A galaxy far, far away has been around for a long, long time. In just a few years, Star Wars will be celebrating its 50th anniversary, currently encompassing 12 movies and many live-action and animated television shows.
Over that time the franchise has amassed a glittering array of stars who’ve walked the Tatooine sands, swung a lightsaber, or piloted an X-Wing. Sadly, the steady passage of time means many of them are no longer with us. So, here are the prominent Star Wars actors who have died.
Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa)
Carrie Fisher surely needs no introduction to Star Wars fans. Princess Leia became an instant cultural icon when A New Hope hit screens in 1977 and went on to become a pivotal character in the Original Trilogy. Fisher reprised the role three decades later for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, with Lucasfilm assembling a posthumous performance in The Rise of Skywalker from unused footage.
Outside of Star Wars, Fisher was a critically acclaimed author and script doctor. Her books Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking, and The Princess Diarist are excellent reads and she was an uncredited script doctor on many major Hollywood movies, including Sister Act, The Wedding Singer, and Hook. She even worked on The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones screenplays to punch up the dialogue.
Beyond Star Wars, Fisher gave memorable performances in The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally, Hannah and her Sisters and picked up two Emmy nominations for her guest roles on 30 Rock and Catastrophe.
On Dec. 23, 2016, Fisher suffered a medical emergency while on board a flight from London to Los Angeles. On landing, she was rushed to intensive care, though never regained consciousness and died on Dec. 27, 2016.
Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
Image via Lucasfilm
Alec Guinness was famously dismissive of Star Wars and was unhappy in his later years that, after a long career, all people wanted to talk about was Obi-Wan Kenobi. He said, “Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film,” dismissed George Lucas’ dialogue as “lamentable,” and even claimed, “It’s not an acting job.”
Guinness had a point. Long before he ever ignited a lightsaber he was renowned for his performances in Ealing comedies Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Ladykillers. In 1957 he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Bridge on the River Kwai and picked up a writing nomination in 1958 for adapting the novel The Horse’s Mouth.
Presumably to his surprise, he also acquired an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for A New Hope, Regardless of whether he liked it or not, Obi-Wan remains the role he’s most strongly identified with (that whirring sound you hear is him spinning furiously in his grave). Guinness died at age 86 in August 2000 after being diagnosed with prostate and liver cancer.
Christopher Lee (Count Dooku)
Photo via 20th Century Studio
Christopher Lee was a screen icon long before Star Wars debuted, making a name for himself as Count Dracula in numerous Hammer Horror movies. It was likely with these in mind that Lucas chose Lee as Attack of the Clones‘ villain Count Dooku. Predictably, Lee delivered the goods, going so far as to perform the lightsaber battles himself (though a stunt double was used for some longer shots.)
Dooku was a big part of Lee’s late-career renaissance, as the movies released concurrently with his performance as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lee would reprise the role of Dooku in Revenge of the Sith and provide his voice for the 2008 The Clone Wars movie.
Lee died at age 93 in June 2015 after being admitted to hospital for respiratory problems and heart failure.
Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin)
Star Wars: A New Hope
Like Christopher Lee (whom he was close friends with) Peter Cushing had a memorable career in Hammer Horror long before Star Wars, notably playing Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing in multiple movies. Cushing was George Lucas’ first choice for Grand Moff Tarkin, believing that A New Hope needed a lead villain whose face was visible (as opposed to the masked Darth Vader).
Cushing adored A New Hope, with his only regret that Tarkin being killed in the Death Star explosion meant he couldn’t return for the sequels. Cushing died in August 1994 at the age of 81, though Tarkin was (controversially) digitally resurrected for 2016’s Rogue One.
Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca)
Photo by Zak Hussein/Corbis via Getty Images
We may have never seen Peter Mayhew’s face in any Star Wars movie, but we certainly felt his presence. Mayhew was 7’3 tall, making him the ideal actor to play Chewbacca, something George Lucas instantly recognized when he met him. Aside from playing Chewie on film, Mayhew regularly appeared as the character in hospital appearances for sick children and was a constant presence at fan events.
Mayhew reprised the role for The Force Awakens, though retired from the role for health reasons and was replaced by Joonas Suotama (Mayhew was the “Chewbacca consultant” for The Last Jedi). Mayhew died of a heart attack in April 2019 at age 74.
David Prowse (Darth Vader)
Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
David Prowse was the man under Darth Vader’s armor throughout the original trilogy, with his imposing stature and movement key to bringing the villain to life. Prowse was famously under the impression that he’d also be voicing Vader during A New Hope, though his strong West Country accent led him to be dubbed “Darth Farmer” by the cast.
Prowse was key to bringing Vader to life in the original trilogy, though in later years had a long-running feud with Lucasfilm over residual payments. He died in November 2020 aged 85 of an unspecified illness, with George Lucas releasing a statement that he was “essential for the character.”
Kenny Baker (R2-D2)
Photo by M. Tran/FilmMagic
Kenny Baker began his showbiz career in 1951 when he was approached on the street by a woman inviting him to join a “theatrical troupe of dwarfs and midgets.” He went on to specialize in ice skating and ice shows, as well as leading the successful comedy act the Mini-Tones.
