Thursday, May 1, 2014

A New Hope? The Cast Reveal for Star Wars: Episode VII

Earlier this week, LucasFilm officially announced via the official Star Wars site the cast for the upcoming franchise reboot and/or sequel, Star Wars: Episode VII. Of course, as with most projects from director J.J. Abrams, there's not a lot known about the film yet, and indeed, the cast announcement only names the actors, not the characters that they will play. The cast includes original Star Wars players Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fischer (Princess Leia), and Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2), which is keeping with the promise that the film will focus on the "next generation" of this story, as well as providing the requisite fan service. New faces include John Boyega (Attack the Block!), Daisy Ridley (a relative newcomer), Adam Driver (Girls), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings films), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time), and Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal), the lattermost being the most surprising addition, given his celebrated stature and long career. I'd be willing to bet he'll follow in Sir Alec Guinness' footsteps and play an older Jedi mentor. Or maybe he'll go the Ian McDiramid path and play an Emperor Palpatine-type villain.

I haven't written much about this project for a few reasons. For one, I don't want this blog to be a "click-bait" trend chaser, dumping out news and rumors about every high-profile project. And much of that has to do with the fact that, honestly, I getting big-budget franchise fatigue. Five years ago, the idea of new movies with Spider-Man, Godzilla, the X-Men, et. al., would have been super-exciting for me. And now? I'm far more eager to see Boyhood than Transformers: Age of Extinction. I just can't muster up the energy for every single one of these things.

There is one more big reason. I was only four years old when George Lucas announced, in 1993, that he would be making a brand new trilogy of Star Wars films to accompany the original trilogy. I grew up watching the original trilogy on VHS, then on DVD. And when I was a geeky adolescent, I enjoyed the new trilogy (especially Revenge of the Sith), but even then didn't quite get the same rush. Now I'm a geeky adult, and the prequel trilogy has greatly diminished in my estimation (how I sat through Attack of the Clones back then and found it exciting is the great mystery of my life). Though there are bright moments in these films (again, Revenge of the Sith), I see them more as shameless cash-ins than proper extensions of the Star Wars universe.

So, enter Episode VII, which will no doubt be part of a new trilogy (if not more). Lucas is stepping aside from writing and directing, leaving the former to Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back) and the latter to Abrams. It's Abrams presence that gives me pause. Yes, he's responsible for a number of great science-fiction television and movies, including one of my favorite television shows of all time, Lost. He not only revived the Star Trek franchise, but made it more profitable than it had ever been. But he achieved this particular feat by essentially turning Star Trek into Star Wars, removing the former's headier philosophical elements and making his two Trek films zippy adventure flicks. I worry that the new Star Wars won't really be all that distinguished from those Star Trek films, and this new franchise won't stand out in the crowded science-fiction field.

I mean, I know it's going to make beaucoup dollars; it could just be the cast sitting around in a circle while Harrison Ford glares at them for 120 minutes and it would still rack up +$100 million on opening weekend. But even since 2005, when Revenge of the Sith came out, the blockbuster field has become much more crowded. Even the film's December 2015 release date isn't a guarantee, since "summer" movies are no longer limited to the summer anymore. It's a lot harder to make a case that you're movie is the biggest event of the year than it used to be. If the film isn't great, quality-wise, it's going to have a hard time convincing me it was worth it.

So, basically, I'm approaching this with trepidation. If nothing else, hopefully it give a much-wider audience the opportunity to "discover" Boyega, Isaac, and Driver, all of whom are terrific actors worthy of great success. But I just can't get terribly excited about this.

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