Update 10.7.15: Collider says Mbatha-Raw has bagged the lead role. We would be very happy if this turns out to be true.
What’s going on in the world of “Star Wars” other than toy marketing blitzes, Topps trading card reveals, and other merchandizing paraphernalia? Well, there’s good news and bad news out there, though “bad” is, admittedly, very subjective. Lets start off with the good. U.K. actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, star of “Beyond the Lights” and the severely underrated period drama “Belle,” is rumored to be in the mix for one of the main female roles in Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII.”
Previously, it’s was reported that Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), and Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) are vying for a significant female role in ‘Episode VIII.’ Well, Latino Review adds that Mbatha-Raw is also in contention for this role role, and reveals that there may be two significant female roles in the movie, which will also include Benicio Del Toro in a role that may or may not be a villainous one.
It’s a rumor, but it passes the smell test. Johnson, Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, and the “Star Wars” team are gearing up to shoot soon, so they’re probably testing a lot of different actresses, which means, surely, more than just these four names have tested, auditioned, or met with the principals (these are only the names that have come out). Additionally, the “Star Wars” universe seems to be putting a premium on diversity (the latinos of Oscar Isaac and Benicio Del Toro, English/Nigerian actor John Boyega, and female leads like Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, and Lupita Nyong’o). Plus Mbatha-Raw rules as an actress, so if it pans out, we all win. Though she’s also apparently on the shortlist for the upcoming “Robin Hood: Origins” along with Eve Hewson (“The Knick“), Gaite Jansen (“Supernova”), and Australian actress Lucy Fry (“Vampire Academy”), so who knows.
Now for the “bad” or maybe meh news. Speaking to Costco Connection — a free giveaway from the shopping corporation spotted by many eagle-eyed “Star Wars” fans — Kennedy revealed that the new trilogy starting with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are “saga films” that pick up the old narrative from “Return Of The Jedi,” and a certain well-known family.
“The Saga films focus on the Skywalker family saga,” she explained. “The stories follow a linear narrative that connects to the previous six films. The ‘Force Awakens’ follows ‘Return of the Jedi’ and continues that generational story. ‘The Anthology’ films [like “Rogue One” and the Han Solo spin-off] offer opportunities to explore fresh characters, new storylines and a variety of genres inside the Star Wars universe.”
So that’s pretty straight forward: spin-offs are anthology films and the new trilogy picks up where “Return Of The Jedi” left off. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and core characters like Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, etc. returning, this seemed fairly self-evident. However, ‘The Force Awakens’ also features three lead characters played by Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega, and many of us had hoped that ‘The Force Awakens’ would take the ‘Star Wars’ universe into a new direction while pivoting off the existing characters you know and love.
If it’s a “generational” story and another Skywalker story, this is sounds like what many suspected: the children of either Luke or Leia, and continuing a story that focuses more on Jedi vs. Sith instead of all the possibilities and riches in the “Star Wars” universe. Sure, it was already looking like it was heading that way what with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, even if his character isn’t technically a Sith), Boyega with a lightsaber, and other clues.
But what makes the original trilogy really interesting is that it’s the story of Luke Skywalker, but mixed into this space western milieu of bounty hunters, pirates, rebellions, dictatorships, and a rich world. What made the prequels so dull is that they drove the familiar Jedi vs. Sith narrative forward, brought almost nothing new to the series, and pushed all the quirks of the series to the fringes, aside from Jar Jar Binks.
We’ve already had six films about the Skywalker family, and a new generation of Skywalkers sounds boring, frankly. Isn’t it time to move on from that narrative and use the classic era to springboard off into a new direction with new challenges, characters, conflicts, and foes? Perhaps this is why “Star Wars: Rogue One” — which sounds like an espionage movie within the context of the “Star Wars” universe, sounds infinitely more interesting than what’s coming into focus for ‘The Force Awakens.’ But hey, I could be wrong and truly hope I am.
Meanwhile, in “Star Wars” related news, some keener “Star Wars” fans have spotted another easter egg centered on J.J. Abrams’ continued fan adoration for the Beastie Boys. What? Yes, that’s right. Abrams is a fan, and if you’ll recall the 2009 “Star Trek” featured the song “Sabotage” in it. Leaked images of a Hasbro Black Series action figure (via Jedi Insider) reveal an alien X-wing pilot named Ello Asty. io9 remind everyone this is a sly, possibly Cockney accented reference to the Beastie Boys’ 1998 album Hello Nasty. So that’s your super nerdy, huh?, “Star Wars” news for the day.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens December 18, and “Star Wars: Episode VIII” open on May 26th, 2017. Overall thoughts?