Just when we think we’re out, they pull us back in. With many of us here a little jaded about the prospect, not so much of the film itself, but of the months of speculation and debate and wringing wild meaning from the tiddiest of bits that lie between us and the premiere of “Star Wars: Episode VII” in December 2015, we were adopting a firm wait-and-see attitude toward casting rumors, and toward what those rumors might mean for the story. Well, we waited and saw, and yesterday’s casting confirmation kind of had the effect of vaudeville-yanking us off the stage of our indifference: it’s an intriguing, and we have to say, not obvious, lineup.
In fact, many of them are so not-obvious (Daisy Ridley has to have just experienced the steepest ascent in name recognition of all time, enough to warrant a whole separate piece on her and her casting here), that we’ve put together this handy guide to who the rest of the new cast are and what they’ve done before. And of course, using our own special matrix which combines word-on-the-the-street with moon-eyed wishful thinking and a dose of analyzing the sight lines on the already-famous table read picture, we’re going to hazard a bunch of wild guesses about who might be playing what. All of which will inevitably turn out to be wrong and just contribute to the whole speculation circus toward which we felt so superior just a couple of days ago. Damn you, JJ Abrams, you wily puppeteer!
Where Do I Know Him From? Joe Cornish‘s “Attack the Block,” most likely, or Biyi Bandele‘s subpar adaptation of “Half of a Yellow Sun” if you trawled the festival circuit in 2013. Soon, you can check him out on TV where he’s got a 4-episode arc in the upcoming “24: Live Another Day.”
Who He Could Play (Speculation Alert) & Who We Don’t Want Him To Play: We expect that if Abrams’ main cast is this lacking in ethnic diversity, they’re going to make their sole black actor the lead, or something pretty close (and that’s the main rumor anyhow). There’s two ways J.J. and his writers can go, the obvious six-degrees route, in which everyone’s related in some way to the original cast, which is what Lucas did with the prequels (Anakin Skywalker was bffs with a young Greedo etc). So they could make Boyega a relative or son of Lando Calrissian, or they could possibly open up the world just slightly and let the audience understand that there’s more than just one African-American family in the galaxy. Just a suggestion. Either a way, he’s likely one of the mooted new trio of heroic leads that may also include Domhnall Gleeson and Daisy Ridley.
What Makes Him Suited For The “Star Wars” Universe? We haven’t seen a great deal of Boyega to date, in fact we haven’t seen nearly enough since falling hard for him in “Attack the Block,” where he gives a pretty titanic performance as the thug who turns protector/avenger against the marauding “big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers.” What’s key is how he retains an aura of menace and ambivalence throughout, and even when he’s feted as the hero, he’s recognizably the same bastard who coolly mugged a woman at knifepoint earlier. This complexity, the ability to occupy the grey area between good and bad without being bland, is something that could definitely inform the Jedi/Sith battle-for-the-soul thing that is the central issue of the “Star Wars” hero.
Best Prior Performance: “Attack the Block“
Where Do I Know Him From? HBO‘s “Girls” undoubtedly, but Driver has also been picking up roles in well-received indies for a while now, from Noah Baumbach‘s “Frances Ha,” to Lance Edmands’ “Bluebird,” (which we loved), to John Curran‘s “Tracks” opposite Mia Wasikowska. He also rounded out the ensemble in Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and took a tiny but mighty role in the Coens‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Who He Could Play (Speculation Alert) & Who We Don’t Want Him To Play: Reports from most trade outlets already claim that Driver will be playing a villain, and possibly the new Darth Vader (not the actual character, just a new primo bad guy). However the (rather silly) Expanded Star Wars Universe stuff has thankfully been ruled out, so don’t expect him to play Jacen Solo (Han and Leia’s son) who crosses over to the Dark Side to become Darth Caedus (no really, that’s a thing). But being of a generation with the (presumed) leads, it is possible he starts off their ally and only turns bad later? Though that’s an obvious been-there-done-that ‘SW’ character path, so we’re kinda hoping they go a different route. Whatever his actual name and provenance, we like Driver for a Sith lord, we have to say–we’d just rather he not be Obi Wan’s distant third cousin or something who goes bad because he’s still bitter about not being invited to family dinners.
