There’s something I need to tell you, right off the top, but you need to promise not to discredit everything I say because of it. Promise? OK.
I’m not a “Star Wars” fan.
I don’t dislike the movies, but I don’t really like them either. I have a passing familiarity with them (I do make my livelihood writing about movies, after all), but haven’t found much of a need to make a point of sitting down and watching them again. I have a good enough idea of what’s up — space, lightsabers, brother-sister lovin’ and some major daddy issues, as well as Ewan McGregor and Harrison Ford in tight Jedi pants — from my times watching it in various after-school care programs a decade and a half ago. (Though I do remember the teachers trying to distract us from certain parts of the movie — are there dirty parts in “Star Wars”? Maybe I should watch it again.)
Anyway, as an impartial yet informed observer, I’m here to ask exactly one question: Why are you so mad about this casting announcement, “Star Wars” fans? Everything’s going OK. Let’s talk out a few of the complaints that are floating around out there and see what we can do about looking on the bright side of things.
Some corners of the internet have bemoaned the fact that there were only two women included in yesterday’s announcement. Here’s the thing: There were only two women at the table read. Sure, two out of 13 isn’t the greatest of ratios, but consider this: There’s no way there are only 13 speaking parts in that movie. There are still cast members yet to be announced, and it’s not a reach to assume that one of the TBD cast members will be for the part that Lupita Nyong’o met with director J.J. Abrams for. To add another assumption to that pile, Nyong’o isn’t reading for bit parts these days — it’s gonna be an important role, when it is eventually cast.
The fact that Daisy Ridley, a virtual unknown, is a new addition to the cast is also fantastic. The safe choice would have been for Abrams to toss a Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone, a universally beloved young actress, into the part. Instead, we’re getting a fresh performance from someone totally unfamiliar.
Let’s also not overlook the fact that there’s typically only one decently sized female role in the Lucas-era “Star Wars” films. People know Leia, and they know Natalie Portman’s Princess Amidala, and that’s about as far as the female touch goes in these movies. And, no, Anakin’s mom doesn’t count. Having Carrie Fisher and Ridley in the cast, as well as the probable addition of another significant female role, is a good sign. It’s not necessarily the fourth hour of the Today Show, but it’s more female agency than the franchise has seen before.
Diversifying the Universe
The other big complaint, aside from the number of women in the announced cast, is the race breakdown on offer. Let’s do a little quick math: Of 13 cast members, look first at the six returning from the original trilogy. Yes, all are white, but of those six, three are playing non-human roles, which, in my view, makes race sort of a non-issue. They don’t even get to wear their own faces.
That leaves the seven newcomers. Andy Serkis will likely play a non-human. It hasn’t been confirmed, but given his talent for mo-cap and voicework, it would be more surprising if he actually did play a human. From what we know, John Boyega is the lead, and Oscar Isaac, who is Cuban and Guatemalan, apparently has a huge part as well. Ridley is reportedly the third lead. That leaves Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver and Max von Sydow as three white male additions to the cast. It’s not the greatest of ratios, but let’s take a look back at the original movies. A rainbow coalition they are not. We’re making progress, here.
To put it into perspective, let’s look at another massively popular movie franchise with an ensemble cast: “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Of the six Avengers, five are white males, and the other is Scarlett Johansson. The race problem isn’t a new one, nor is it a rare one. In the case of “Star Wars: Episode VII,” it isn’t the worst one we’ve seen.
On top of all the casting grumbling, I, as a non-devotee, am overall surprised to see the level of pessimism any “Star Wars” news is met with from its loyal fan army. It’s been nine long years since the last of the prequel movies came out. I understand that the prequels weren’t fan favorites (I liked the parts with Ewan McGregor, but I was also coming off a serious “Moulin Rouge!” trip) but these are new movies with a new director. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s willing to give these additions to the canon a chance, and the cameras haven’t even started rolling on the first one yet.
There will be other news to come out of the new “Star Wars” flicks, and inevitably, some of it might be upsetting. Some of it won’t be. Let’s just have a new hope and wait and see what “Episode VII” brings, shall we?
“Star Wars: Episode VII” opens in theaters on December 18,2015.