Originally, George Lucas intended to cast "complete unknowns" for the major and minor roles of Episode 1. However, for various reasons, George abandoned this early idea and decided to cast established actors who George believes were born to play their roles. However, instead of pursuing mega-actors who command $ 20 million or more per film, George sought out high-quality thespians who are not (yet) househould names with the public.
All and all, the cast for Episode 1 is of a much higher quality than the principle cast members that appeared in Star Wars: A New Hope. But then again, George has a lot more money to spend on a quality cast than Fox gave him back in 1976 for the original Star Wars movie.
Who's in the new film?
Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi); Liam Neeson (A venerable Jedi Master, possibly named Qui-Gon Jinn); Natalie Portman (The Young Queen [mother of Luke and Leia], possibly named Padme Naberrie Amidala); Jake Lloyd (Young Anakin Skywalker [the future Darth Vader]); Ahmed Best (Jar-Jar Binks, computer-generated side kick in the mold of Chewbacca); Kenny Baker (R2-D2); Anthony Daniels (Voice of See-Threepio); Samuel L. Jackson (rumored to be Jedi Knight Mace Windu); Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker [the mother of Anakin Skywalker]); Frank Oz (Yoda [who will appear in the form of both models and computer-generated images when in motion); Ian McDiarmid ( Senator Palpatine); Adrian Dunbar (rumored to be Bail Organa [eventual foster father of Princess Leia]); Terence Stamp (Chancillor of the Galactic Senate); Oliver Ford Davies; Ray Park (Darth Maul); Warwick Davis (rumored to play the role of at least three prequel characters); Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka); Madison Lloyd (rumored to play the role of a young princess); Brian Blessed; Ralph Brown (Ric Olie); Silas Carson; Dhruv Chanchani (Kitster); Celia Imrie; Andy Secombe; Cin; Khan Bonfils; Alan Ruscoe; Michelle Taylor; Michaela Cottrell; John Fensom; Liz Wilson; Christina Disilva; Jerome Blake. (Note: Some of these actors may not be appearing in Episode I)
While many of the alleged names for various characters were used on the set during the filming of Episode I, LucasFilm has warned that through the use of digital effects and the editing room that they can change these character names at any time prior to the film's release. It is unknown which of these character names will turn out to be "code names" for the actual character names. But, in the final analysis, are the character names really all that important?