Congratulations, You’ve Been Cast In Star Wars! Will You Ever Work Again?

By rom FiveThirtyEight

The newest Star Wars film — “The Force Awakens” — has plenty of familiar faces but also infuses a lot of fresh blood into the franchise. If the movie, which is in theaters now, meets the ambitious expectations that have been laid out for it, the new kids — Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Adam Driver — are basically guaranteed superstardom, should they want it. That’s how Star Wars movies that don’t suck work. But what about the rest of the cast? What does being in a Star Wars movie do for a career?

To figure this out, I started by pulled the billing order for the credits of the first six Star Wars films from OpusData. I then folded in some stats about the actors’ characters from Wookieepedia. And, finally, I turned to Rotten Tomatoes to find the number of movies outside of the Star Wars universe that each actor appeared in after his or her first Star Wars film. I only counted the movies that had enough reviews to earn a Tomatometer ratings.1

Here’s the number of roles2 that all the actors in our 190-person set — from the top-billed down — had after their initial performance in a Star Wars movie, plotted against the highest billing they would receive over their run with the series:

hickey-starwarscast-1

Clearly, more prominent Star Wars roles led to more work. I expected performers in the original trilogy to have far more subsequent roles than the actors in the three prequels, but that’s not the case at all! Many prequel performers are already outpacing the original trilogy performers, despite the latter’s 20-year head start.3 For instance, Samuel L. Jackson kept up his frenetic pace from before his Star Wars appearances and remains one of the most tireless performers in the industry.

Across the whole set, appearing in a Star Wars film is no guarantee of future success. Only half of the performers appeared in two or more subsequent non-Star Wars films. Only 1 in five managed to do eight or more subsequent films. About 36 percent never worked again.

Based on the data, characters who are affiliated with either the Jedi or the Rebellion have the highest number of post-Star Wars parts, with an average of about 7.6 subsequent roles. If you need the work, joining the Empire isn’t a bad idea, either: The 20 characters in the set tied to the Empire later appeared in an average of 5.2 movies. The worst gig in the galaxy is working for Jabba the Hutt: His personnel got only about 1.6 parts on average after their stint on-screen.

Part of this has to do with whether you can even see an actor’s face. Just looking at, say, “The Phantom Menace,” if I lined up the actors who voiced Jar Jar Binks, Watto and Sebulba — three equally irritating CGI characters with birdbath-deep characterization — do you think you’d be able to figure out who voiced whom? How about the faces behind Plo Koon (the Jedi with a centipede head), Kit Fisto (the catch of the day Jedi) and Oppo Rancisis (the head-made-of-microwaved-thrift-store-wigs Jedi)? I definitely couldn’t, and I researched this article for several days. So, unsurprisingly, there’s a big difference in the number of roles that actors whose faces appear on-screen get versus those whose faces don’t. In the entire series, the 128 performers whose faces appeared on-screen had, on average, 6.7 roles after their first Star Wars movie, compared with only 3.3 subsequent roles for the 62 performers who only lent their voices to the movies or whose faces were obscured.

The moral: Gwendoline Christie, who plays a Boba Fett-esque helmeted murder machine in “The Force Awakens,” and Andy Serkis, who voices an alien, should hope they see some face time in the Star Wars films to come.

And on that note, there’s an even more pervasive bias: anti-alien sentiment. Actors who portrayed humans got 7.2 roles on average after their first Star Wars film, while those who played non-human aliens4 had only 2.5 roles, on average.

Who got the most work after Star Wars?
ACTOR ROLE HIGHEST STAR WARS BILLING ROLES AFTER FIRST STAR WARS CREDIT
Samuel L. Jackson Mace Windu 5 56
Liam Neeson Qui-Gon Jinn 1 48
Harrison Ford Han Solo 2 46
James Earl Jones Voice of Darth Vader 11 44
Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan Kenobi 1 40
John Ratzenberger Major Bren Derlin 31 37
Frank Oz Yoda 7 33
Carrie Fisher Princess Leia Organa 3 33
William Hootkins Porkins (Red Six) 20 28
Rose Byrne Dormé 18 27
Keira Knightley Sabé (decoy queen) 36 26
Joel Edgerton Owen Lars 24 26
Natalie Portman Padmé Amidala 2 24
Tony Cox Ewok 16 23
Christopher Lee Count Dooku 6 21
Celia Imrie Pilot Bravo 5 27 20
Mark Hamill Luke Skywalker 1 20
Dominic West Palace Guard 31 19
Angus MacInnes Gold Leader 21 19
Jack Thompson Cliegg Lars 16 19
Terence Stamp Chancellor Valorum 13 19
Ralph Brown Ric Olié 26 17
Julian Glover General Veers 17 17
Warwick Davis Wicket 14 15
Billy Dee Williams Lando Calrissian 4 14

SOURCE: OPUSDATA, ROTTEN TOMATOES

Even tiny parts can launch huge careers. The ur-example of this is John Ratzenberger, who played 31st-billed Major Bren Derlin in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Neither of those names ringing a bell? Well Bren Derlin is a random rebel in the Hoth base, while Ratzenberger went on to be in basically every Pixar movie ever. By one reckoning, he’s the fifth-highest grossing actor ever.

There are many more: William Hootkins — who played Porkins, a pilot who ate it when attacking Death Star No. 1 — also had a lot of later film success, with 28 roles after “A New Hope,” including playing that guy who talks about “top … men” at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Julian Glover, who played General Veers in “The Empire Strikes Back,” and Warwick Davis, who played the ewok Wicket in “Return of the Jedi,” had 17 and 15 films, respectively, after Star Wars. Glover went on to play bad guys in both the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Davis would go on to play Prof. Flitwick in the gazillion-dollar Harry Potter franchise, and based on box office, you can make the case that he had the best post-Star Wars career of the original trilogy’s lead and supporting cast.

And it’s not just the original trilogy either. Rose Byrne, who has killed it in everything from “X-Men: First Class” to “Bridesmaids,” started out as an 18th-billed handmaiden named Dormé for Padme Amidala in “Attack of the Clones.” Keira Knightley, who anchored the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise alongside Johnny Depp, was the 36th-billed “decoy queen” for Amidala in “The Phantom Menace.” A random palace guard in “Phantom Menace” went on to be McNulty on “The Wire.” Dreams can come true.

Still, even having a front-and-center, human face — a starring role — is no sure sign of instant stardom. Just ask Hayden Christensen, who has had a mere 12 non-Star Wars gigs since the second prequel was released in 2002, or Jake Lloyd, the kid who played Tyke Vader and then fell off the grid.

So, sure, if you’re a lead Star Wars actor, the cards are in your favor, and if you have a smaller part, you have a smaller chance of success. But as a wise man once said: Never tell me the odds.

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