Some thoughts on the Star Wars: Episode VII casting

We take a look at the announced cast for JJ Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII, at who's not there, and what it all means...

So the Jedi have returned again, as is their wont (they basically do it in every film), and this time they’ve brought some younglings with them. The cast of Star Wars: Episode VII – well, most of it – has been announced.

Accompanying Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker will be John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow. Oh, and John Williams is doing the music again, because Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without John Williams.

The New Faces

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Of the new names, we have Ming the Merciless himself –  von Sydow – and Andy Serkis. They’re experienced pros and bring with them reputations for, shall we say, a certain style of performance. However, their resumes are also full of non-villainous, flesh and blood characters. Star Wars rumours in November last year mentioned the character of a ’40-something military man’, and Serkis could certainly fit the bill for that part. Von Sydow’s casting – and who’s not thrilled that he’s in the film? – could range from something like Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin to a ghost Kenobi, to a wily elder statesman. Maybe he’ll be something to do with trade agreements! History has proven that everyone loves trade agreements.

It’s also easy to see von Sydow as a Sith Lord, with his voice like purest moistened evil, and Serkis as a CGI character. It’s important to remember that, even if the worst comes to the worst and Serkis is playing Jar Jar Binks (we’d bet sizeable cash that he won’t be, incidentally), then this does at least mean that we might get to watch Jar Jar die. If mocap is involved, it’s always possible that Serkis will – as with the forthcoming Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes – be leading a team of actors playing different creatures, or playing more than one himself, like a one-man Cantina band (assuming, of course, that Dick van Dyke is not available).

Also announced are Adam Driver (Girls), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces Of January), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Black Mirror, Calvary), John Boyega (Attack The Block, Half A Yellow Sun) and – probably the least high profile name announced so far – Daisy Ridley, who has appeared in low budget horror film Scrawl (and I imagine its makers are pinching themselves right now) and an episode of Toast Of London as ‘Stage Hand’. Kudos to her. Matt Berry to Star Wars is one hell of a sideways step, and she’s also got the next Inbetweeners movie on her slate.

Driver, Boyega and Isaac were already rumoured to be involved, though Gleeson and Ridley took people by surprise. Ridley is rumoured to be playing the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia, so can be fully expected to say the words ‘I know’ at some point, with some important character moment of bad-assery occurring in the third act. Based on past Abrams films, expect a gold bikini to be involved. Isaac, meanwhile, is on a strong run of form after being a Coen Brothers leading man, and basically no-one seems upset by his casting.

Gleeson, most recently seen in Calvary (literally in my case, I was out watching it while all this was announced. It’s very good), is another unknown quantity in Star Wars terms, and he’s demonstrated enough range to be on either side of the force. Driver is said to be playing the main villain, a character described as ‘in the vein of Darth Vader’. This, as clues go, is unsurprisingly vague, leaving all sorts of possibilities open (including that he’s literally in the veins of Darth Vader, like some sort of magic revitalising blood, though I suppose that’s a bit far-fetched).

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So Who’s Not There?

There are some names who are notable by their absence. Zac Efron is yet to be announced despite yesterday’s rumours, and 12 Years A Slave‘s Lupita N’yongo was also mentioned as recently as March. Other casting rumours yet to be confirmed include Benedict Cumberbatch (although he seemed to be ruled out a few weeks ago), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jesse Plemons (who had been linked for a long time), Ed Speelers, Ray Fisher, and Matthew Jay Thomas. The latter four were linked to a role of a Jedi apprentice alongside Boyega. It’s understood that the casting is not yet complete, so one or two of these may yet sneak into the line-up.

Billy Dee Williams is not, at the moment, said to be involved (and he’s the glaring omission from the original cast). I assume that by the time this article goes up someone will have already tweeted ‘You Lando’ at JJ Abrams. No Ewan McGregor, though that’s not a total shock unless they’re going to give him Alec Guinness make-up (and besides, if you’re going to put Ewan McGregor in a Star Wars film you have to let him do his adorable little lightsaber duelling run. That man can lift his legs). Ian McDiarmid has spoken of some involvement in the film, but whether this is a cameo or a full blown reappearance is unknown at this time. While he’s not in the cast photo, Abrams has a history with trying to keep a lid on spoilers. Place your bets now on McDiarmid being announced as playing someone called ‘Bob Notname’ in early 2015.

Abrams also, as demonstrated by his work in general, is capable of helping assemble a great cast. Many a career has been boosted by his TV shows, and anyone who contributed to Karl Urban playing McCoy deserves praise. While not all the new Enterprise crew members have had time to shine yet, little of the criticism of those films is aimed at the cast, and there’s still a lot of praise for Abram’s previous reboot. Indeed, even if Star Trek Into Darkness suffered a critical backlash after an initial success, there’s still a lot of fondness for the 2009 movie.

With the main cast presumably in place, we can presume that the majority of returnees will now be cameos (although Harrison Ford’s role is said to be more substantive), and with the new films being placed in a different canon to the existing expanded universe, we know little of the story. Don’t expect that to change too much until the preview screenings. With a mix of up-and-coming talent and proven brilliance, we can at least be confident about the acting, and that this time there’ll not be a cameo by Leonard Nimoy.

The only other news we have regarding Star Wars: Episode VII is that, despite the roughness of sand, it is still expected to feature heavily…

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