Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Han, Luke, and Leia, Will Officially Return for "Star Wars: Episode VII"

Finally, after almost a good solid year of speculation as to who will and who wont be in the new Star Wars film, Disney and Lucasfilm managed to put any and all rumors to rest as they announced the cast and released a photo showing the first read through of the finished script in London today.

New Cast Members
Top Row:  John Boyega, Daisy Ridely, Adam Driver
Bottom Row:  Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydown, Domhnall Gleeson

Star of Attack the Block, John Boyega, nabbed the leading male role, while relative unknown, Daisy Ridley, nabbed the female lead.  Both are young, 20-something British actors, with very little on their respective resumes.  Other new additions to the Star Wars universe are Girls-star, Adam Driver, Llewyn Davis himself, Oscar Isaac, Harry Potter's Bill Weasley, Domhnall Gleeson, Gollum actor, Andy Serkis, and the legend, Max von Sydow.  Rounding out the cast are the expected returns of Mark Hammil, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, as Luke, Han, and Leia, respectively.  As well, we got confirmation on the returns of Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Kenny Baker as R2-D2, and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca.  What is most intriguing about the cast list is that it's very reminiscent of the casts for the other two Star Wars trilogies when they first started out.

What's hard for people to remember is that when A New Hope came out in 1977, Harrison Ford was not a household name, the same goes for The Phantom Menace in 1999 in regards to Ewan McGreggor and Natalie Portman.  Both of the Star Wars trilogies, and now this one it seems, have cast up-and-comers in the leading roles, filling out the rest of the cast with respected character actors and a few stars.  I absolutely love that director, J.J. Abrams, and producer, Kathleen Kennedy, are maintaining a similar approach with these new films, because it can really draw you out of a story like this when the star power outweighs the character that's being portrayed.

Truthfully, many of these names had already been rumored for many weeks now, with only a few exceptions.  It's been known for a long time that Adam Driver was gonna be in this film.  While we still have no clue as to what characters these new actors will be playing, it was reported months ago that Driver was going to be playing one of the main villains for this new trilogy.  Personally, I was extremely shocked by the presence of Max von Sydow, a man who can play evil real good.  Another villain perhaps?  Then, there was the surprising inclusion of Andy Serkis, the motion capture acting extroardinaire, who created Gollum for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Caeser in the new Planet of the Apes movies.  It's safe to assume that he's probably doing mo-cap work here, but he's also shown up a good bit over the years in character roles and not computer generated, so we'll see.  Really, the two biggest surprises for me were Daisy Ridley and the omission of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.

It's been long rumored that Billy Dee would reprise his role in these new films, and he was not announced.  While I don't think Lando is as necessary a presence for these new films as Han, Luke, and Leia, he was an important player in the original trilogy, so it's a little sad not to see him in there.  Maybe he'll pop up in the future sequels.  However, Daisy Ridley is the real story today.  In the course of one minute, she has gone from being a relative unknown, to being probably the most googled actress in the world right now, because everyone wants to know who she is.

Personally, I can't help but wonder if this was the role that Oscar winner, and 12 Years a Slave star, Lupita Nyong'o, was rumored to have been in line for.  It fits the same age range, so I can't help but think that it is.  I had heard a rumor a few months back that the reason Disney and Lucasfilm were taking so long is that they didn't know if they wanted the male lead to be white or black, and I'm assuming once they settled on Boyega, Nyong'o was out because they felt they needed to be more diverse, and thus we have Ridley in the part.  This is all speculation, but that's what I think went down, and with the race of these characters being so up in the air, their being offspring of any of the three actors from the original trilogy seems highly unlikely.

I heard a rumor about three or four months ago, that the original draft of the script, written by Michael Arndt, was more in lines with the Expanded Universe stories detailed in countless novels, comic books, and video games, all made since the end of the original trilogy in 1983, following Han and Leia's children.  After Arndt departed, and Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, started over, the focus shifted more toward the original trio of Han, Luke, and Leia.

Now, while none of this has been confirmed, the word at the time was that Abrams wanted the first film of this new trilogy to focus primarily on Han, Luke, and Leia, leaving the newer cast members to take over the lead in the next two sequels.  Following a rumor from earlier today, citing that Han Solo will play a huge role in Episode VII, I think that this is still the case.  However, I do find it a little frightening that Han is being played up as having a big, integral role.  Is he going to die?  That's been a lot of the speculation happening online today.  It has long been known that Harrison Ford felt that Han should have died in Return of the Jedi, could he finally be getting his wish?  I hope not, but if Han does die, it had better be heroic and awesome, otherwise I don't know if I could ever forgive J.J. Abrams for it.

