‘Star Wars” Next Challenge: Making Its Cast Matter

'Star Wars' Cast: Next Challenge Is

Star Warsannounced its new cast this week, which of course lit up the Internet like someone had just blown up the Death Star.

Which is kind of strange, since at least in the last “Star Wars” trilogy, George Lucas’ clumsy scripting and emphasis on digital filmmaking managed to make actors almost irrelevant to the process.

That will change, hopefully, with the new movies, and at least qualitatively speaking, it’s one of the biggest challenges facing the new team of filmmakers.

Anticipation for the films ensures they’ll be popular. How well they satisfy a fan base as protective of a franchise as the “Star Wars” faithful is potentially another matter.

PHOTOS: Meet the Cast of ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

Certainly, the original “Star Wars” benefited from Harrison Ford’s roguish charm, Mark Hamill’s boyish enthusiasm, Carrie Fisher’s plucky princess, and the gravity provided by those two great British actors, Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, as well as James Earl Jones’ voice as Darth Vader.

By the second trilogy, though, Lucas – with his stubborn insistence on writing and directing all of them – had seriously compromised character in the service of technological wizardry and arcane plotting. Procedural matters involving the Senate were discussed at length. And it was demonstrated even Liam Neeson could be handcuffed when saddled with a cute (and immaculately conceived) kid, Jar Jar Binks and trying to explain the mystery of midi-chlorians.

There were grand visual flourishes, and the crowd-pleasing sight of Yoda actually engaging in a full-on light-saber duel. The third movie darkened considerably, and in its closing flurry effectively brought the story, as it were, back to square one.

Yet even actors as formidable as Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor struggled with the clunky dialogue and production approach, which felt so enamored (or perhaps more accurately, preoccupied) with the spectacle as to short-change the drama.

The second trilogy also saw a significant drop in revenue from the first film to the second. “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, while “Attack of the Clones” was down nearly 40% to $649 million — an indication disappointment in the product can exact a financial toll (though hardly enough to dissuade Disney, Lucasfilm’s new owner, from wanting to exploit the property at every turn).

Having the original central trio back will imbue the new films with an element of nostalgia, even if they’re likely to have relatively modest roles. That leaves the next generation, who should be going into this experience with eyes wide open – aware of the enormous scrutiny it will bring, and the simultaneous reality that major sci-fi and fantasy tentpoles in general (and “Star Wars” in particular) has a mixed track record as a career launching pad.

Perhaps nothing was more illuminating, in fact, than seeing Hayden Christensen (a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker) in “Shattered Glass” – a fascinating true story, casting him as a disgraced journalist – during the last trilogy. Surely, the compelling actor in that film couldn’t be the same fellow who kept whining to Portman’s Padme about how Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council were overly critical and holding him back.

If this sounds hypercritical as well, rest assured it comes from someone who thoroughly enjoyed the first trilogy and approached the second with high hopes and expectations. Indeed, “Star Wars” might be its very own health kick, providing aging baby boomers an incentive to spend a few more minutes on the treadmill, trying to ensure they’re around long enough to see the story through to the end.

Much of the franchise’s success can be traced to that sense of ownership, to fans feeling like they have a stake in “Star Wars,” with each harboring scenarios on how and where it should go. Of course, that ranges from old-fashioned enthusiasm to a smaller contingent that fails to realize however invested they are in Lucas’ galaxy, it’s not their story to tell.

Publicly, anyway, Lucas largely shrugged off most criticism directed at the more recent films, but one suspects the new stewards of his creation are acutely aware of the weight they’ve inherited. As for steering the starship in the right direction, restoring the importance of flesh-and-blood actors to the “Star Wars” universe would be a good place to start.

That said, the new stars of “Star Wars” should be mindful of history. Because when it comes to such iconic roles serving as a springboard to other things, to paraphrase an old Jedi, these aren’t the gigs you’re looking for.

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  1. Duder NME says:

    Yet again, another blogger whose precious, rigid expectations went unfulfilled, for the very reason stated in his article, and summing up subjective conjecture as fact. You do realize that The Empire Strikes Back, not Attack of the Clones, is still the lowest box office earner, even with the Special Edition release, while you neglected to mention the revenue boost gained from Revenge of the Sith. Meanwhile, keep touting how toy sales alone affected the prequels’ quality and ignore the facts that Boba Fett has had far more merch devoted to him than Jar Jar ever did, and that such an income was responsible for funding all the films outside of A New Hope, aiding Lucas to keep his vision his own. Perspective: it does a mind good.

  2. Duke Zill says:

    John Boyega is NOT African American! Unbelievable ignorance.

  3. Lee Mastroddi says:

    Is it too much to ask that professional paid journalists stop misusing the phrase “immaculately conceived”? I am not at all religious, yet I know that the term has nothing whatsoever to do with what he is suggesting it means. It’s easy to look up and find that out!

  4. mike says:

    Isn’t it funny everyone is going on about oh wow look who’s playing in star wars …what about every single hopeful that tried to get a part including me im not disgruntled but feel it was such a waste of time asking for such a worldwide search when it was certain they had who they wanted ..and most who went to casting auditions just handed a sheet without being seen or just looked at and plain rejected …im a long time star wars fan but the fiasco with the open auditions leading to who got casted …has seriously left a very bitter taste to many who could act

    thanks Disney

    • I am sorry to hear about your audition experience. As a fellow actor, that does sound pretty rough. Are you certain that they didn’t cast ANYONE from the open auditions though? It may have been that they had people in mind for the lead parts already for sure, but they wanted to flesh out the rest of the cast with unknowns from the open auditions. Can we know for sure until they really go into heavy production? Just a thought.

  5. bitter trekkie says:

    The new actors have the advantage of not having Lucas around as a writer or director. I’m sure they’ll look great by comparison with their poor predecessors.

  6. Tim says:

    How about everyone not worry about this movie until we are at least within the same year it will be released? It’s kinda hard to ask a movie to make it’s cast matter when the movie hasn’t started filming yet and is still 19 months away…

  7. Dean says:

    Lucas did attempt to recruit Lawrence Kasdan and Irv Kirschner, but both declined very early on. Lucas didn’t ”stubbornly insist” on writing and directing.

    • CNU says:

      I’ve never heard of Kasdan or Kirschner being approached to be involved in the prequels. The only involvement I’ve ever heard of about them was very preliminary work they did while the original trilogy were being produced.

      • Mark says:

        Dean is correct, Kasdan was approached to rewrite Phantom Menace but declined, saying it should be entirely “George’s thing”. I’m not sure what you mean with your second sentence though. Kasdan wrote both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and Kershner directed Empire Strikes Back, hardly ‘very preliminary work’ as your comment suggests.

    • Adam says:

      Yet it’s his stubborn insistence on sacrificing a good story for the sake of toy sales during RotJ that is likely the reason they declined.

  8. MovieGeek says:

    Brilliant article!!

  9. Tracy says:

    Pretty much lol.

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