'Star Wars' casting: 22 thoughts
An era ended on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 29. For eighteen beautiful months, the people of Earth were allowed to speculate wildly, recklessly, and ridiculously about the actors and actresses who would populate Star Wars: Episode VII, the much-anticipated reboot of
our culture’s lost innocence the Star Wars movie franchise. Benedict Cumberbatch as Grand Admiral Thrawn! Jennifer Lawrence as a young Jedi Knight! Michael B. Jordan as Brando Calrissian, the bounty hunter son of Lando! But those days are over now. The cast has been finalized. They’re sitting together, wearing comfortable jeans on comfortable couches. What are we, the citizens of Star Wars nation, to make of these casting announcements? Forthwith, an attempt to corral all our feelings into twenty-two coherent thoughts:
1. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill are all in the movie. We all sort of knew it since October 2012, and now we know it for sure. And now we also know that Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker will be in the film, reprising their immortal roles as Man In The Fur Suit, Man In The Tin Suit, and Man In The Lovable Moving Trashcan. Their presence is that Abrams and post-Disney Lucasfilm remain devoted to the original Star Wars — or anyhow, that they value appearing devoted to the original Star Wars.
2. The decision to feature them so prominently in the casting announcement, sitting alongside their younger co-stars, could mean one of two things. First: That the producers want to use the nostalgia value of the original cast to help launch their new cast into the stratosphere, the Booster Rocket strategy which Abrams utilized in his Star Trek reboot (hello, Old Spock!) and which Fox is currently attempting with X-Men: Days of Future Past. If that’s the case, then Episode VII could be less a new beginning than a bridge film, rounding out the old Star Wars saga while introducing the new one.
3. The other possibility is that Hamill, Ford, and Fisher have major roles in the movie — equal to or greater than the younger stars. That’s a prospect that would have been much more appealing when Harrison Ford was the star of only three Indiana Jones movies.
4. But let’s get to the new cast announcements! The mixture of complete unknowns with attention-getting up-and-comers and old-pros is encouraging. It’s also very much in the spirit of the original Star Wars. Max Von Sydow = Obi-Wan Kenobi. Oscar Isaac kinda = Harrison Ford, who at the time was best known for small roles in big movies (American Graffiti, The Conversation.) Daisy Ridley = Mark Hamill, which means that if nothing else Daisy Ridley can look forward to an incredible career in animation voicework.
5. Also, Andy Serkis is in this movie. Andy Serkis! Caesar! Gollum! King Kong! We might be done with casting-announcement rumors, but hopefully this marks the beginning of eighteen months of rumors about what kind of alien Andy Serkis is playing. Andy Serkis Theory #1: He’s playing a Hutt crime boss who’s been running illegal contraband for a group of anti-Republic rebels (led by Adam Driver, who may or may not be a clone of Emperor Palpatine.) Serkis will spend the next several months living in seclusion, studying the movements of various species of slugs.
6. Lucasfilm has announced that the new movies won’t follow the Expanded Universe. So we definitely need to stop talking about the Expanded Universe. Right after this: Daisy Ridley is definitely playing Leia’s daughter and Natalie Portman’s granddaughter, right? They’re sitting next to each other in the picture! She has brown hair, just like Princess Leia and Han Solo!
7. Yes, there are an awful lot of white dudes in that casting announcement. No, there are not a whole lot of women. Yes, both of Disney’s previously announced Star Wars spin-off films are dude-centric. Yes, it’s entirely possible that Daisy Ridley talking to Carrie Fisher in that photograph will be the only time this movie passes the Bechdel Test. No, none of this necessarily has anything to do with the movie itself. Yes, it is still sort of a bummer.
8. Because we still don’t really know anything about the characters in this movie, speculation will immediately run straight to who is playing the “bad” guy and who is playing the “good” guy. The democratic nature of this casting announcement makes that kind of theorizing even more difficult. But John Boyega is listed first, and the list isn’t alphabetical. Boyega’s biggest role so far was in the culty British sci-fi film Attack the Block, although he was already posed for a breakout pre-Star Wars: A role in 24, a Jesse Owens biopic, a role in the Sean Bean Julius Caesar movie that we all just learned about from checking John Boyega’s IMDB page. Does Boyega’s place at the top of the casting order mean anything?
9. Max von Sydow is clearly playing some kind of bad guy wearing some kind of robe, right? Why else do you cast Max von Sydow in a Star Wars movie?
10. An important factor to consider, given that this is a Star Wars movie: At least a few of these people were hired at least partially because they give good Cockpit Face. You know what I’m talking about: The camera angle that stares up from the controls of an X-Wing/Y-Wing/YT-1300 Light Freighter, their eyes staring offscreen excitedly at some kind of attacking horde of TIE Fighters/Star Destroyers/Death Star/Unfinished Death Stars. Apropos of nothing, Oscar Isaac’s angry-soulful homicidal-doe eyes seem uniquely well-suited for an X-Wing cockpit.
