vader in Star Wars. The actor’s other notable foray into sci-fi was appearing as Doctor Who in two early film spin-offs of the long-running British TV show, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).

3. Anthony Daniels
The face is unfamiliar, but you absolutely know the clipped, eager-to-please voice. Daniels, now 66, was encased in a shiny, golden metal costume to play uber-polite robot C-3PO in the first Star Wars. He has either appeared or added his voice in the five additional films and in many of the spin-off ventures. On his official web site, Daniels says that initially the chance at a role in Star Wars didn’t impress him: “Having once demanded his money back on seeing 2001 – A Space Odyssey, he had never been attracted by the world of sci-fi.”

4. Peter Mayhew

Anyone wishing to high five this British actor has to reach way, way up. Mayhew stands nearly 7 ft. 2 in. and it was his imposing height that helped win him the role of Chewbacca, the amiable, hair-covered Wookiee who is Han Solo’s co-pilot in Star Wars. The London-born actor subsequently appeared as Chewbacca — his furry costumes were made of yak hair and mohair — in three more Star Wars movies and has made frequent appearances on movie’s convention circuit. His own voice is never heard in the movies as Chewbacca speaks a language filled with grunts, squeals and guttural moans.

5. David Prowse

That deep, resonant voice may have belonged to James Earl Jones, but the imposing physique and dark stare behind the dark mask on Darth Vader was all Prowse.

“This is the film that changed my life,” says Prowse of the first Star Wars, via his web site . A veteran of many Hammer horror films as well as a personal trainer, the now 76-year old Prowse has said he was unaware that his lines were to be dubbed by Jones until he saw the premiere of Star Wars. The actor is equally well known in England for his long reign (1975-90) as the Green Cross Man, a superhero who urged kids to cross streets safely in a long-running public service ad campaign.

Here’s Prowse’s pre-dubbed voice as Darth Vader:

Prowse as Green Cross Man in a 1975 public service spot:

Which of these Star Wars stars is your favorite? Any thoughts on the Brits in the later films — Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, etc.?