Domhnall Gleeson is one of Ireland’s brightest young acting talents but the announcement that he’ll star in the seventh Star Wars film was still a major surprise.
The Dubliner has been building an impressive CV with a series of critically-acclaimed performances but this casting is sure to propel him to worldwide fame. There’s an obvious temptation to sit back and collectively celebrate the inclusion of one of our own but Gleeson is far from the first Irish actor to appear in a Star Wars film.
The obvious one that springs to mind is Liam Neeson, who became Ireland’s first Jedi Master when he played Qui-Gon Jinn in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. His character was Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentor and the pair faced a slightly underwhelming mission to resolve a tax dispute.
The Ballymena man has since admitted that the prequels became a little “silly”. However, he tried his best to bring a bit of gravitas to a film that was undermined by its stilted dialogue, the over-reliance on CGI, and the nerve-jangling presence of Jar-Jar Binks.
Episode I actually opened up with a conversation between two Irish actors. The first actor to speak is Neeson but the second voice we hear is Derry actress Bronagh Gallagher, who makes a brief appearance as Captain Madakor. It’s not quite as impressive as her cameo in Pulp Fiction but at least she fared better than two of her compatriots.
Elsewhere, Adrian Dunbar and Dubliner Genevieve O’Reilly both ended up on the cutting room floor when their scenes were cut from Episode I and Episode III respectively.
The original trilogy also boasted a number of actors from these shores.
Eddie Byrne played General Vanden Willard in the original Star Wars film, greeting Princess Leia when she returns to the rebel base after being rescued from Darth Vader. Byrne was just one of the stage and screen veterans drafted in by George Lucas to compensate for the film’s lack of big name stars.
Dermot Crowley later starred as General Crix Madine, one of the rebel leaders in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Madine speaks at the rebel briefing and he sends Han, Leia, Luke and Chewbacca to the Moon of Endor, where they had their memorable run-in with the Ewoks.
The general’s dapper hair and fuzzy beard made him the Rebel Alliance’s token hipster but it turns out that the franchise’s merchandising machine required the Corkonian to wear some fake face fuzz. Madine’s action figure had already been given a beard so Byrne had to wear a prosthetic to maintain continuity with the toy line.
One of the few actors to play a villain and a good guy in the original films is Gerald Home. He played one of General Ackbar’s Mon Calamari officers but he also played the imaginatively-named Squid Head (his head looks like a squid), AKA Tessek, in the Jabba’s Palace scenes in Episode VI.
Neither character was given much screen time but Home did get two action figures, which is a pretty decent claim to fame.
Jabba the Hutt is one of Star Wars’ most iconic characters but he was originally just a fat man in a furry jacket played by Declan Mulholland. He played Jabba in a scene that was subsequently cut from Episode IV.
Lucas later claimed that he had intended to use special effects to superimpose the familiar Jabba alien over the actor. However, conspiracy theorists point out that the Belfast actor was specifically cast in the role and that he is wearing a full costume in the deleted scene.
Either way, the scene was restored to the remastered film with a CGI Jabba. Mulholland’s major legacy is the fact that Han Solo inexplicably walks on Jabba’s tail as he walks behind the overgrown slug’s back in the restored scene.
Gleeson’s role in the new film remains a mystery so it’s hard to know whether he’ll be on the Dark Side or part of the light sabre brigade. At least the departure of George Lucas means that he’s unlikely to be playing a glorified tax inspector or an obscure bureaucrat in an Alliance town council. Unlike the Harry Potter franchise, there is no obvious role for him in a family full of gingers although it is tempting to imagine him wielding an orange light sabre.