Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The Star Wars: Episode VII casting rumors have finally proven true.

It was revealed on April 29th, 2014 that the principle cast of the original Star Wars trilogy shall reprise their roles.

Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Meyhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker are officially tied to the upcoming sequel, along with an extensive cast of actors new to the sci-fi/fantasy series that includes the incomparable Max Von Sydow.

via www.starwars.com
The majority of the cast is pictured above, doing their first ever read-through of the fiercely guarded script.

J.J. Abrams had this to say:
"We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."
Like many, my feelings about the Star Wars series, and its recent acquisition by Disney, are complicated.

But a few weeks ago, I spent some time simply listening to John Williams iconic score, and I discovered that the almost tangible glimmer of magic inherent in the entire Star Wars series tenaciously remained in the purest part of my soul (click here to read more on that and experience my very own trailer created through music, stills, and gifs).

Beyond the cluttered cynicism, disappointment, and the fear a new film under the Disney/Abrams banner inspires, an inescapable childhood love of Star Wars remains.

Even when I think back to the prequels, I remember, at the time, sitting in the theater, thoroughly enjoying them (except for Episode II - that film was one of several adolescent entertainment events that regrettably brought me out of childhood naiveté).

Revenge of the Sith
I've noticed a lot of snark, anger, and unfounded disdain on internet message boards for this currently nonexistent movie, particularly when it comes to bringing back the old cast members. It seems everyone who posts such negativity wants to be a member of the "cool kid's club" or show their pop-culture, entertainment savvy, referencing the unsuccessful Superman Returns, calling JJ's next Star Wars nothing more than a nostalgia film before it even hits theaters.

I am certainly no J.J. fan. His films watch and sound like the work of someone who rigidly adheres to Screenwriting For Dummies. That's not always a bad thing, it simply results in some occasional contrivances and hackneyed storytelling. He's a competent filmmaker albeit an unoriginal one. I like some of the choices he made with Star Trek (2009). That movie is certainly entertaining - and in a good way, regardless of the direction it moves that particular series.

He shows an aptitude for crafting intense, visually compelling CGI action sequences that are grounded in the emotional bonds of the characters present. Again, the way he goes about it is occasionally contrived, but only transparent to people who pay attention to those details or who have read Screenwriting For Dummies or who have seen every Steven Spielberg film. He generally seems to elicit, or be the beneficiary, of good performances, however, and that is arguably the most important creative aspect of the next Star Wars.

A New Hope
Abrams' particular kind of success and sensibility - the commercial sort - could lend itself well to the inherently formulaic Star Wars story structure. I will never like him as a choice, and until I see the film this will remain the most unsettling aspect of the creative-team behind the movie. J.J. is only slightly better than a director like Bret Ratner. You likely won't ever leave a J.J. Abrams movie and spend hours talking about his brilliant, unique aesthetic the way you would a better filmmaker.

There really isn't a "J.J. Abrams Movie". And that's exactly why he got hired. He'll do exactly what Disney and Lucasfilm thinks he'll do (or so it would seem - I may, hopefully, get proven wrong). As an artist, I can't help but take issue with that, desirous of a more daring filmmaker who will, without imposing their own sensibilities thus overriding the Star Wars mythos, bring some genuinely original ideas to the proceedings.

Regardless of all of that, when I consider the possibility of seeing Luke Skywalker transformed into the sage old Master Jedi, I can't help but get goose bumps.

My fears about massive corporations, assembly-line spin-off movies, and hacks are certainly real. But they're no less real than the natural, positive excitement I experience at the thought of a new Star Wars movie.

The two co-exist, with the light side winning if for no other reason than it feels right to be excited for Star Wars.

Suddenly, when I just imagine the possibilities with this truly historic and I believe necessary inclusion of Hamill, Ford, and Fisher, the fears aren't entirely excised, but they do get tucked away for a while.

Without these original cast mates, an entirely blank-slate Star Wars film with entirely new characters, unrelated to the two previous trilogies (or merely relatives of original characters) would struggle to get over. The chances for it to "feel off" would be greater. The series, and the story, might benefit from a passing of the torch, from the comfort, and ultimately the significance of these three characters coming back to the silver screen.

Empire Strikes Back
When I consider all of the positives, I stop caring about how bad the prequels were.

I stop caring about George Lucas or how old the original cast looks or how the movie very well may be nothing more than a massive power-point presentation by Disney, explaining why you should buy more stuff.

And perhaps that's merely the brilliance of the corporate devils at work.

