The Galaxy Far, Far Away is constantly expanding, with each movie featuring a swathe of new cast members in roles large and small. For some actors, a part in Star Wars will be a glittering springboard toward wider, further and redder carpets, while others struggle to secure equally prestigious work afterwards.
But our focus today is on five performers who appeared in smaller roles in the franchise, then managed to carve out very respectable careers away from it. The ones who haven’t dismissed their supporting contributions, but aren’t defined by them either…
Although she’d been appearing on UK television screens since 1993, English actress Keira Knightley’s first big-screen appearance was in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Her role as Sabé, one of Queen Amidala’s handmaidens and her primary decoy during the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo, is a fairly substantial one for a newcomer given the calibre of the supporting cast elsewhere.
After her brief jaunt in the Star Wars universe, Ms Knightley would become familiar to audiences with films like Love, Actually, Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates Of The Caribbean (a franchise she’d end up revisiting multiple times). But the Academy Award nominations Keira received for Pride & Prejudice and The Imitation Game, plus outstanding turns in Atonement, Never Let Me Go and The Jacket, suggest that we haven’t yet seen the best of her screen-work…
Staying with Episode I and also hailing from England’s shores, Richard Armitage made an early cinematic appearance in Queen Amidala’s retinue, too. Lt Gavyn Sykes served as call-sign Bravo Six during the Battle of Naboo and accompanied the queen during her escape from Theed Palace. The role was largely wordless, but was undoubtedly a great entry for his CV.
Returning to the small screen, Armitage pursued roles in TV drama (both modern and period settings) until his 2011 return to our cinemas as capsule-munching Hydra agent Keinz Kruger in Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Ever keen to add more geek-cred to his reputation, Richard then helped head up Peter Jackson’s three Hobbit movies as the dwarf Thorin, assuring a secondary career in convention appearances, should the need arise. That said, the actor remains busy, with 2018 set to bring us some Armitage action in A-list heist flick, Ocean’s Eight.
Moving on one episode and round to the other side of our own planet, Australian actress Rose Byrne had eight years of film and television work under her belt when she appeared in Attack Of The Clones as the handmaiden, Dormé. Again, a core part of Queen Amidala’s entourage, by this point in the timeline the position seemed to be no more secure, although the Naboo government could still legitimately put ‘a job for life’ on the application form. Byrne’s was a supporting role with meaningful dialogue, although not exactly central to the plot mechanics themselves.
But although Dormé survived to the end credits she was nowhere to be seen in Revenge of the Sith three years later. No matter, as Rose has remained a phenomenally busy actress, mostly on the big-screen. As well as genre-pieces like 28 Weeks Later and the first two Insidious movies, she’s also made the role of Moira MacTaggert her own in the soft-rebooted X-Men series. Add in Rose’s appearances in various drama and studio-comedy films, with a smattering of Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, and hers is the varied CV of an actress who’s in constant demand.
Back to Blighty yet still on Naboo, Mr Dominic West had been on the silver screen for four years before appearing in The Phantom Menace as palace guard Jerus Jannick. Another small (but crucially, speaking) role, he’s the guard who buzzes in the young Anakin Skywalker to see Padmé one last time before he goes to be interviewed by the Jedi Council. The same plucky guard also assists the queen in thwarting the Nemoidian occupation of the palace shortly thereafter (well we say plucky, it is his job).
Dominic would go on to have a busy and varied career, perhaps being best known for portraying Jimmy McNulty in five seasons of the award-winning crime drama The Wire. A keen theatre performer between filming commitments, he’s been an almost constant presence on our screens ever since, appearing in productions as diverse as Rock Star, 300, Johnny English Reborn and Pride. Mr West is set to appear in next year’s Tomb Raider cinematic reboot, and can currently be seen advertising Dolmio pasta sauces. Hey, a man’s got to eat…
The most obscure of this bunch and coincidentally the most fascinating, Sally Hawkins first big-screen appearance was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in The Phantom Menace. As a celebrating villager in the film’s finale, hers was a role so very fleeting that she hasn’t yet been retrospectively assigned a character name (and we assure you, that’s a rarity in Star Wars).
After this small addition to the canon, Ms. Hawkins went on to pay her dues with TV work before appearing in Vera Drake, Layer Cake, An Education, Great Expectations and of course Paddington. A magnetic screen-presence, Sally pulled in a host of trophies for her roles in 2008’s Happy Go Lucky and 2013’s Blue Jasmine. There’s no doubt that from small villagers grow mighty actors…
With a mixture of novice and veteran thespians cast throughout this new Disney-era of Star Wars it’s still too early to say who will emerge from its shadow, not least since swathes of already-established actors are queuing out of the door for walk-on roles. But for a few years to come we’ll be reaching for the IMDB while muttering things like “isn’t that the First Order officer in the background when General Hux has his meltdown?”…
Have you spotted anyone else famous in the Star Wars movies? Let us know.