On the flip side, while I am happy that Han, Luke, and Leia, are back, I am perhaps more intrigued now about who these new characters will be.   After the expected bombshell last Friday, where Lucasfilm announced their new story department that expunged every Star Wars story over the past thirty-seven years from official canon, aside from the six films and The Clone Wars TV show, there is nothing to give clues as to what these characters will be.

As I mentioned when this new trilogy was first announced, it would be extremely problematic for the filmmakers to try and make a new set of films with so much of the post-Return of the Jedi timeline already written in novels and comics, and this was the solution that I think needed to happen in order for these new films to be better films on their own right.  While there are many fans upset that loved those stories, the bottom line is, too much has happened and people who haven't read those books or comics would be lost in these new films, so it was the right call.  Sure, I loved Jacen and Jaina Solo as much as the next Star Wars fan, but I mean, if they followed all of those books and comics, Chewie would be dead and the Skywalker family legacy has spiraled into tragedy following Jacen's turn to the dark side and Jaina having to kill him.  These are family friendly films, no matter how much fans want to kid themselves into thinking otherwise.

Of course, as Lucasfilm said last Friday, while these stories and characters no longer exist, it does not mean that they cannot serve as inspiration for the new films, much as to how George Lucas borrowed the planet Coruscant from Timothy Zahn's novel, Heir to the Empire, for The Phantom Menace, because he loved the idea of a citywide planet.  Could we still see Jacen or Jaina Solo?  Is Daisy Ridley their version of Jaina?  Looking at pictures of her, I could definitely buy her as the daughter of Han and Leia (assuming Han and Leia are married).  If they were still to go with Jacen as her brother, Domhnall Gleeson could definitely fit the bill, but so could Oscar Isaac.  There and again, we may not have a single new character that continues the Skywalker bloodline in these new movies, but I find that unlikely.

The Star Wars films have always been about the Skywalker family, and the passing down of that legacy of the Force from one generation to the next, and I don't think that we'll see anything different here.  While I think Daisy Ridley is the most likely candidate to be a Skywalker, there's nothing that says John Boyega can't be Luke's son.  It's long been believed amongst fans that the lead role would be Luke's child.  If Luke's wife was black, then Boyega could definitely be Luke's son.  Just throwing that possibility out there.  As well, it's been rumored for a good while now that the female lead would be a descendant of Obi-Wan Kenobi and not a Skywalker.  While I am not sure how I feel about that, especially considering how opposed Obi-Wan was to Jedi having romantic attachments (otherwise he would have succumbed to his feelings for Duchess Satine in The Clone Wars), I think the only way they could get away with that idea is if she was like Obi-Wan's great niece or something like that and not his daughter or granddaughter.

Really, I'm just spinning my wheels now hypothesizing.  With the Expanded Universe expunged, the only clues as to what may or may not be in this new film are in the previous six films and The Clone Wars TV show and what has been previously announced.  We know this film will take place 30 years after Return of the Jedi and that they're filming in Abu Dabhi, featuring a trio of new heroic leads, but that's about it.  What I can say is that I am super excited for this film, and unlike the prequels, we don't know how this new trilogy will go.  These are not adaptations, these are original screenplays that can go wherever the filmmakers feel the story needs to go, and that is extremely exciting in this day and age where almost every other major franchise is based off of a book, comic book, or video game, where they are adapting material for the screen, rather than creating it.

The real story today, though, is the announcement of the cast, which I think is exceptionally well rounded with established stars, character actors, and newcomers.  This is a strong, extremely talented cast, with many of the actors involved having proven themselves both dramatically and comedically before, making it hard to guess what type of characters they'll play.  Boyega could easily be the next Han Solo-type character, given his previous work, the same with Oscar Isaac.  Domhnall Gleeson could be a great source of comedic relief, or be a very virtuous, Luke Skywalker-type (or potential son).  Similarly, Andy Serkis could be an additional source of comedy, or he could be an uber-creepy bad guy, or a sage Jedi (Yoda ghost?).  This cast is so multi-talented, there is no way for me to guess their roles until more is revealed about the story, but there and again, do I really want to know?  Wouldn't it be grand if we can make it to December 18, 2015, without knowing much more than we already know?  Maybe that's impossible to do in today's media heavy, spoiler-filled age, but for right now I can dream of the possibilities.

The first script read with the Episode VII cast

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