But it was with Star Wars that he made his name as everyone’s favorite beeping trashcan R2-D2. Baker played the role in both the original and prequel trilogies, as well as playing the Ewok that steals the speeder biker in Return of the Jedi. Baker was set to reprise the role once more for The Force Awakens, but his physical health meant he ended up as a consultant.
Baker died in August 2016 after suffering a long lung illness.
Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett)
Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images
Boba Fett may have minimal screen time in the original trilogy, but it’s easy to see why Star Wars fans latched onto this competent and ruthless masked bounty hunter. Jeremy Bulloch was the man inside the Boba Fett costume during the original trilogy, though the voice was provided by Jason Wingreen (who was himself overdubbed with Temuera Morrison in later releases).
Bulloch also appeared in two other minor roles: as the Imperial officer who grabs Leia when she tells Luke that Vader is setting a trap in The Empire Strikes Back and in Revenge of the Sith as Captain Colton, the Alderaanian pilot who flies Obi-Wan, Bail Organa, and Yoda to Coruscant.
Bulloch battled Parkinson’s disease for several years and died in hospital in December 2020, aged 75.
Sebastian Shaw (Anakin Skywalker)
Image via Lucasfilm
Sebastian Shaw’s time in Star Wars can be measured in seconds, though every one of them counts. Shaw plays the dying Anakin Skywalker in the closing scenes of Return of the Jedi, finally revealing the sad and injured old man under the imposing armor. Prior to this, Shaw had a long career on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Lucas cast him on the basis of that experience.
Shaw also appeared as a Force Ghost in the final scene of the movie, though his performance was controversially erased in the 2004 release and replaced with Hayden Christensen.
Post-release, Shaw was surprised and delighted by the attention his brief performance received and was inundated with fan mail and autograph requests. Shaw died of natural causes in Dec. 1994 at the age of 89.
Ray Stevenson (Gar Saxon / Baylan Skoll)
Image via Disney Plus
Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll was arguably the single best thing about Disney Plus’ Ahsoka. Baylan is a mysterious fallen Jedi turned mercenary, though, over the first season, we gradually learned he had greater aspirations to end the cycle of war and peace at the heart of Star Wars. Sadly we will never get to see Stevenson complete Baylan’s story, as he died of unknown causes in May 2023.
But Ahsoka wasn’t Stevenson’s first Star Wars role. In Rebels and The Clone Wars, he voiced Gar Saxon, a Mandalorian super commando who became the Imperial Viceroy of Mandalore during the reign of the Galactic Empire.
Aside from Star Wars, Stevenson was known for playing Frank Castle in The Punisher: War Zone, as the Asgardian Volstagg in the MCU’s Thor movies, and as Titus Pullo in Rome.
Carl Weathers (Greef Karga)
Image via Disney Plus
“MANDO!” Carl Weathers’ The Mandalorian hero Greef Karga was one of the most charismatic and energetic characters in the show, with an arc taking him from the leader of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild to the High Magistrate of Nevarro. Throughout he was a staunch ally to Din Djarin and Grogu, participating in most of their major battles.
Weathers adored the role, describing it as “one of the greatest things that’s happened in all of the years that I’ve been in entertainment”, and was rightly nominated for an Emmy. He went on to direct two episodes of the show, both of which can be ranked amongst its best.
And, of course, Weathers was already a full-on icon for his roles in the Rocky franchise, Predator, Toy Story and Arrested Development (amongst many more). Beyond all that, he was also an NFL linebacker, playing for the Oakland Raiders in the early 1970s. What a life.
Weathers died on Feb. 1 2024 at the age of 76 from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Other notable deaths
Image via Lucasfilm
We have to also tip our hat to some other Star Wars luminaries. Several Ewok actors in Return of the Jedi have died: Paul Grant at age 56 in March 2023, Gary Friedkin at age 70 in Dec. 2022, Jack Purvis at age 60 in Nov. 1997, and Felix Silla at age 84 in April 2021.
Two X-Wing pilots have also left us: Red Leader actor Drewe Henley died at age 75 in Feb. 2016 and Porkins’ actor William Hootkins died at age 57 in 2005. Phil Brown played Owen Lars in A New Hope and died aged 89 in Feb. 2006, with Beru Lars actor Shelagh Fraser dying aged 79 in Aug. 2000.
The original voice of Boba Fett, Jason Wingreen, died at age 95 on Dec. 25 2015. Alex McCrindle, who played General Dodonna in A New Hope died at age 78 in April 1990. John Hollis played Lobot in The Empire Strikes Back and died aged 77 in 2005.
Eddie Byrne made his final film appearance before his death as General Willard in A New Hope and died aged 70 in Aug. 1981. Larry Ward voiced Greedo in A New Hope and Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi and died at age 63 in 2007. Finally, Declan Mulholland, whose performance as a human version of Jabba the Hutt was cut from A New Hope entirely, died in June 1999 at the age of 66.