Well, the big Star Wars cast announcement has been made, confirming that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill will all be reprising their classic roles. And as fans debate the choices of Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Andy Serkis, I just wanna say how awesome a choice Max von Sydow is.
Although we don’t yet know exactly what kind of character von Sydow is going to play, it would be a waste if he doesn’t play either a Jedi or a Sith. That might not work out story-wise given that the Jedi were supposedly wiped out in the prequels and that by the end of the original trilogy Luke is the only known remaining Jedi. But von Sydow really would be excellent as some wise, elderly emissary of the Force be it on the Light Side or the Dark Side and I here present five pieces of evidence to support this.
With an epic career spanning dozens of films, these aren’t necessarily his best performances nor his best movies overall. But they’re intended to support two claims: (1) that he’s able to bring a sense of weight and gravity to genre material and (2) that like fellow heavyweights Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, he’s a classic actor who’s very comfortable in said genre material.
This deleted scene from Dune has von Sydow conferring with an all-star ensemble including Stewart and Dean Stockwell. Especially with the manner of speech the characters here use and references to “the Emperor,” it’s not hard to imagine this as a meeting of the Jedi Council or perhaps a clandestine meeting among a faction of conspiring Sith. The aforementioned ease with which von Sydow inhabits genre films is even summed up in the line, “I feel very comfortable here.”
I only saw this movie once as a little kid on TV and it was so long ago that I don’t remember anything about it. But the trailer alone reveals von Sydow’s commanding presence and his ability to genuinely come across as a figure of moral and spiritual authority. And check out these images of Jesus in the cloak and hood. Does that not just scream Jedi (or Sith)?
Von Sydow also has the ability to do a lot for a movie in just little screen time. His presence in Conan, along with James Earl Jones’, brings some dramatic credibility and genuine acting chops to a movie that otherwise doesn’t have much of those things, as fun as it is. Enjoy watching him go from hammy hysterics to rueful contemplation in this short clip.
And how could I leave this one out? As in Conan, von Sydow really doesn’t have much screen time considering the importance of Father Merrin’s role in the Exorcist mythos. But the scenes containing him are the best, both in the film’s prologue during the archaeological excavation in Iraq and the showdown between him and the demon Pazuzu. Again, he is convincing as the moral and spiritual anchor of this film (and many others).
If I had to choose just a single film that best encapsulates von Sydow’s ability to embody moral gravity it would be this. He and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman were like a De Niro/Scorsese team for the fantasy and magical realism genres, and while I love all of the work they did together, it is this one above all that epitomizes Bergman’s obsessions: mortality, existential torment, and spiritual longing. The fact that von Sydow’s character is a holy knight of the Crusades and that the Crusaders basically saw themselves as a kind of Jedi order is an added bonus.