Who is Max von Sydow in Star Wars?

the original Grave Robber Image

By James Nelson

Update (12/21/15) We now know that Max von Sydow plays a previously unknown character named Lor San Tekka, a leader of a village on Jakku and a member of the “Church of the Force.” Though they didn’t mention the COTF in the movie, apparently it’s something that existed during the time of the Empire and was a suppressed religion. It probably just a plot thread shoved into the movie to be followed up on by the books or comics.

Original Post

With so many Star Wars rumors and purported leaks abounding it’s been hard to determine what has is actually going to be happening in The Force Awakens, but one thing has held true: the legendary actor Max von Sydow is in it, and no one knows who he is.

What we know so far, based on certain leaks is that Sydow’s character is either the leader of a village or another scavanger who either discovered the lightsaber which starts off the plot, or is brought the saber and tells the heroes where to go from there. Normally, I ignore these rumors, but for a year now they have continued to persist, and after reading an article in Vanity Fair J.J. Abrams spoke specifically about directing Sydow and during the casting process how he was “trying to woo him” and how Sydow “had to work a lot of late nights” it’s made me realize that his character must be someone important to the plot. You don’t just hire an actor like Sydow to do a cameo. Spoilers to follow.

So who is he? Because the script itself was rewritten at least twice his role may have changed some, but in both instances he’s described as the man who recognizes the Skywalker lightsaber and begins to set the new heroes on a journey. He’s described as being mostly cybernetic, with lots of prosthesis, and when he sees the lightsaber begins to be more lucid (as the characters had appeared to be suffering some form of dementia) and begins to discuss what the saber is, and referenced several characters from the prequel and original series movies. There are some rumors that then have him send a message to some mysterious person off screen, saying “it’s here.” In others he may have even been someone who went along for the adventure, although this idea may have changed closer to production. Most recently it was described as he’s a “beaten man” and old enough to have lived through the clone wars.

Here are the theories:

The Vicar

concept art of Sydow as the Vicar
concept art of Sydow as the Vicar

This is the name of his character by most accounts. If he is only in a bit part, this is the mostly likely possibility, namely that he is an old, retired imperial officer that now holds ties to the resistance. He’s a new character and gets killed off by Kylo Ren in the first ten minutes of the movie.

Why it’s plausible Because it’s the least sexy possibility means it could very likely be true. There’s no earth shattering revelation, no major plot point. Just a man who knows what old relics look like.

Why it’s not Why would you hire Sydow to play just a bit part. The man is one of the greatest actors of all time. Why would you waste his potential by just giving him a couple of scenes. In addition, his role has been very hush, hush, which means it really is just a bit part, or they’re trying to keep his role secret.

Kanan Jarrus

Kanan from Star Wars Rebels
Kanan from Star Wars Rebels

For the uninitiated, Kanan is the jedi member of the cast of Star Wars Rebels. This plays into both versions of the story. He could still be the Vicar, who gets killed off early in the script, but this would add an extra layer to the story and give a bit of fan service.

Why it’s plausible Kanan would still be alive theoretically, and if his story arch in Rebels is any indication, he hates war and would want to get as far away from it as possible.

Why it’s not as of yet, we have not seen him have any cybernetic implants. In addition, Sydow is 86. With this taking place some thirty years after Episode 6, Kanan would be 67. That’s a large age difference.

Boba Fett


Though he could still be the Vicar, this would more likely follow the rumors that he would travel with the party, or at least have a more substantial role than the Vicar role has been conceived as.

Why it’s plausible We all know Boba Fett didn’t die in the Sarlac Pit. There’s just no way. At the same time, he may not have escaped unscathed and now requires various implants.

Why it’s not This is another issue with age. Boba is even younger than Kanan. In addition, Boba is a clone of Jango Fett, and the actor who portrayed him, Temuera Morrison, looks nothing like Sydow. Additionally, Morrison is only ten years younger now than Boba Fett would be in this setting. Therefore, why not just use him?

The Grave Robber

the original Grave Robber Image
the original Grave Robber Image

Now this is assuming that Sydow is not the Vicar, but based on an older rumor, where a similar character who has been collecting old artifacts on Jakku (and whom Rey has been working for). This character continues throughout the film, and has been the center of the more prominent leaks. We still don’t know who is playing this character, but it’s clear from the Vanity Fair images of Kylo Ren that they are not the same character. This could be an entirely new character or someone we’ve met before in the franchise that’s identity would be revealed later.

Why it’s plausible We don’t know who is in this role, and it seems slightly villainous, which is perfect for Sydow and his trademark voice. In addition, all the descriptions of Sydow’s character match up with what the Grave Robber looks like and does.

Why it’s not It’s possible that this was early concept art for the character that would become Kylo Ren, and that they ditched the cybernetic look before the movie. The other option is that this is Supreme Leader Snoke, the character that Andy Serkis is playing, which we know is going to be largely CGI and motion capture, and looking closely at the art the face is almost entirely concealed by cybernetics meaning a CGI approach might look better on camera than practical effects.

Darth Vader

Another possible concept of Sydow
Another possible concept of Sydow

I will admit, this is the least likely option, but at the same time has a lot of clues going for it (more so than the Boba Fett one). This falls in line with the Grave Robber theory, but instead of it being a new character it is in fact the resurrected Anakin Skywalker.

Why it’s plausible Vader is the world’s most famous cyborg, so the description matches. Anakin would also be 75, which is only a ten year gap in age, so would be much more plausible. Anakin is 6’5”, Sydow is 6’4” meaning that they’re physically similar. It also would explain his familiarity with the lightsaber because he built it. In addition, to me it doesn’t make sense for people to have this familiarity with the saber because they are not normal items, they’re unique to the users and only someone who knew the users could identify it. That would leave Anakin, Luke, Obi-Wan, R2-D2, and maybe Han and Leia. In addition, we saw Anakin’s force ghost at the end of Jedi, which means his spirit is alive and has become a part of the living force. There’s no saying that he can’t just zip back into his body and watch over his granddaughter (if rumors are to be believed that Rey is Leia’s daughter). In addition, being cybernetic means that all he’d have to do is replace all the broken pieces to make it work.

Why it’s not Although the EU has a rich tradition of Force Ghosts taking possession of objects and beings, the EU has recently been purged, so it might not be the best thing to go by. In addition, having Vader in the story might wreck the ending of Jedi. That being said, Abrams has been known to revive villains from previous installments of the franchise whether its a good idea or not (Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness). The only real thing against this theory is the death of Vader, and if death can be overcome, then it could very well be possible.

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