10 Small, Overlooked 'Star Wars' Acting Moments
Sometimes a piece of pop culture becomes so pervasive that it's almost impossible to actually appreciate it. You can't be scared by Freddy Krueger after you've seen a thousand parodies and Halloween costumes, or enjoy Anchorman as a comedy after you've seen every moment get turned into a meme or a GIF. The original Star Wars trilogy crossed that line decades ago. They're not so much movies as they are a series of iconic images strung together -- all stuff you've seen a million times. That's too bad, because these movies are full of subtle acting moments that probably don't even register. Like how ...
Grand Moff Tarkin Has A Brief, Telling Reaction to Darth Vader
Grand Moff Tarkin, aka Captain Cheekbones, has an interesting relationship with Darth Vader. There is a mutual respect between them, and they somehow coexist in a unique power-sharing relationship that would make most CEOs and presidents jealous. The only off moment between them is when Vader proclaims, "This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, and will soon see the end of the Rebellion." Tarkin quickly shoots this look at him:
It's a brief moment, but one in which he expresses doubt that he knows not to speak out loud. It's a surprise, because for the majority of the film, Tarkin seems like an authoritative figure who never smiles and has no problem destroying planets purely for dramatic effect. But here he shows a moment of uncertainty about Vader, like "Take it down a notch, dude. You're going to make us all look like fools if this goes south."
Chewbacca Pets Han's Head When He's Happy
One of the best and nicest moments in the entire series happens when Chewbacca and Han are reunited in Return Of The Jedi. Han has just been freed from his carbonite prison, and he is placed in a dark cell with his Sasquatch co-pilot. The reunion is super sweet, as Chewbacca rushes Han and gives him a bear hug. Then Chewbacca starts running his massive paws through Han's hair:
I imagine that Han is too damn cool to let him do that on the Millennium Falcon, but considering they're covered in strokable fur, maybe that's how Wookiees naturally comfort each other? Chewbacca's just doing something to Han that his mom did to him when he was little and scared? Awww, Chewie.
Yoda's Ears Do Some Heavy Lifting
The puppetry in the Star Wars trilogy is a thing of legend, and a shining example of this is Yoda. Designed by Stuart Freeborn and voiced/puppeteered by Frank Oz, his characteristics are so thoroughly thought out that even his ears take on a personality of their own. Just look at what happens when Luke attempts to raise his submerged X-wing from a gross death pond. Initially, Luke succeeds, and Yoda's ears raise with excitement. When Luke fails, the ears droop in response. Before:
Now look at his forehead, the way his brow scrunches up with concern. That's character design, prop building, and performance all coming together to almost make you forget that a couple of inches out of frame, you'd see a dude's sweaty arm jammed up there.
Captain Piett Tries Not to React While His Superior Is Killed
I'm just gonna say it: Working with Darth Vader has to be a complete nightmare. In the real world, when employees screw up, they're fired or given a stern warning by HR. In Star Wars, the generals/admirals/captains who fail Vader are Force-choked in front of all of their co-workers and friends. Still, while it creates a stressful workplace, it also constantly opens up room for advancement. One of the "lucky" underlings is Captain Firmus Piett, who gets an impromptu promotion when his superior, Admiral Ozzel, is killed. The best part of Ozzel's death, though, is Piett's reaction to it:
The key is that he can't react too much. He can't risk looking weak in front of Vader by conveying his horror, and he certainly can't come off as insubordinate if he doesn't want his own windpipe to be crushed. So the actor (Kenneth Colley) has to kind of nervously continue his conversation while fiercely resisting his urge to look over at his dying comrade. It's almost slapstick, but not quite. It's funny, but not so silly as to ruin the tension. That's a balancing act modern blockbusters mess up constantly.
Darth Vader Prevents Boba Fett From Killing Chewbacca
Vader wasn't joking around when he told Boba Fett "No disintegrations." When Chewbacca starts a fracas on Cloud City during Han Solo's carbonite-freezing extravaganza, Fett lifts his blaster. However, Vader quickly reaches over and pushes the gun down:
Why? Well, Vader might be a man of his word, or he didn't want Boba to potentially hit Leia, who was standing nearby. What follows is an interesting shot of Leia looking at Vader with a curious expression, a tiny moment that just might be foreshadowing future reveals.
