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Some Thoughts on the STAR WARS: EPISODE VII Casting Announcement and the Reaction To It

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by A.D. Jameson
April 30, 2014 3:24 AM
1 Comment
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Ep vii Cast
After a year spent sucking the marrow from every stray casting rumor and meager scrap of information, we finally know who the principal players will be in Star Wars: Episode VII - A New Menace (which is what I personally believe the film’s going to be called). LucasDisneyFilm has announced that, as suspected, the original cast will be returning, and that they will be joined by “John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow.” To which I say: I’m severely disappointed by the lack of an Oxford comma there. And to which I also say: there had better be a scene where Max von Sydow’s character plays holographic chess (Dejarik!) with Darth Death.
 
Two observations seem in order—indeed, seem repeating and emphasizing, since many others have already made them. One. Billy Dee Williams has gotten the shaft. Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, and those adorable droids 3PO and R2 will be in the picture, but they won’t be joined by Lando? (And if he does turn up, then he’s still not part of the core cast?) Well, I guess he wasn’t really part of the gang, after all. What, did Lucas stick the fellow in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi purely because people wondered at the time where all the black people in that galaxy were? I guess he did. Consider another childhood illusion irrevocably shattered.
 
Two. The internet quickly whipped itself into a frenzy over the relative dearth (get it?) of women actors in the new cast. Annalee Newitz penned a sharply-worded critique of the omission over at io9, and Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara wasted no time decrying similarly on Twitter. And: it does boggle the mind that each Star Wars trilogy now features so few central female characters—two of whom have been princesses, no less!—surrounded by what are, for the most part, hordes of white dudes.
 
Of course, newcomer Daisy Ridley might turn out to be the main character in this new trilogy—the Luke Skywalker or the Han Solo—and she might prove to be the most butt-kicking Jedi Princess of all time. Obviously, we can’t say anything substantive about the artistry of the films, since they don’t exist yet. If we’d seen the casting news for Alien and Aliens, would we have been able to predict what a feminist icon Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley would become? The Bechdel Test is important, in that it articulates very well a prevailing sexist deficiency in Hollywood, but it can’t be the only measure of a film’s quality, or even a film’s politics. And I want to be clear that I like all these actors—at least, the ones I recognize (most of them). May the Force be with them.
 
But here’s the thing. Disney, J. J. Abrams, and Kathleen Kennedy aren’t buying themselves much good will here, or rather aren’t buying as much good will as they could. And you think they would be approaching this—the most anticipated film of the decade—more cannily. Abrams, it should be mentioned, is coming off something of a debacle. His Star Trek films have been criticized for having too many male characters, and for sexually objectifying their female characters. And even he has admitted that he bungled the lead-up to Star Trek Into Darkness, and the way he toyed with fan expectations.
 
Meanwhile, the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy remains without doubt the most traumatic thing, creatively speaking, to have happened to the geek community since—well, since ever. Fans were disappointed in those films for many reasons—an overreliance on CGI that looked nothing like the beloved aesthetic of the original trilogy, relentless scenes of expository dialogue about trade regulations, the jarring shift in tone that saw characters stepping in Bantha poodoo. But a large part of the problem was that the Prequel Trilogy was... how shall we say it? A racist and sexist horror show. Jar-Jar, Watto, the Neimoidians, Natalie Portman’s endless parade of false eyelashes and pretty dresses—it was all so baldly offensive that fans could hardly believe what they were seeing. “It has to be ironic?” we all asked, and to this day we are still asking that, because we can’t bring ourselves to accept the obvious conclusion.
 
People will point out that the prequels still made a ton of money, and they certainly did, but they probably didn’t rake it in like they could have. Only Phantom Menace cleared a billion dollars at the box office (and did so just barely), and Attack of the Clones dropped off sharply after that. Simply put, Lucas left money on the table, and a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans. Disney should be doing everything they can to change that.
 
Instead, they’re creating more bad taste. No Lando. Only one central woman. No fan-favorite Mara Jade—in fact, the Expanded Universe no longer exists. And—why? If I were the person making these movies (something I only occasionally pretend), I’d be asking myself, “How can I bend over backward to give the people what they want?” Sure, sure, I’d try to be Very Artistic in my bending. But given that these new movies are such blank slates, the opportunity to reposition Star Wars front and center as the most beloved movie franchise of all time, I’d be doing my damndest to figure out how to do something Very Artistic with Mara Jade, and Lando, and a few other characters of color to boot.
 
Here’s another way of looking at it. Star Wars: Episodes VII–IX aren’t “necessary” the way the previous trilogies were. Sure, they’re financially necessary (for Disney), and, sure, fans feel the need to line up for more films. (I’m a fan; I’ll be there.) But these movies aren’t needed to continue or resolve the story that’s told across the first six films, which are complete within themselves. Return of the Jedi wraps it all up pretty nicely, no? We’ve seen how Darth Vader grew up and got seduced by Senator Palpatine, and then was redeemed by his son, and tossed the Emperor down a hole. The second Death Star exploded, the Galactic Empire was overthrown, and balance returned to the Force. The End.
 
What comes after that? Anything and nothing. The limitless potential of narrative means there’s no shortage of stories that can be told, but there aren’t any Star Wars stories that have to be told. Abrams et al. are effectively rebooting the franchise, and paving the way for an endless stream of movies set in that galaxy far, far away. Given that, why not seize the chance to restore some other imbalances, and undo the mistakes of the past?


A.D Jameson is the author of the prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound, 2011), in which he tries to come to terms with having been raised on '80s pop culture, and the novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson, 2011), an absurdist retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. He's taught classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Lake Forest College, DePaul University, Facets Multimedia, and StoryStudio Chicago. He's also the nonfiction / reviews editor of the online journal Requited. He recently started the PhD program in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In his spare time, he contributes to the group blogs Big Other and HTMLGIANT. Follow him on Twitter at @adjameson.

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1 Comment

  • Nikky | April 30, 2014 6:58 AMReply

    Daisy Ridley is a prominent jazz singer, dancer and strong swimmer with a native London accent and a few minor television credits gathered over the past year. C
    Read More At: Star Wars Casts Two new Faces in it’s new Season | Daisy Ridley & John Boyega

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