'Star Wars' Casting: Pros and Cons of Being Faithful to the Original (Analysis)

Fans may be excited to see so many unfamiliar faces in the new cast, but less so about the lack of diversity in terms of gender or race.
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Fans may be excited to see so many unfamiliar faces in the new cast, but less so about the lack of diversity in terms of gender or race.

Given the many months’ worth of rumors that have circulated about the subject by this point, one of the biggest surprises about the announcement of the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII is the lack of surprises. Most of the names given Tuesday have been associated with the project for some time, with both Adam Driver and John Boyega having been assumed to be part of the cast for months. (Oscar Isaac, too, had become a commonly assumed frontrunner for a role in recent weeks.)

It’s far too early to read the tea leaves of either the casting or the officially released photograph for story or character details, of course (“Is that Daisy Ridley talking to Carrie Fisher? Maybe they play mother and daughter!” is too obvious, too ridiculous a leap to make); Driver has been named as the movie’s villain in early rumors, and tradition would suggest that Max von Sydow will end up portraying a somewhat untrustworthy character as well, but almost all such speculation would be grasping at straws right now.

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It is worth noting, however, that the new castmembers are relatively unknown. Yes, Isaac and Driver have some name recognition (and, indeed, both have previously appeared together onscreen in Inside Llewyn Davis, with Driver memorably providing “Outer! Space!”s on “Please Mr. Kennedy”; we can but hope that Justin Timberlake cameos in the new Star Wars for a reunion of sorts), but arguably the biggest stars from the list of new names are Max von Sydow and Andy Serkis, with the latter most famous for roles involving motion capture — a hint, perhaps, about the nature of his role in Episode VII.

In this, director J.J. Abrams is following the lead of the George Lucas, who made the original trilogy of Star Wars movies more than the one who directed The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, each of which starred actors with whom mainstream audiences were already familiar. For those fans distressed by the casting of the prequels, this is undoubtedly a good thing, allowing the actors to disappear inside the characters more easily.

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More problematic, however, is seeing the new production also follow the original trilogy’s lead when it comes to lack of diversity; all but one of the new cast are white, and all but one are male, matching the demographics of the original trilogy a little bit too closely for comfort for contemporary tastes. It’s been pointed out that the core Star Wars canon has been male-centric and devoid of color often in the past — something that the now-disavowed Expanded Universe attempted to address, ironically — and so there’s a particular disappointment in seeing the new movie seemingly fail to expand past even the half-hearted attempt at diversity growth shown in the prequel trilogy.

(We can only hope that the rumors of new characters playing relatives of the original cast don’t mean that John Boyega will play the son of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian in the new movie; of all the generational connections to make, one that suggests that there’s really only one black family in Star Wars would be an appalling error in judgment. Of course, Williams isn’t anywhere to be found in the released cast list.)

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For now, what we have is exactly what Disney wants: the maximum amount of excitement and discussion over the minimum amount of information released. With more than 18 months to go before the release of Star Wars: Episode VII (scheduled for a Dec. 18, 2015, debut in theaters), there will be a lot more announcements to come — character information, plot information, and the all-important subtitle for the movie, to name just a few — to keep this level of anticipation up. With shooting not officially scheduled to start until May, this war is just beginning.