That Star Wars Cast…

May be the fifth be with you! Wait, no…

Made up holiday dates aside, it’s been a big few days for Star Wars related news. Most of the cast for what will become Episode VII has been announced, and this being the modern age of nerdom and geekery, the announcement has driven a large amount of debate.

I say debate, but it’s mostly just been various shades of condemnation. This new Star Wars trilogy has the potential to be the most talked about and (over) analyzed piece of science fiction entertainment ever created: before a scene has been shot its casting choices have already generated a veritable mountain of op-ed style criticism. Too many men. Too many white actors.

Star Wars has never been about racial or gender diversity of course, something that most people seem to have only woken up to in the last little while. If it’s not the tiny amount of female characters or the tiny amount of non-white characters, it’s the racial stereotypes dressed up as CGI or make-up clad aliens (seriously, the Neimoidians of the prequel trilogy. How was Lucas allowed to get away with that?)

And now, under the direction of J.J Abrams, we have more of the same. One black actor, one female actor, to go with the original group. I’m not sure why exactly people were expecting anything different: Abrams’ other big sci-fi helm job, Star Trek, took its casting cues from the original lineup, so Abrams had little to do with Asian and black actors/actresses being cast. And if you think Abrams’ approach to female characters isn’t looking good now, just remember the crass way Carol Marcus was treated in Into Darkness: expect some exploitation shots of women in Episode VII, with some looks at underwear that have no necessity whatsoever.

While ultimately it’s the quality of the performance and not the colour or the gender of the person supplying it that interests me primarily, I must agree that bringing a greater amount of racial and gender diversity to such a well-loved and famous franchise would have been a positive thing. There’s still one more apparently important role to be cast, ear marked for Lupito Nyong’o if you believe the talk, so that’s good. Maybe it’s just because I’ve grown so cynical of Hollywood casting practices, and so impatient for it to change in the wake of things like The Hunger Games, that I find my energy to engage in such discussion flagging noticeably.

So, let’s go through the cast that has been announced.

John Boyega – Like so many others, I’ve only ever seen him in Attack The Block, and like so many others, I thought he was fantastic in that, bringing a really emotive quality to what was, on the surface, a surly, monotone chav scumbag. He’s got some chops this guy. He’s a good choice. I really hope he won’t turn out to be Lando Calrissian’s kid of course, because that would just be plain lazy.

Adam Driver – I’ve seen him in Inside Llewyn Davis and Girls. He had a fairly nothing role in the first and is part of a larger quagmire of a TV show in the second (and both of them are over-rated). A lot of talk of him being the villain. He’s tall, imposing, has a unique voice (in Inside Llewyn Davis at any rate), I can see that working (and the hysteria over the possibility is as moronic as that over Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor). Hell, if he turns out to be anything like Star Wars’ pedigree for bad guys there will be a lot of make-up and CGI work involved anyway.

Oscar Isaac – Yeesh, OK. I was not a big fan of Inside Llewyn Davis or Isaac’s performance. My words then were “competent and little more”, with his real emotional range only coming through when he was singing. I doubt (and hope) that he won’t get the opportunity for much singing in Star Wars. I can see a Jedi master-type role for him I suppose.

Andy Serkis – The common thread seems to be that he’ll playing some CGI creation, ala Gollum, but Serkis can act of his own accord, as the likes of Deathwatch, Longford and Einstein and Eddington have proved. He’s a fine actor, cruelly denied an Oscar nomination or win for his most famous role, and he’s a great choice for Star Wars.

Domhnall Gleeson – As I said in my review for Calvary, the younger Gleeson is one of the great rising stars of the Irish acting community, with an already existing pedigree that includes serious drama, romcoms and sketch comedy. He has a wide range and much of his father’s ability. I have little doubt he can do a fine job on this larger stage. A possible Skywalker Jr? There are far worse choices.

Daisy Ridley – “Unknown” is the word tossed around everywhere, which is a bit unfair – she’s been in plenty of British television. But it’s nothing I have seen so I can’t really comment. Abrams must see something in her though. She’s about to become one of the most famous actresses on the planet, so I hope she’s up for it.

Max von Sydow – I can see a villain role here, something along the lines of a Grand Admiral maybe, but it doesn’t matter. He’s one of the best and has been so for a very long time. Whatever his role, he’ll give it his all.

Those are the new guys, but what about the rest? So much scrutiny has been placed on those already mentioned, that the returning group doesn’t seem to get much thought at all.

Mayhew, Daniels, Baker, they’ll all do just fine in the marginal roles they’re coming back into. But the big three? What about them? A lot will depend on how big a role that Abrams actually envisions for them – it could just be a minor thing, ala Leonard Nimoy in his Star Trek films. That wouldn’t be the worst choice if I’m being honest. Hamill’s been doing nearly nothing but VA for years and years, and Fisher’s been limited to mostly short term TV work and lesser known movies. Can they really recapture the magic that made that trilogy so memorable decades ago?

And then there is Ford. Have you seen some of Harrison Ford’s work recently? After Crystal Skull, he seems to have slid into “phoning it in” territory, with his performance in Ender’s Game being one of his worst ever. Ford, of the entire original cast, has been the one least interested in perpetuating his connection with it. He never had to, he found roles just as big, better ones even. So will he be able to really bring Han Solo back to the screen in a believable manner? Or will it be a horror show for the fan base, seeing one of the icons of the genre as a very old man barely trying in acting terms? That’s something to be terrified of (and its one of the reasons I buy into a friend’s theory, that Solo will be killed off, like he was supposed to have been in Jedi).

In the end, I will always hold true to the philosophy that governs so much of how I approach pre-release speculation and promotion: wait and see. The truth is that I don’t feel that Abrams is the right man to bring Star Wars back to the screen (while still keeping it Star Wars). This is not like Star Trek, where the opportunity existed within the universe for a complete overhaul. This is a continuation.  But I and many others have been wrong before.

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