Happy Star Wars Day! May the 4th Be With You! I thought today would be the day that Disney would finally announce the new Star Wars cast, but they beat me by almost a week. They announced it April 29. (Which, by the way, happens to be my birthday!)
I’m going to start with the awesome parts of the casting announcement. (Only actors were announced; we as yet have no idea who they’ll be playing, except, of course, for the veterans returning from the original Star Wars trilogy).
The veterans officially returning from the original trilogy: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker. Mayhew’s return emphasizes how committed Disney is to rebooting the Expanded Universe, since Chewbacca was killed off in the original EU.
Now on to the new cast members:
Max von Sydow: Von Sydow has had a very long career (he’s 85 years old). He starred in the classic Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal, as well as played Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Lots of debate over who he will play. The safe guess is he will play a baddie Sith type, considering the major Jedis were all gone at the time of the original trilogy. Unless he was hiding underground like Obi-Wan, his character was unlikely to have survived the era of the prequels. (Um, the same could be said of us, really.)
John Boyega: mostly known for the movie Attack the Block, it looks like Boyega is now perfectly poised for stardom. Aside from being cast in Episode VII, he will also appear in the new 24 miniseries and a biopic about Olympic runner Jesse Owens. Since he was named along with Jesse Plemons and Ray Fisher (who will play Cyborg in Superman vs. Batman and future Justice League movies) as a contender for the young heroic lead, it seems likely that’s what he’s going to play.
Oscar Isaac: Wow. This feels like J.J. Abrams gave me my most wished-for birthday present! I previously wrote about my ire over how Isaac was snubbed for an Academy Award nomination for Inside Llewyn Davis. I was worried he would continue being consigned to roles in small independent films or supporting roles in forgettable mainstream films. This is just the kind of thing that could catapult him into A-list status.
The consensus seems to be he will be playing a Han Solo-esque role. That makes sense to me. He’s about the same age Ford was when he was cast as Han. Of course, there are a myriad of other roles he could play–we’ll just have to wait and see.
Andy Serkis: Since he is so well-known for playing stop-motion characters (Caesar in The Planet of the Apes franchise, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies, King Kong) speculation is he’ll be doing the same here. He’s so good at playing stop-motion characters that there was a campaign to get him an Oscar nomination for playing Caesar. It’s of course entirely possible he’ll be playing a human, live-action character. Either way, a great addition to the cast.
Adam Driver: He was rumored to be in the running for the young, Darth-whatever villain; no reason to assume otherwise now. Known best for his role as Hannah’s boyfriend on the HBO series Girls, Driver is another up-and-coming star who could very well find himself on the A-list fast-track with Isaac and Boyega.
Domhall Gleeson: He’s best known for playing Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. Many people seem to think he’s playing a comic relief role. I’ve seen him in roles outside the Harry Potter movies and he’s an excellent dramatic actor, so where that assumption is coming from, I don’t know.
Daisy Ridley: She’s virtually unknown. Her few credits are mostly British TV. She’s the only announced major female character in the cast besides Carrie Fisher. Speculation is she will play Han and Leia’s daughter.
As great as these actors are, and while there is a bit more diversity in this cast than previous Star Wars movies (Boyega is Nigerian descent, Isaac is Latino) it’s still demoralizing to see, yet again, only one major female character. After 35+ years, with the opportunity to reimagine the franchise for contemporary audiences, one has to ask why there’s only one new woman in the cast.
Fisher’s Leia MAY turn out to have a major presence, though it’s entirely possible the veterans will have small roles in the story.
Hollywood Reporter claims there is another major female character yet to be cast. This jibes with earlier rumors that there is a female Sith character in the story. However, since the photo released with the casting announcement shows the cast doing a script reading, one has to wonder if this is truly the case. (On the other hand, Mayhew’s presence in the photo may indicate it was done purely for publicity reasons, as he doesn’t voice Chewbacca’s character.)
The problem with one new female character in the cast immediately became apparent after the announcement: articles speculating whose love interest Ridley would play, and discussion of nothing much beyond where Ridley falls on the “prettiness scale” compared to Natalie Portman and Carrie Fisher when they were first cast in the franchise.
There are rumors that the studio pushed back against J.J. Abrams’ desire to have a more diverse cast than in the past. But he and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the script, and nothing stopped them from adding more female characters. Sure, Ridley could be playing an amazing kick-ass character. But when I think of the way the female characters were used in Abrams’ last Star Trek movie (Uhura mostly scolds Spock about the status of their personal relationship, Carol Marcus is mainly remembered for appearing in her underwear) I’m concerned.
If Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that having several major women characters in a fantasy doesn’t detract male viewers. After the success of female-lead movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Gravity it’s way past time for Hollywood to recognize women are 51% of the population and marginalizing them hurts more than helps box office.
The other possible issue is that Boyega could be subject to the Mace Windu/Lando Calrissian Syndrome: as virtually the only Black person of his generation in the entire galaxy. Yes, it’s a great step forward that he’s playing a lead role, but it’s bizarre if even the extras are almost all white. Hopefully, supporting players will also be more diverse in these films than they have been in past Star Wars movies.
(Speaking of which, kind of a shame to not see Billy Dee Williams among the veterans returning–maybe in the next film? Hope so. I’d also love to see Denis Lawson return.)
I don’t want to end on a negative note because this is still an amazing cast, and I’m optimistic that at least one more major female character will be announced.
I would like to know just one other thing: why is J.J. Abrams is so obsessed with keeping the characters a secret? He’s already voiced regret for keeping quiet about who Benedict Cumberbatch would play in Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s fine to keep plot elements quiet. But tell us who the heck these people are playing, already!
Hey Star Wars–Where the Hell Are the Women? — (io9.com)
May the Fourth be With You — But Also Some Hard Truths — (simonmcneil.com)