It's a brief shot in the chaos that doesn't have to be there and is easily missed, but adds a little touch to Vader's character. These movies are full of moments like that!
Salacious Crumb Is Transfixed By Jabba's Tail
Salacious Crumb is a mean little turd (or a Kowakian monkey-lizard, if you prefer that) who laughs at people's misery and has no problem biting the eyeballs out of droids. In just a few moments of screen time, he became a cult favorite mostly due to his memorable laugh. You wouldn't think of this weird puppet monster as being worthy of subtle character moments, and yet...
Late one night, when everyone in Jabba's palace is sleeping, they throw in this brief shot of the tiny insomniac jester being thoroughly entranced by Jabba's chunky tail:
It doesn't add to the plot, it doesn't change anything. It's just Jabba's pet/sidekick thinking it's weird that Jabba's tail moves while he's sleeping. Is it like when a dog twitches its paws because it's dreaming of running? Who knows? It's just a neat touch that helps make these characters seem alive, like they exist even when the camera isn't rolling.
Luke Tucks A Dying Yoda Into Bed
Honestly, this list could be nothing but Yoda moments, but we'll just do one more. There's another instance of wonderful puppeteering when Luke goes to Yoda in Return Of The Jedi and finds out the miniature Jedi master is dying. The scene has a lot of weight, as Yoda drops some bombshells about Luke being the last Jedi, and that's the part that sticks in your memory. But right before Yoda dies, Luke helps his mentor get comfortable by helping him pull a blanket over his shrunken green body.
Sure, this is partly done because puppet Yoda can't actually grab the blankets and cover himself up (not without a whole other animatronic setup for the hands that probably would have delayed shooting for a month). But overcoming that limitation results in a touching moment wherein Luke is helping this frail old dude get situated. Here's one of the most powerful Jedi to ever live, who now needs help with his blanket. That kind of says it all.
Han Is Really Happy When Chewie Volunteers To Go To Endor
Even after knowing each other for years, Han and Chewbacca still love hanging out. A great example of this is during the Rebel meeting before the Battle of Endor. Han has volunteered to lead a small strike team that will take out the shield generator, and instead of volunteering Chewbacca, he lets Chewbacca decide whether he wants to go, saying, "It's gonna be rough, I didn't want to speak for you." Of course, Chewbacca agrees to go on the dangerous mission, and Han's response is adorable:
He's almost giggling when he says "That's one!" He's the super-cool scoundrel, but in that moment, he's so happy Chewie is coming with him that he can't possibly hide it. Also, how many movies would have just assumed Chewbacca's participation in the mission, as if he's just a Han Solo accessory?
Admiral Ackbar Finds A Moment To Relax
What do you do after you survive A TRAP and witness a Super Star Destroyer crash into a Death Star? You feel boulders of relief roll off of your shoulders and allow yourself to stop tensing every muscle in your body for the first time in hours. That's exactly what Admiral Ackbar does:
And while Ackbar became the Fishman of a Thousand Memes, it's easy to forget this quick but powerful moment of nonverbal acting. Kudos to puppeteer Timothy D. Rose for pulling this off with a heavy prosthetic head that isn't exactly built to convey subtle emotion.
Chewbacca Shows Off His Dance Moves
This one is a true blink-and-you'll-miss-it-moment. During the Ewok jam at the end of Return Of The Jedi when everyone is celebrating the destruction of the Death Star and the horrific deaths of everyone inside, you can briefly see Chewbacca dancing in the background like nobody's watching.
Seeing Peter Mayhew (the charming guy inside Chewbacca suit) lay down some sweet moves is pure joy, and was probably just improvised in the moment. The first movie in the sequel trilogy should have just been two more hours of Chewbacca dancing, presumably getting more and more drunk as the night goes on.
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