What Makes Him Suited For The “Star Wars” Universe? Actually, Driver is one actor whose addition we’re most interested in for what it mean about the tone of the film. If (a big if) he is the Big Bad, his comparative youth and weird, twitchy energy will give us a different kind of adversary to those we’ve seen before, perhaps one not so portentous and po-faced.
Best Prior Performance: “Girls,” no doubt, is the best showcase for Driver’s unique presence, and his character has also had one of the most interesting arcs in the whole show, growing on us episode by episode. But it would be too hard to select just one clip, and your day may not have had enough joy in it yet, so we’ll use this “Please Mr. Kennedy” clip from “Inside Llewyn Davis” showing him opposite his ‘Episode VII’ co-star Oscar Isaac. Outer Space!
Max Von Sydow
Where Do I Know Him From? Um, from six and a half decades of film history. Among the best known of Von Sydow’s 150 credits are Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” “The Magician” and “The Virgin Spring” while outside Sweden he has also graced such films as William Friedkin‘s “The Exorcist,” Sydney Pollack‘s “Three Days of the Condor,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “Intacto,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” and Scott’s “Robin Hood,” again opposite Oscar Isaac, who is pretty much the Kevin Bacon of the New Star Wars connections game.
Who He Could Play (Speculation Alert) & Who We Don’t Want Him To Play: Von Sydow was pretty much designed to wear robes, and his imposing physicality (he’s 6’4″ in his socks), stentorian voice and general aura of authority mean it’s fairly unlikely he’ll be playing anything other than a supremely powerful and commanding figure, and we’re ok with that. But of which stripe? He’s been more or less typecast as a baddie in American films for a long time now, so most have rushed to the assumption that he’s a Sith Lord, maybe even an Emperor-type. But then you can look at the remarkable similarity between him and Alec Guinness in the original trilogy and wonder if a little casting against type wouldn’t be nice here, and how if anyone’s going to have the stones to lick this new crop of greenhorn Jedis into shape, it would be Von Sydow? It may not be as likely, but we’d love to see him as a Jedi master. But then again, maybe we’re just trying to recreate the original “Star Wars” beat for beat.
What Makes Him Suited For The “Star Wars” Universe? Simple — the “Star Wars” universe always needs people in charge, the elder guard who are passing their wisdom or corruption onto the next generation, and Von Sydow is utterly believable in that role.
Best Prior Performance: Oh Lord. Here’s a feature on five of his best (which was already a very, very difficult call). His most iconic role is of course the Knight in Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” but right now the power of Christ compels us to go with a clip from “The Exorcist” instead.
Where Do I Know Him From? Ridley Scott‘s “Robin Hood,” Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “Drive,” the Coen Brothers‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” while he’ll also be seen in Alex Garland’s upcoming “Ex Machina,” William Monahan‘s “Mojave” and JC Chandor‘s “A Most Violent Year“
Who He Could Play (Speculation Alert) & Who We Don’t Want Him To Play: Harrison Ford is returning, but again, if Abrams & co. want to go the obvious route of trying to rebottle the original ‘Star Wars’ magic, this younger generation needs some sort of reluctant hero, a dashing rapscallion who bends rules and breaks hearts–a “new Han” if you will–and Isaac certainly has the looks for it, with an added dash of soulfulness where needed. One of the rumored casting spots was for a 40-ish male military type and if that turns out to be true, Isaac could fit that bill. Perhaps some kind of Rebellion captain – though does the Rebellion still exists 30 years later when presumably the Empirical dictatorship was dismantled some three decades earlier (we pray they don’t get bogged down in the politics and trade embargoes like the prequels did)? So the general consensus so far seems to be that he’s likely to play that sort of character, maybe a mercenary, maybe a bounty hunter, but one who ultimately becomes a hero. We suppose as long as he’s not Han’s cousin we’re ok with all of that, just please don’t make him a carbon(ite) copy.
What Makes Him Suited For The ‘Star Wars’ Universe? One thing in his favor in the “new Han” hypothesis is that Isaac is at roughly the same level of fame as Ford was when he was cast originally. But also, Isaac has shown in the past that he can play sympathetic (‘Llewyn’) or unsympathetic (“Drive,” “Robin Hood”) but always brings depth and conflict, which means he’d be ideally suited for one of ‘Star Wars’ more complex, less good-or-evil characters, one who we could believe might be capable of heroism and treachery.
