The Walt Disney Company is fully aware that it’s the obsessive fan base, not the big-name talent, that draws audiences continuously back to Star Wars films and television. In the reboot trilogy that spanned from 2015 to 2019, the two main characters were relative “unknowns.”
Upon announcing the cast of The Mandalorian, it seemed that Star Wars visionaries went an entirely different direction than casting either big names or new talent for the spinoff show – instead, they chose recognizable names that perhaps no one had imagined would be part of the Star Wars universe.
Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit
Kicking off with an Adolf Hitler portrayal may seem unusual, but Waititi does not play a historically accurate version of the man in Jojo Rabbit. To a young, Nazi-brainwashed boy, Hitler is a goofball imaginary friend, miraculously (thanks to Waititi’s writing and portrayal) making jokes out of his vile viewpoints.
Also director of Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi is a no-brainer collaborator on the action-meets-amusement seen in Mandalorian. As droid IG-11, he joins a storied fraternity of Star Wars voice actors.
Amy Sedaris – Elf
It’s not just the holiday spirit that lands this spot for Amy Sedaris. Her sunshiney talent was a boon to the all-time Will Ferrell classic and has also been in the always-surprising Mandalorian.
As Walter Hobbs’s secretary in Elf, it was Sedaris’ Deb who gleefully encouraged Buddy’s shenanigans – much to the chagrin of her boss and Buddy’s father. In The Mandalorian, as Peli Motto, she brings big energy to episodes, even while often sharing the screen with the show’s star, “Baby Yoda.”
Gina Carano – Deadpool
Vanessa Carlysle is at the heart of Deadpool’s origin story. After he is brutally disfigured, reconnecting with her, the then-love-of-his-life, inspires much of his successful transition from man to superhero. To the producers of The Mandalorian, none of that mattered much.
Instead, they pursued a Deadpool villain – someone out in the action, trading blows and getting dirty. In Gina Carano’s Angel Dust they couldn’t have scored bigger. If Carano’s high-flying adventures and danger-laden escapades have only just begun, it’s been an impressive whirlwind already.
Carl Weathers – Predator
Many might be familiar with the meme that features two muscle-bulging arms locked in an upright hand-clasp? One of them is Arnold Schwarzenegger and the other is Carl Weathers. For that reason alone, this might be considered an iconic role. It takes place within the first 15 minutes of Predator. Believe it or not, almost everything that follows is even more exciting and machismo-infused.
In his physical prime, Weathers was unbelievably toned. Watching him gallivant around a jungle in search of a mysterious space beast in this 1987 classic provides pure joyous adrenaline.
Werner Herzog – Jack Reacher
The eccentricity of the cast of The Mandalorian finds its cornerstone in this German icon, known more for his epic directing than sci-fi acting (he has even directed an opera). The seeming anachronism has even led to much speculation and discussion. What exactly is Werner Herzog doing playing a Star Wars TV bad guy?
With his surprise casting in Jack Reacher, Werzog originally indicated his interest in appearing as a stodgy villain among larger-than-life heroes on-screen, rather than simply existing as a larger-than-life hero to stodgy cinephiles in real life.
Nick Nolte – 48 Hours
Hidden behind his alien makeup as Kuiil, younger Mandalorian fans may be surprised to learn that Nick Nolte was at one time an A-list star. Across from powerhouse Eddie Murphy in this classic of one of the 1980s most beloved genres – the zany buddy-cop thriller – Nolte is charming and rugged in the vein of today’s Goslings and Coopers.
An actor who has worked with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Terence Malick, producers of The Mandalorian did not cast Nolte for the simple fact that he’s a big name who’s stock has staggered over the years. The tragic arc of Kuiil required the talent of a capital-A “actor.”
Gina Carano – Haywire
For anyone who has seen this relatively low-key spy thriller, it is a wonder the world has taken this long and a Star Wars gig to recognize the name of Gina Carano. Her counterpart in the film jettisoned to superstardom right around the time of its release.
As badass Alderaanian Cara Dune, Carano is a lifeblood of The Mandalorian and an instant staple of the new, post-Princess Leia conception of women in the galaxy.
Pedro Pascal – Narcos
If you’ve starred in Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian, and Narcos, you’d definitely be considered “somebody” in Hollywood. For Pedro Pascal to have displayed his confident resourcefulness in front of the camera in all three shows gives a new definition to the term “rising star.”
Like the graciously extended Star Wars franchise, it doesn’t stop there. Pascal will join Wonder Woman 1984 set to be released in December 2020 and then Robert Rodriguez’s We Can Be Heroes, which promises to be a new generation’s Spy Kids.
Carl Weathers – Rocky
When it was announced that Carl Weathers would be appearing as Greef Karga in The Mandalorian, excitement was based on the actor’s legendary name, which is thanks to one role: Apollo Creed. Rocky Balboa’s famed first bout opponent appeared in three subsequent films and is the namesake for the Michal B. Jordan reboot franchise.
At over 70 years old, Weathers hasn’t lost an inch of that Apollo-toughness. This serves him well as Karga, whether he finds himself up against certain death or a menacing rival of wits.
Giancarlo Esposito – Breaking Bad
Amid all of the excitement about The Mandalorian and every other marquee show on every other emergent streaming service, one might have a short memory. However, it would be remiss to leave any of the absolutely stunning performances from Breaking Bad in the rearview.
As Gus Fring, Giancarlo Esposito was truly one of TV’s all-time great villains. He made Walter White, who had been built up over several seasons as increasingly menacing, cower and panic in fear and he did it all without so much as a quick movement or loud bark.