In-house ‘Star Wars’ expert weighs in on casting

In-house Star Wars expert weighs in on casting

Maybe we’re finally at the point where the award-winning “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” no longer loops repetitively in our heads, so it’s time to move on to another huge undertaking.

“Star Wars: Episode VII” has been cast with an admirable lack of overt-Disney cuteness, despite prior rumors after Disney’s 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm, director George Lucaås’s company behind the “Star Wars” franchise. But no Ryan Goslings, Zac Efrons or Selena Gomezes showed up to adopt the mantle of Jedi Knight for Disney’s Star Wars flick, set to debut in December 2015. Rather, director J.J. Abrams’ work-in-progress forayed to hire a bunch of unknown personalities, and as C-3PO would say, “Thank the maker.”

Of course, getting the old gang (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) back together is cause for excitement, but the addition of new faces and talent might be just what “Stars Wars” needs to rectify the old fans’ corrupted opinions after the travesty of the prequels.

Unfortunately, the only plot details come from vague character descriptions, which include a “Darth Vader-like villain,” a “Han Solo-type rogue character” and “the Solos’ daughter.” 

Abrams’ “Episode VII” takes place 30 years after “Return of the Jedi,” which in the “Star Wars” timeline, is 34 AB, or after the Battle of Yavin. The future film remains clouded in mystery, but the new cast members propose to reinvent the franchise.

The most exciting casting choice is the potential female leading character: Daisy Ridley. With little screen credit besides scarce appearances on TV, Ridley is the perfect brown-haired, brown-eyed attractive actress to play the daughter of Han and Leia Solo. For as much of a nobody as she is, Ridley portends to show, if not something awesome, at least something previously unseen.

Though I’m thrilled at the prospect of an unknown female lead, Ridley is certainly not the only newcomer. Other actors include Domhnall Gleeson (the best Weasley, Bill, from the Harry Potter series), Oscar Isaac (the titular character from the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”), Adam Driver (also from “Inside Llewyn Davis” and most notable for his role as Adam Sackler on “Girls”) and Jason Boyega (with little on his resume other than British film “Attack the Block” and a prominent role in the brand new “24: Live Another Day” miniseries). 

But the most interesting addition comes with Max von Sydow, whose acting credits stretch back to 1949 and include films in multiple languages. Von Sydow could make for an incredible villain à la Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin — he’s got a properly Imperial look about him.

The last major announcement, and what comes as a galactically unexpected casting, is that Andy Serkis, the motion-capture veteran who everyone should recognize as Gollum from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, will also have a role in the new film. Presumably, he’ll don the skeletal mo-cap suit once again to portray some sort of alien or beast, but will he be a hideous creature like Gollum or a mentor in the vein of Frank Oz’s Yoda? 

Serkis’s casting troubles me because part of what hurt the prequels was an over-reliance on computer animation. Though the film is science fiction and part of that definition denotes flashiness, laser beams and outer space, the original “Star Wars” boasted some of the best practical effects ever seen on the silver screen. Is it too much to ask for a mix of both practical and computer effects? Nevertheless, Serkis is a venerable actor and should still turn in another strong performance.

At this point, all we can do is speculate. The formerly canonical books offer a ton of areas in which to venture, but seeing as they have recently been redesignated as “Legends” and no longer codex, I wonder just how much will be adapted from the post- “Return of the Jedi” archive. 

The “Han Solo-type rogue” could be a character named Talon Karrde, a smuggler and information broker, who might be the perfect fit for Oscar Isaac. Andy Serkis could portray the alien Chiss Admiral Thrawn, one of the most complicated and brilliant villains ever written. Adam Driver might fit the role of Darth Caedus, as a considerably more youthful “Darth Vader-like villain.”

Truthfully, the new actors could fill 100 already qualified roles, and as much as this superfan would like to see Abrams do that, it’s unlikely. Some adaptations from the EU novels are to be expected, but I won’t be getting too hopeful about that prospect. Instead, I’d rather look forward to the new future of the franchise and the new hope that Ridley, Driver, Isaac, Serkis, Gleeson, Boyega and von Sydow will craft.

For the sake of comparison, Fisher, Ford and Hamill were about as unknown as these padawans when they signed on for “Star Wars” back in the day. Will the newcomers find the same success?

Details will surely trickle in, but likely at the pace of a Gamorrean. Until then, it’s best to make what we can of these new actors and dedicate some time to checking out their work. Dec. 18, 2015 is still far, far away.