Quick, what’s the most important element to the enduring success of the Star Wars universe? Jedi? Good guess, but nope. Stormtroopers? Close, but still no. Give up? For my money, the success of the Star Wars universe is owed to the endless supply of talented and high-profile European actors who are willing to add gravitas to the cartoonish aims of the Empire and the First Order. To quote comedian Eddie Izzard, the Death Star is teeming with ‘British actors opening doors,’ and that’s part of what makes the entire thing seem way more substantial and lived-in than it really is.

So who better than an actor like Domhnall Gleeson to play an evil general in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Gleeson brings exactly the right kind of sneering malevolence to the character, a sneering malevolence that almost didn’t end up finding its way into the new movie. In a recent interview with the Radio Times (via Heroic Hollywood), Gleeson admits that he nearly turned director J.J. Abrams down when he was offered the role:

Why would I have thought of saying no? Fame is the end goal for a lot of people but it is not mine. I worried that the accompanying fame would get in the way of how I live my life… It got a little crazy for a couple of months  — for a while, going out and having a drink with my friends was difficult, and then it died down.

Anyone who follows movie rumors knows exactly how taxing a major franchise can be on an actor’s personal life, and anyone who follows the career of Gleeson in particular knows that the actor is in absolutely no need of a Star Wars movie to push his reputation over the top. Gleeson is already one of the more highly regarded actors of his generation; his trajectory was already solidly on the way up before he accepted his Star Wars role. Still, for all the reasons I outlined above, I’m glad that Gleeson decided to join the fray. There’s nothing quite as much fun as good European actor on a (not) Death Star, so he’ll be a welcome addition to the franchise going forward.

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