11. Speaking of YT-1300 Light Freighters: Because J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy and all of Lucasfilm are so devoted to featuring old-school Star Wars personalities in the new-school Star Wars, it seems very likely that they will also strive to feature familiar bits of Star Wars iconography. Which means that Han Solo will probably get to fly the Millennium Falcon one more time.
12. Or will it be just one more time? Harrison Ford thought Han Solo should’ve died in Return of the Jedi. Chewbacca actually did die, in the Expanded Universe mythology that is now even less real than most mythologies. J.J. Abrams rose to prominence presiding over TV shows that made bold moves and frequently killed off key characters. With the Star Trek duology, he was more careful. (Spock’s mom and Captain Pike, sure, but Kirk couldn’t even wait until the threequel to get resurrected.) Will Star Wars: Episode VII turn the page on the old Star Wars? Or will it attempt to recreate it, in bizarre waxwork form?
13. Andy Serkis Theory #2: He’s playing Figrin D’an and he’s playing the Modal Nodes. All seven of them. Serkis will spend the next several months actually inventing the Kloo Horn, the Bandfill, the Fanfar, the Doremian Beshniquel, and the Ommni Box. He will release a tie-in concept album, Modal Nodes Unplugged. Featuring the Roots.
14. Actually, let’s just get all the good-guy/bad-guy theorizing out of the way right now, on the principle that we’ll probably be at least a quarter right. Adam Driver is playing a bad guy. John Boyega is playing a good guy. Daisy Ridley is a good guy. Domhnall Gleeson is playing a good guy who becomes a bad guy. Oscar Isaac is playing a wild-card who spends most of the movie seeming like a bad guy before becoming a good guy.
15. Let’s also get the more out-there theorizing out of the way right now. One member of the original cast is definitely going to die. They won’t kill Leia, because Carrie Fisher is a national treasure. They might kill Han Solo, but only if Harrison Ford still really wants Han to die, and you get the vibe that Ford has made peace with the whole Star Wars thing/will always be happy with more money. That leaves Luke Skywalker, whose death would resonate backwards to Obi-Wan Kenobi (who died in the first movie of the original trilogy) and Qui-Gon Jinn, who died in the first prequel.
16. Ugh, Qui-Gon Jinn. Suddenly I’m feeling incredibly optimistic about this new Star Wars movie.
17. Someone needs to make a movie about Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels, two by-all-accounts-lovely gentlemen who have found themselves at the center of the biggest movies of five different decades. Notable: Kenny Baker is not in the photo. Probably because he doesn’t have any lines?
18. UNLESS HOLY CRAP GUYS: Let’s say you’re J.J. Abrams. You want to officially announce that your Star Wars movie will begin a whole new era of Star Wars. You want to turn the page. You want to kill off a beloved Star Wars character. But you also don’t necessarily want to lose a character who could serve you well down the line, either as an aged mentor (Luke Skywalker) or chatty comic relief (C-3PO.) Suddenly, you find yourself staring at R2-D2, the astromech droid who is one of the most famous characters in movie history, but who really doesn’t do much more in movies than provide some sassy beep-boop (and occasionally deus ex machina-ing the gang out of a tight spot.) And maybe you start thinking: “Hmmmm.”
19. Andy Serkis Theory #3: He’s playing IG-88, robot bounty hunter and Level Boss of the most difficult level in Shadows of the Empire. Andy Serkis Theory #4: He’s playing all the Bounty Hunters. Andy Serkis Theory #5: He’s playing all the little monsters in the Falcon‘s holo-chess set.
20. On one hand, I believe strongly that the new Star Wars films should strike out on their own. Frankly, I would’ve been happy if none of the original cast came back. And yet, I have to admit: I am mildly disappointed that Warwick Davis is not in that photograph.
21. Which is part of the central fascination around this new Star Wars movie. When you are restarting a movie franchise, you can opt for a clean break (see: Batman Begins), but doing so risks alienating the franchise’s fanbase (see: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes.) On the other hand, you can strive to satisfy the highly specific requirements of a farflung fanbase (see: Abrams’ Star Trek, which architected a whole elaborate time travel plot to justify the “realness” of all possible Star Trek stories). But there’s a
thing thin line between fan service and slavish devotion, and overdosing on the old can make your movie seem painfully out of date (Superman Returns, the Richard Donner homage only Richard Donner really wanted) or just painful (Terminator: Salvation.) So Lucasfilm is very carefully positioning Episode VII as a little bit of both. Look, there’s J.J. Abrams sitting next to Lawrence Kasdan! And look, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels are hanging out right next to Andy Serkis! And look, the only two actresses in the movie are talking to each other! New and Old are playing together! All demographics will be serviced! All of time will be unified! You’ll love them in the movie; you’ll love them even more when you buy them as action figures!
22. But so like, Scarlett Johansson is definitely playing Mara Jade in Episode VIII, right?