Following this exhaustive search, the filmmakers finally decided on Jake Lloyd
. "I was looking for someone who was a good actor, enthusiastic and very energetic. Jake is a natural," says Lucas. Echoes Rick McCallum
: "Jake had all the right qualities that George was looking for in Anakin
. He's smart, mischievous and loves anything mechanical -- just like Anakin."
Jake describes Anakin as "always getting into trouble and mischief." But, he adds, "Anakin is very smart and a very good person, who cares more about other people than he does himself." Anakin's future incarnation was, not surprisingly, an important enticement for Jake. "It meant a lot to me to play Anakin because Darth Vader is my favorite Star Wars character."
Jake's mix of humor, fun and skills quickly won over his castmates. Ewan McGregor states, "I've never worked with a child actor as good as Jake. He seems to have always wanted to be an actor, and he was always professional -- even if he did love to pull practical jokes from time to time."
As the multitudes of fans know from the first trilogy, Anakin's fate will later fall into the hands of Emperor Palpatine. In the first trilogy, Senator Palpatine is a powerful official who begins to move to consolidate his power. Ian McDiarmid reprises his role as Palpatine -- without the make-up that aged the actor in Return of the Jedi.
The experience was a memorable one for McDiarmid. "Stepping onto the set of Episode I for the first time was like going back in time, due to my experience in Jedi," he remembers. "Palpatine's an interesting character; he's conventional on the outside, but demonic on the inside -- he's on the edge, trying to go beyond what's possible." Another character on the edge is the Sith Lord Darth Maul, who along with his mentor, wages a brutal war against the Jedi Knights. Martial arts champion and accomplished swordsman and gymnast Ray Park takes on the role. Park was originally brought on board to work with stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, but he so impressed Lucas, McCallum and Gurland that he was awarded the prized role, which represents his motion picture acting debut.
Together with his on-screen opponents, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, Park worked closely with Gillard on combat scenes that bring a new athleticism and fighting style to the Star Wars saga. Gillard, in fact, created a new martial art by merging together several great sword fighting techniques -- with some tree chopping and tennis movements thrown in for good measure. The Jedi's climactic lightsaber duel with Darth Maul features intricate, meticulously planned stunts and took weeks to film.
Returning to the Star Wars universe, albeit in slightly different forms, are the beloved droids R2-D2 and C-3PO. Kenny Baker again inhabits Artoo's metallic body, and Anthony Daniels re-joins the saga as protocol droid, Threepio, who in Episode I is a work-in-progress being built by Anakin. Since Threepio's is as yet without "skin," Daniels could not work in the suit as he had in the original trilogy; instead he supplied the voice off-camera while a puppeteer manipulated the droid.
Also making a welcome return is Jedi Master Yoda, this time, of course, in a slightly younger incarnation. Frank Oz once again performs Yoda from a puppet built by creature supervisor Nick Dudman's crew, which altogether turned out about 140 characters.
In Episode I, Yoda is a member of the Jedi Council, as is a figure new to the Star Wars saga, Mace Windu, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Prior to production, Jackson, a longtime Star Wars fan, was asked during an interview what directors he would like to work with. His immediate response: George Lucas, adding that he'd love to work on the new Star Wars film. Gurland learned of Jackson's interest and approached him to play Mace Windu. It proved to be a memorable experience for the veteran actor. "There I was, with Yoda, acting in Episode I," he recalls with a smile. "It was one of my dreams come true."
George Lucas' mandate to find the best actor for each role is also evident in the selection of Swedish actress Pernilla August, who plays Anakin's mother, Shmi Skywalker. The scenes with mother and son bring poignant moments to the story. A veteran of several films by Ingmar Bergman, August, says Rick McCallum, "has all the dignity and power that you could ever want for the role of Anakin's mother."
Also new to the Star Wars family is Jar Jar Binks, a clumsy, childlike creature who speaks in a language all his own. Jar Jar joins Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, the Queen and Anakin on their adventures. On-screen Jar Jar will be a computer-generated character that actually interacts with the live-action characters. Great care was taken to cast an actor who could embody the character physically and vocally, and from whom the CGI figure would evolve. Stage performer Ahmed Best, who was spotted by Gurland during a performance of Stomp in San Francisco, plays Jar Jar.
"Ahmed is Jar Jar," claims Robin Gurland. "His work made the character possible." Adds Liam Neeson: "Ahmed is a very funny and gifted performer who really brings Jar Jar to life." Sometimes Best's unique thespian antics would catch his co-stars off guard. "There were many takes when it was difficult to keep a straight face," Neeson recalls, "because he was hilarious and inventive with his movements and strange, new noises."
To make Jar Jar as comedic and fun as possible, Best gave the character a host of unusual movements that usually result in landing the creature in trouble. "Jar Jar desperately wants to please everybody and get everything right," says Best. "But no matter how he tries, he always manages to break something and stumble over someone."
Also making key appearances in Episode I are noted English actor Terence Stamp as Chancellor Valorum, who sees his power as head of the Senate threatened by Senator Palpatine; Ralph Brown as Naboo pilot Ric Olié; and Hugh Quarshie as the Queen's courageous guardian, Captain Panaka.