In case you missed it — as if anyone with an Internet connection could! — DisneyLucas officially announced the cast of Star Wars Episode VII last week. To no one’s great surprise, all of our heroes from the original trilogy are returning, with the notable and lamentable exception of Billy Dee Williams. I think I understand his absence, though, having just met the man at the Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience a couple weeks ago. He’s had two hip replacements in the years since Lando Calrissian took down the second Death Star, and he’s moving very slowly and gingerly these days, as anyone who caught his recent appearance on Dancing with the Stars can attest. I doubt he could physically endure any kind of action-hero stuff like he did back in Empire, although it would’ve been cool to at least see him playing cards with Han Solo or something.
Among the new cast members are Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame — no word yet on whether he’ll be playing a computer-generated character like his signature role of Gollum, or appearing in his own face — and the great Max von Sydow, a distinguished actor with a lengthy resume, but who is probably best known to my tribe of Gen-X nerds as Ming the Merciless in the 1980 film Flash Gordon. I imagine he’s there to continue the Star Wars-ian tradition of classy older actors appearing in secondary roles (see also Guinness, Alec; Cushing, Peter; and Lee, Christopher). I’ll also bet a Republic credit he’s playing a villain, possibly even a Sith Lord come to make trouble for whatever form the Jedi have taken under Master Luke Skywalker’s guidance.
In addition, the cast includes a bunch of younger actors, none of whom I recognize from anything.
Based on the make-up of this group, I strongly suspect we’re looking at a “passing the torch to the next generation” type of story, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the original-trilogy cast members have relatively small parts, if not mere cameos. Possibly Luke will be more central to the plot; since Mark Hamill is about the same age Alec Guinness was when they filmed the original Star Wars, it’s logical to assume Luke will now become the wizened mentor figure for one of the younger characters. But really, until we get some idea of the movie’s plot, or at least a title or logline, it’s pointless to speculate. And that’s basically all I have to say about Episode VII at this time.
If I sound uncharacteristically aloof about a major new Star Wars project, well… I suppose it’s because I am, for a couple of reasons. First, I am very concerned that JJ Abrams is at the helm of this project. I utterly loathe what he did to my other personal touchstone, my beloved Star Trek, with his flashy-but-empty-headed reboot films, and I fear that he’ll have no better understanding of what a good Star Wars movie ought to be. I dread the possibility of an Episode VII filled with obnoxious lens flares and a storyline that seems to be constantly moving but never really takes you anywhere. At least Abrams jettisoned his usual writing partners for this one and is working with Lawrence Kasdan, who cowrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. With Kasdan on board, we might get a screenplay that at least feels like Star Wars, and maybe even has some character development too. We’ll see, I guess.
The other issue that’s keeping me from getting too enthused about more Star Wars is, frankly, my fellow fans. It only took an hour or so after last week’s news surfaced before I saw the first round of complaints… in this case, that there are only two women on the cast list and how is it possible that the Star Wars universe can still be so sexist after 40 years? Never mind that we know nothing yet about the plot of this new movie, or how much screentime the two women cast members will be getting compared to the males, or who the protagonist of the movie might actually be. Hey, here’s a crazy possibility for you: maybe the new Campbellian hero about to take their great journey is Leia’s daughter and the movie focuses on the two of them, with all the menfolk relegated to supporting roles! Probably not, I’ll admit, but my point is, we don’t know anything yet, so how can we already be complaining?
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not dismissing or belittling concerns about sexism. It’s a valid criticism: Female characters really don’t fare very well in the genre films that dominate popular culture these days, and Star Wars, which looms above everything else in the zeitgeist, is in a position to take the lead and set trends for years to come. A new entry in the series really ought to reflect the changes we’ve seen in our society since 1977. And chances are, it’ll fail in that regard. But we don’t know yet that it will. And I’m troubled that people who supposedly love this franchise are already bitching before we see even one frame of film. But really that’s just par for the course these days, isn’t it?
I remember another time, before the prequels, before the Special Editions, when the original trilogy was beloved by pretty much everyone of my generation. It was the closest thing to a lingua franca we had. Stuck for something to make small talk about? There was always Star Wars. When I met my best friend 21 years ago on the streets of Cambridge, England, two young guys from different parts of the U.S. who didn’t immediately seem to have much in common, we bonded by sharing our memories and thoughts of Star Wars over pints of Guinness. It was something special, something we both treasured. Something we all treasured.
Then came the Disillusionment of 1999, and the long period of darkness I think of as The Great Fanboy Wars, when everybody had an opinion and was determined to make damn sure everyone else knew what it was. And suddenly, this wonderful, cherished thing became a source of never-ending contention and argument, something you really didn’t want to bring up anymore. Whatever else you may say about it, pro or con, the prequel trilogy sucked all the fun out of being a Star Wars fan.
Long-time readers may recall an entry I wrote shortly after Revenge of the Sith, in which I declared that I was tired of the rancor and hostility that now surrounded something I just wanted to love, tired of feeling like I had to defend my opinions all the time, or at least listen to everyone else’s. That was nearly 10 years ago… and nothing has changed. You still can’t mention the prequels in mixed company without someone going off on a spittle-flecked rant about Jar Jar Binks, or what a hack George Lucas is. Worse yet, all that animus has started to spill over to the original trilogy, as well; a lot of people now believe it really wasn’t that good either, which is a worse piece of revisionism than all the CG dinosaurs Uncle George ever dreamed of inserting into Mos Eisley. It’s no wonder George finally just wanted to wash his hands of the whole damn thing.
When Episode VII was first announced, I briefly hoped that it might somehow heal the rift that was torn open by The Great Fanboy Wars, that people might come to love Star Wars without reservation again. But the moment I found myself sourly thinking I couldn’t enjoy the casting news for even a full hour before somebody started bitching about something, I knew. Ep VII is going to be more of the same. Even if it’s the greatest entry in the entire series, the fans will whine and moan more than they’ll praise and enjoy. And I just can’t allow myself to get too swept up in all of that. I don’t need the rage, I just don’t. There’s too much of it out there these days, directed at and coming from too many things…