Regardless, Star Wars is inherently joyful, in a very real, honest way and the people making this movie have demonstrated, at the very least, an awareness with regard to what it is people love about Star Wars and entertaining, epic movies.

Just seeing that reading-session photo is exciting and incredibly interesting. It's reminiscent of the audition films for the original cast:

Another easy way to combat whatever reservations or concerns we have about our beloved series being further tarnished, is to think about how undeniably historic and remarkable it is that there will be a handful of characters whose on-screen life will have spanned nearly forty years. In real-time!

The same characters played by the same actors, from 1977 to, at least, 2015. Many of us will have grown up watching those characters in the 70s and 80s, and then watched a new prequel trilogy in our adolescence or adulthood in the 90s and early 2000s, and now, going even deeper into the future, shifting in the timeline to a sequel trilogy, we will see those same characters having matured into old-age. That's never really been done before.

Handled with care, with the utmost sincerity and intelligence, this could easily be one of the most exciting, fascinating, and emotional events in the entire history of the visual medium.

Many are concerned about the age of the actors and their potential physical limitations, especially after the travesty that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (a film that shall seemingly never be redeemed). It was hard to see an old Indiana Jones. Such was made even more difficult by the odd, parody-like performance Harrison Ford gave, and the laughable Inter-Dimensional Beings plot.

But Han Solo is not Indiana Jones, and the Star Wars Universe is not The Indiana Jones Universe. Star Wars is a saga. It's a prolonged, almost never-ending archetype-driven story that sees characters mature, grow old, change, and die. Indiana Jones was a series that rested primarily on Ford's shoulders and his convincing athleticism.

Indy needs to be young, healthy, and virile for that story to really work.

Han Solo just needs to be Han Solo.

Han could be confined to a wheelchair for the whole film and still contribute something meaningful. The strengths of that character are his voice, his attitude, his smirk, wit, and charm. The most Ford did in the original trilogy, physically, was run occasionally and shoot a blaster.

So unless Ford just completely phones it in (which I doubt he will. He's enjoying his recent resurgence as a character-actor, and has expressed enthusiasm for this role), unless the character is still wearing the same outfit after thirty years like a cartoon character, and unless Han goes swinging through the trees of Endor with some Ewoks, then it could very easily turn out fine and I think we can rest easy with regard to his return.

Much is idiotically made about all of the original cast's appearance, but mostly Carrie Fisher. These are absolutely irrelevant, superficial complaints that have no bearing on the effectiveness of the actors nor their significance in the movie. People age. Their bodies change. Their faces change. That is reality. And even though Star Wars is a fantasy, its in keeping with the themes of the series if we see these characters age. With age comes history; emotional and psychological depth. That should be embraced, even celebrated, instead of regarded as a flaw.

I understand the legitimate argument that it's simply difficult to accept seeing beloved characters who are so visually fixed in our minds, defined by their younger faces, as older and transformed by time.

But we are far too superficial. Far too judgmental. If the performances are good, the looks of the actors will contribute to the lives these characters have led, off-screen, since the credits rolled on Return of the Jedi.

Fisher is a cool lady, and an incredibly funny woman. Her sincerity and frankness, and feminine strength is an asset to this film.

Above all, I'm excited about the return of Mark Hamill.

Luke Skywalker is the most significant character in all of Star Wars.

Certainly a case could be made for Anakin, but I believe, ultimately, it is Luke's story, and that his maturation from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi remains one of the most convincing, beautifully crafted narratives of growth ever chronicled on-screen.

Hamill is also an awesome, strange guy in real-life (much like the rest of the original cast). His enthusiasm for everything he works on is incredibly infectious. I have no doubt of his ability to make Luke come to life again, adding yet another layer to this character's epic odyssey.

When I imagine the original cast together, sitting on those couches at that table read, it's hard not to smile and hope that they're moved by the historic event they are helping to create.

When I imagine the film, admittedly in a specific way, and exactly as I'd hope it to be, I get incredibly excited and can't wait to see it. If I'm setting myself up for disappointment, so be it.

My biggest concerns, apart of J.J. are the literal look of the movie (it has to nail the look and tone - it can't be all bright and digital-looking. The fact that it's being shot on film is encouraging), and the sincerity with which the dialogue is written and delivered.

If all of that is nailed, this could easily be an amazing, memorable film.

So give in to your natural inclination to get excited for a Star Wars movie.

Let go of your hate.

Embrace your positivity.

And may the force be with you...

All photos via www.starwars.com and www.lucasfilm.com

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