12:05pm PT by Graeme McMillan
What Lupita Nyong'o and Gwendoline Christie Bring to 'Star Wars: Episode VII' (Analysis)
There's a lot to be said about the news that Lupita Nyong'o and Gwendoline Christie have been added to the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII, not least of which is that — whether by accident or design — the timing of the announcement has worked out very well for Disney and Lucasfilm.
While it's likely that both actresses were talking to Lucasfilm about the movie before the first official cast reveal on April 29 (Nyong'o had met with director J.J. Abrams prior to her win at this year's Oscars, after all), this announcement coming now, following initial online outcry about the lack of diversity in the cast, certainly makes Lucasfilm and Disney appear not only open to criticism, but willing to listen and make amends when necessary.
The online reaction to today's announcement has been overwhelmingly positive, not only because of the added diversity Nyong'o and Christie bring to the cast, but also because of the pervasive positive opinions of the actors themselves. "If Star Wars called me up and was like 'who should we cast' it probably would have been those exact two names," went one tweet. Another read "All I want in this world is Gwendoline and Lupita to just annihilate tons of people as epic lady-Jedi PLEASE JJ DO THEM JUSTICE."
(It's unlikely that Christie was cast because of the geek cred she's acquired through her role as fan favorite Brienne of Tarth on HBO's Game of Thrones and an upcoming appearance in the final two films in Lionsgate's The Hunger Games franchise, but such connections hardly hurt; while Star Wars' value as a brand has been growing since the relaunch was announced, both GoT and Hunger Games have the kind of immediate cache that George Lucas' space opera hasn't enjoyed since the prequels, meaning Christie could potentially draw viewers to Episode VII that had previously expressed little interest in the project.)
Bringing two new female characters into the cast also reopens the door to the much-rumored possibility that Episode VII will attempt to address the gender imbalance in the series to date by focusing on two female leads, with the new male characters playing mostly supporting (or antagonistic) roles. This is an idea that's been floating around since Abrams' involvement was first mentioned, in large part because of his work on Alias and, to a lesser extent, Felicity, both female-centric series. And while there's been nothing official to support the female-leads concept as of yet, it's an idea that only seems to make more sense the more you consider it.
Having a female lead — or two, in this case — would differentiate Abrams' Star Wars from the male-dominated previous installments, while, again, opening the series up to an audience that may have previously discounted it following earlier movies. It would also follow the lead of both "expanded universe" spinoffs (novels, comic books, etc.) and The Clone Wars animated series canon in spotlighting female Jedi and allowing distaff characters to come off the sidelines and not only participate, but direct the action.
More importantly, perhaps, it would mean that the team behind Star Wars: Episode VII learned from the mistakes of The Phantom Menace and the other recent installments and will not waste the talents of its cast. Nyong'o is an Oscar winner; if she's not one of the leads in the movie, and consigned to a glorified cameo that adds little to the story, then something has gone wrong somewhere.
For now, the additions of Nyong'o and Christie to the cast have earned Episode VII, Lucasfilm, Disney and Abrams a lot of goodwill back from a fan base that had already become cynical about the production. From here, unless something drastic happens, it should be smooth sailing in terms of publicity for the movie until far, far closer to release when nits can be picked.
Well, aside from the all-important title reveal, of course…