Best Prior Performance: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” no doubt. Scandalous that he got no Oscar nod.
Where Do I Know Him From? Mo-cap specialist Serkis is best known as the guy who wears the body suit with all the tennis balls on it so that a squadron of computer whizzes can create something as impressive as Gollum in the ‘Lord of the Rings‘/’Hobbit‘ movies. He was also in the suit, so to speak, for Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” and was an amazing Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and will soon to return in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” He also voices Captain Haddock in the ‘Tintin‘ movies and the lead Elf in “Arthur Christmas,” while he’s shown up in his own skin, wearing his own face is films like “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” “24 Hour Party People” “13 Going On 30” “Burke and Hare” and “The Escapist.”
Who He Could Play (Speculation Alert) & Who We Don’t Want Him To Play: Given Serkis’ area of specialty, and given that the Star Wars universe needs to populated with a multitude of species that don’t look human, the obvious route would be to make him some kind of alien creature that he renders in mo-cap. And unless Abrams is playing a very deep game and has actually cast Serkis in a non-mo-cap role (and we’d love to see him as a human; he’s a pretty underrated actor) which we honestly don’t think even the notoriously tricksy, wrong-footing director would do here. Unless it’s in addition to mo-cap work (kinda like on “King Kong” where he got a live action role too). What species? Who knows, but as long as it’s not a Gungan, or any relation to a certain character who shares his first two initials with JJ Abrams, we’re down.
What Makes Him Suited For The “Star Wars” Universe? The fact that, once the live action parts are cast, it’s Serkis who has the real expertise to bring 98% of the diversity of the fictional Universe to life.
Best Prior Performance: Serkis’ mo-cap work stands on its own, and definitely suggests that in future we’re going to need to work out some way that mo-cap performances can be recognized for major awards, because his Gollum is simply one of the most indelible, best-acted roles in recent memory.
Where Do I Know Him From? Irish actor, son of the awesome Brendan Gleeson, first came to attention playing Bill Weasley in the ‘Harry Potter‘ films, has been on a steady ascent ever since. Mixes big films and small, leads and support: “Shadow Dancer,” “Dredd,” Joe Wright‘s “Anna Karenina,” Richard Curtis‘ “About Time” and recently Lenny Abrahamson‘s “Frank” and a small part in John Michael McDonough‘s “Calvary,” opposite his Dad. He’ll soon be seen in Angelina Jolie‘s “Unbroken” too.
Who He Could Play (Speculation Alert) & Who We Don’t Want Him To Play: As his CV suggests, Gleeson is extremely versatile and can play a romantic lead (‘Karenina,’ “About Time”) as well as a character role. Wild speculation suggests he could be Luke Skywalker’s son Ben (which seems to be a favorite theory in some parts). But some more fanciful, (okay dumber) guesses included that because he’s sitting next to Anthony Daniels at the table read and due to his physique and creditable English accent, he might be playing a next-generation protocol droid. Son of C-3PO? We seriously can’t see that happening, and feel free to punch us in the groin if it does. More likely, with a trio of new leads suggested by the higher ups at Disney, given his age, Gleeson, Boyega and Ridley, could conceivably be that triad, which probably places him as some kind of hero. Jedi, soldier or otherwise, we’ll let you dreamcast that one yourself.
What Makes Him Suited For The “Star Wars” Universe? Gleeson has already amassed an eclectic portfolio for one so young, but also isn’t necessarily the showboaty type, often impressing in smaller character roles within an ensemble. “Star Wars” has always relied as much on establishing fetishizable supporting characters as leads, so this quality of his could well come into play as second or third lead here.
Best Prior Performance: Tough call, but we loved him in “Anna Karenina” where he, along with Alicia Vikander, arguably provided the more compelling love story.
Last, but not least, remember there’s at least one more female joining the cast, so save those “Does Star Wars Ep 7 pass the Bechdel Test” thinkpieces until the casting is fully done (or better yet, until you’ve seen the finished movie). And now, feel free to push your glasses up your nose and tell us all the ways we’re wrong about who’ll be playing what, or simply to tell us if the new casting news has inflamed or dampened your enthusiasm for the unstoppable oncoming juggernaut that is “Star Wars Episode VII.”