Long ago in a galaxy far, far away — or, more like two years ago when Disney purchased Lucasfilm — Star Wars fans maybe could have guessed that original stars such as Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher would be returning to the universe that George Lucas built.
The Jedi faithful probably weren’t prescient enough, however, to predict some of the other arrivals to the ways of the Force: Andy Serkis from The Lord of the Rings movies, Oscar-nominated legend Max von Sydow and Adam Driver, a former Marine best known for his role in the HBO comedy series Girls.
The main cast of the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII movie (due out Dec. 18, 2015) was revealed on Tuesday, and with his first Star Wars film, director J.J. Abrams has gathered an eclectic group of actors for the franchise’s future.
“They have a good group of people who have a mix of demonstrated talent and fresh resumes. (These are) people who can fill into any role they need to and who won’t be recognized for something they’ve done that will take audiences out of the movie,” says Eric Geller of the Star Wars fan site TheForce.net.
But fans were also excited when Lucas put a talented group including Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor together for 1999’s first Star Wars prequel, the much-maligned The Phantom Menace, reminds Mike Ryan, senior editor for Screencrush.com.
The big difference with the new crew? “Han Solo is sitting right there with them,” Ryan says.
Ford, Fisher and Hamill have been rumored for months to reprise their roles as Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker — arguably the most famous sci-fi trio in history.
That wasn’t good enough for Abrams, though. He also signed on stalwarts such as Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker to play droids C-3PO and R2-D2, plus Peter Mayhew as Han’s Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca.
One notable snub, though, is Billy Dee Williams, notes Geller, who expected Williams to return as Cloud City huckster-turned-hero Lando Calrissian.
While Williams might still have a cameo, “Abrams has to make a movie that features Han, Luke and Leia, while handing the movie off to the newcomers,” Ryan adds. “Perhaps there just wasn’t enough room for Lando.”
The returning six actors are fan favorites yet are getting up in age — Ford is 71, Hamill 62, Fisher 57 — and this is most likely Abrams’ way to send them off in style while also passing the torch to a younger generation of potential icons.
Like Lucas with his original Star Wars in 1977, Abrams balanced slim resumes with vaunted ones to fill out his cast. And while no characters, good or bad, Jedi or Sith, have been assigned to any of the actors, Abrams cast a trio of youngsters much like Lucas’ core three.
When they joined the first Star Wars, Ford was a veteran of TV roles and had a credit in Lucas’ American Graffiti in 1973; Fisher boasted of a supporting role in Shampoo and a TV movie with her mom Debbie Reynolds; and Hamill hadn’t even been seen on a big screen.
Similarly, Episode VII cast members John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson and Daisy Ridley are all relative unknowns in the U.S. Boyega starred in the cult British alien-invasion flick Attack the Block and is “an excellent choice,” Ryan says; Gleeson is the son of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and had roles in the last two Harry Potter films; and Ridley’s first big-screen credit is for a yet-to-be-released movie from last year, according to the TV/movie database IMDb.
“This is going to make her career,” Geller says of Ridley, whom he guesses may play Han Solo’s daughter. “If that’s the case, I think it’s a great choice to pick someone in her position.”
Driver and Oscar Isaac may be more familiar to audiences. Isaac had a breakout role as a folk musician in last year’s Coen brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis, while Driver is famous for Girls.
Meanwhile, Abrams adds some geek royalty in Serkis and von Sydow.
Fans are probably wondering if Serkis will be seen as himself or whether he’ll don the motion-capture suit for which he’s become famous. He’s helped bring life to the creepy, computer-generated Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, as well as Caesar the ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and July’s sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Lucas brought in Hollywood thespians in Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing for that first Star Wars movie, and 85-year-old von Sydow fills that role in Episode VII and is famous for his role in 1980’s Flash Gordon.
“It’s funny that Lucas originally wanted the Flash Gordon rights, couldn’t get them, then made Star Wars instead,” Ryan says. “Now, Star Wars has Ming the Merciless.”