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Actors no one knew about before their roles in Star Wars

The Star Wars franchise thrives on faces both familiar and fresh, even if those faces are covered in a few inches of latex. For every ultra-famous James Earl Jones or Alec Guinness we see aboard the Death Star or yelling at sandpeople, there are just as many unfamiliar actors, all launched by George Lucas' brainchild. Once you're in a Star Wars film, you're locked in for life, whether you like it or not, and you'll never walk freely down a nerd-crowded street again. Here are a few actors who have Star Wars to thank for becoming household names...at least in households that have Millennium Falcon shower curtains.

Ray Park As Darth Maul

Ray Park lucked into his role as Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. When Benicio del Toro found out that most of his lines as Maul were cut, he jumped ship, allowing Park to take his place. Prior to appearing in Star Wars, Park had only one acting credit as an unnamed Raptor in the abysmal Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, but Park's physical prowess made him an ideal Darth Maul, and, arguably, the shining diamond in the prequel trilogy manure pile. Park's success in Star Wars led directly to iconic roles in other hot nerd properties like X-Men (2000) and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009). If you can make The Phantom Menace tolerable, you can do anything.

Carrie Fisher As Princess Leia Organa

Despite being the daughter of the famous Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher never had a starring role until A New Hope. Prior to 1977, Fisher had only been in two obscure movies, playing minor parts in both, so her sudden turn as the forceful, intelligent Princess of Alderaan was truly inspired. While she's a very familiar face today, both for her role in Star Wars and her brash, outspoken personality, Fisher has never really completely broken out of the Princess Leia thing. When not doing Star Wars stuff on screen, Fisher works as a relatively successful writer and script doctor.

Ahmed Best As Jar Jar Binks

Even though he never appeared on screen, Ahmed Best is one of Star Wars' most well-known names, mostly because geeks like to know their enemies. The goofy, whiny voice of Jar Jar Binks isn't really Best's fault; blame George Lucas attempting some kind of vaguely racist slapstick routine. Even though Jar Jar is the most loathed character in all of cinema, the role still allowed Best to parlay his appearance into less degrading roles. Best still voices Jar Jar in Star Wars supplementary material, but he's now getting work as an actual human as well. Best also has the honor of beating out Michael Jackson for the role of Jar Jar. Had things gone the other way, the Gungan's relationship with Anakin would've been really, really weird.

Peter Mayhew As Chewbacca

Standing at over seven feet tall, Mayhew was a natural choice for Chewbacca, since he already had a monster stature without any fancy special effects. Mayhew was given the choice of playing either Chewy or Darth Vader, but he preferred playing a hero and left the role of Vader to David Prowse, even though the super-sized Prowse still stands almost a foot shorter that Mayhew. We only narrowly avoided getting an even more gargantuan, even more terrifying Vader. Mayhew hasn't done much else with his career other than appearing as Chewbacca many, many times over the years, but really, isn't that enough? A lifetime of Chewy is a better life than most.

Anthony Daniels As C-3PO

Anthony Daniels had only a single acting credit before he was cast as the effete droid in A New Hope, and even then, George Lucas was only using him because he could fit into the incredibly tight robot costume. Daniels' trademark worrywort voice wasn't even going to be used until another voice actor trying out for the part convinced Lucas that Daniels was truly a perfect match for the part. Like Peter Mayhew, Daniels found the role of a lifetime in Star Wars, and continues to appear as C-3PO even after almost 40 years, without a whole lot of other acting gigs in between.

Ian McDiarmid As Emperor Palpatine

Despite his awesome Sith power, the Emperor was never even mentioned in A New Hope, and when he originally appeared in Empire Strikes Back, he was played by a lady with chimpanzees for eyes. It wasn't until Return of the Jedi that Ian McDiarmid showed up to play the bent-over bad guy, and by that time in 1983, he was no stranger to appearing on film—but nothing so prominent as Star Wars. Many years later, McDiarmid made three more appearances as a much younger Palpatine in the prequel trilogy, truly testing the limits of Lucasfilm's makeup department. What else has McDiarmid done? Nothing as big as Star Wars.

Jake Lloyd As Anakin Skywalker

All but unknown in 1999 when he was cast as baby Vader, Jake Lloyd's encounter with fame was brief but tumultuous. After appearing in mostly Star Wars-related stuff until 2002, Lloyd completely left acting behind by 2005, after the terrible Phantom Menace had completely upended his life and made him a subject of ongoing antagonism at school. Despite his grudging popularity among Star Wars nerds, Lloyd now prefers relative anonymity to fame, goes by a different name, and dabbles in documentary filmmaking.

Warwick Davis As Wicket The Ewok

At the age of 13, Warwick Davis made his first film appearance in Return of the Jedi, as the first Ewok that Princess Leia meets on Endor. As Wicket, Davis played an alien adorable enough to earn a dedicated set of fans, despite the fact that he never really says a word. By 1988, Davis' animal pantomime landed him a starring role in Willow. In 1993, Davis played a role on the opposite end of the heroic spectrum as the terrifying antagonist in Leprechaun, giving him the most diverse career of any actor in all of Star Wars, despite his humble, weird start as a snarling teddy bear. Watch for him, if you can spot him under all of the makeup, in The Force Awakens.