Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The casting of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac boosts Star Wars: Episode VII from "Why is this being made?" to "Shit done got interesting"

More flare than a waiter from Office Space
(Photo source: Tor)
"I'm not going to play Luke again. He's over. He had a beginning, a middle and an end," said Mark Hamill to me in a phone interview we recorded on a late Sunday night in 1998 for a Batman: The Animated Series-related episode of the terrestrial radio incarnation of A Fistful of Soundtracks.

Flash forward to 2014. Disney has finally confirmed--after about a year of "Lucasfilm's been talking to us"-type comments to the press from the original Star Wars trilogy stars--that Hamill will reunite with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C3P0) and Kenny Baker (R2D2) for J.J. Abrams' tentatively titled Star Wars: Episode VII.

So much for "I'm not going to play Luke again."

Wow, this new two-color Instagram filter sucks.
A Star Wars: Episode VII cast read-through at Pinewood Studios
I'm what you call a lapsed Star Wars fan. I love the first two Star Wars films. That's about it. I don't care for the rest of the franchise, although Genndy Tartakovsky's cel-animated Clone Wars shorts from the early 2000s were pretty solid and way more satisfying than George Lucas' dreadful and woodenly executed prequel trilogy (as is Matthew Haley and David Walker's fake Blackstar Warrior trailer, which I still wish would be made into an actual movie). So when Hamill, Ford and Fisher started giving hints to the press about reprising their roles in Episode VII, I was both glad for their return and skeptical about it because the last time Ford reunited with a former co-star for a Lucasfilm project, it resulted in another post-1989 Lucasfilm sequel I'd like to have Lacuna'd from my memory: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

One of the reasons why Crystal Pepsi was underwhelming was because Crystal Gravy was badly in need of a rewrite from Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (Kasdan, who, along with Ford, wanted Han Solo to be killed off in that threequel but were both overruled, isn't to blame for the problems of that film). Abrams' recruitment of Kasdan for the Episode VII screenplay was the first good sign about Episode VII. (However, I'm still concerned about Abrams as a director: are we getting the Abrams who directed both the still-excellent Lost pilot and the first and best Chris Pine Star Trek film--and also got a great villainous performance out of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III--or the Abrams who directed the mediocre, Khan-whitewashing Star Trek Into Darkness?)

An equally promising sign of things to come is this week's confirmed casting of John Boyega, the British star of one of my favorite sci-fi flicks of the last 10 years, Attack the Block, and Oscar Isaac, who was terrific as a dickish '60s folk singer in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, as two of the new Star Wars leads. (With Isaac's Llewyn co-star Adam Driver on board in a villain role, it'll be especially fun to see Isaac go from crashing on Driver's couch to firing ion cannons at him. And with Max von Sydow playing what I assume to be Driver's Sith master too? Sweet.)

I've noticed that Boyega, who received accolades at Sundance this year for his performance as a South Central L.A. ex-con in Imperial Dreams (a film that, by the way, was scored by the talented Flying Lotus, who ought to be scoring more films), is first billed in the non-alphabetical cast list in Disney's Episode VII casting announcement. Is this a hint that this trilogy under Abrams' direction will be the first Star Wars trilogy with a person of color as the lead? As someone who wants to see more diversity in, well, everything, I sincerely hope so. As early as Attack the Block, Boyega proved that he's capable of the gravitas that's required to spearhead a sci-fi/fantasy franchise like Star Wars.

John Boyega prepares to go all Ghost Dog on an alien dog.
John Boyega in Attack the Block
"Moses' trajectory from irresponsible thug to adult who decides to own up to his mistakes... is believable and compelling, thanks to Boyega," I wrote back in 2011, when I first saw Attack the Block. "He has a couple of intriguing little moments where the badass and authoritative gang leader façade disappears, and with some great acting by Boyega with just his eyes, we see a scared kid who's in over his head and whom the film later reveals--in one of its best scenes--to be much younger than he appears to be."

Now envision Boyega bringing all those moments of believability and vulnerability to a Jedi who's learning the ways of the Force, under the direction of a filmmaker who didn't take a 22-year break from directing that resulted in his storytelling skills becoming as rusty as the chassis of a Gonk droid. Perhaps my lapsed faith in Star Wars will finally be restored.

I have no idea who she is. Maybe some Downton Abbey nerd can tell me.
British newcomer Daisy Ridley will help keep Star Wars: Episode VII from turning into a sausage fest.

Hear the music of Star Wars during "AFOS Prime" and "Hall H" on AFOS. Star Wars is represented in both those blocks by the Empire Strikes Back score cues "The Battle of Hoth" and "The Rebel Fleet/End Title," by John Williams, who's returning to score Episode VII.

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