On January 25, 2013, it was officially announced that J.J. Abrams had signed on to direct Star Wars: Episode VII, just a few short months after the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. While there were initial feelings of complete geeky nirvana, what followed was a 16-month rumor mill that was as torturous to sit through as a Jar Jar Binks filibuster. Finally, on April 29, 2014, the Star Wars cast was officially announced, much to the entire fanbase's relief. Even hardcore fans who still aren't over the whole midichlorian debacle would find it hard to hate these choices.
By ignoring the urge to cast big names and GQ faces, Abrams has put the emphasis on the human performance by going for a cast that mixes newcomers with iconic, established veterans. In addition to fan favorites like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill returning as Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, the movie will also star franchise rookies John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow in unknown roles. Outside of the three classic Star Wars actors, if you were to put the rest of those names down on a casting sheet, it would look more like Abrams were shooting an indie drama than a blockbuster.
Boyega, Isaac, and Driver, in particular, are easily the highlights here because all three have been slowly emerging as forces in Hollywood. Outside of previous rumors that claimed Driver was being looked at for a villain in the movie, there is no word on who anyone will play. But does any of that matter? Star Wars fans are going from a completely wooden Hayden Christensen, the totally random Jimmy Smits, and a disinterested Natalie Portman, to actors who have put out stellar work in films like Inside Llewyn Davis, Attack the Block, and Frances Ha. These three could be playing members of a Max Rebo tribute band, and it would still turn out better than Attack of the Clones.
The only casting decision that had fans scratching their heads was the inclusion of Daisy Ridley, who has never appeared in a released movie as of yet. So far she has only appeared on TV shows in Britain and a short film called Blue Season. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that she will play the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia, but that's all speculation right now. What's more exciting is that we have actually no idea what to expect. This is pretty refreshing, especially because we're living in a time when unknown actresses aren't usually given jobs like this.
This is the exact strategy that George Lucas employed when casting the original Star Wars. At the time, Fisher, Hamill, and Ford were all emerging stars with actual talent, and they were cast alongside film icons like Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness. With such raw, young actors working with inspired additions like Andy Serkis and Max von Sydow, this new cast is more well rounded and intriguing than what audiences had to slog through with the prequel trilogy.
Speaking of Serkis and von Sydow, these two are easily the most interesting choices out of everyone announced. Serkis is known as the master of the mo-cap, but he’s also an incredibly talented actor without a motion-tracking suit on. It would be refreshing to see Abrams put him in a role that isn’t a completely CGI creature, if only to avoid eyesores like Jar Jar or Dexter Jettster for this trilogy.
The role for von Sydow is a little easier to imagine, but it’s no less interesting. He would be perfect to play a wise old Jedi come out of hiding, or a potential Sith lord wielding power from behind the scenes. Will he be the master to Adam Driver’s potential villainous apprentice role? In an ideal world, he's here to fill in the role left open by Emperor Palpatine as the elderly threat that needs to be taken down by the hopeful, rebellious youth. That was the main point of the original Star Wars, after all.
It’s still not clear that we actually need another Star Wars trilogy, but, let’s face it, this was inevitable after Disney bought everything with the Lucas name on it. But if Abrams and co. can continue this emphasis on talent over spectacle, maybe—just maybe—Star Wars: Episode VII can finally bring the franchise back to its root. There is still good in there; we can feel it.