One can imagine that, when it was announced J.J. Abrams would helm the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, the Bad Robot switchboard must have been immediately clogged with the names of ambitious young actors and actresses, desperate to travel to a galaxy far, far away. In terms of prestigious film roles, they don’t come with a higher profile than those in a Star Wars movie. While official and verified casting announcements have been few and far between for this top secret project, Variety is now reporting that the net is closing on a young male lead, with a possible shortlist being considered.
In terms of screen actors, first of all, there’s Ed Speelers – the charismatic young star who has been entertaining Downton Abbey fans with his performance as footman Jimmy Kent since 2012. Then, there’s John Boyega – the talented lead of 2011’s Attack The Block, who has been steadily showing up on the lists of casting agents for increasingly impressive projects. Finally, there’s Jesse Plemons – the Friday Night Lights regular who came into his own as the morally questionable, easily led Todd in Breaking Bad.
Two actors who have worked predominantly in the theatre are also, reportedly, under consideration. Matthew James Thomas was briefly a cast member of the troubled Broadway show Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, before joining the more successful Broadway production, Pippin. Ray Fisher made a splash in the New York theatre scene with his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in the off-Broadway production Fetch Clay, Make Man.
The role that is up for grabs is apparently that of a Jedi apprentice, since Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams’ recent re-writes of Michael Arndt’s first draft have shifted the focus away from the children of Han Solo and Princess Leia. This move of emphasis may also be in response to the stated desire of Abrams to have a more diverse main cast this time around.
So, what do we actually know about Star Wars: Episode VII, beyond the identity of the writers and director? Well, we know that production begins in May 2014, with the finished product set for release on December 18 2015. We know that it is a continuation of George Lucas’ legendary saga, and we know that – crucially – Girls star Adam Driver is being sought for the role of the villain. Carrie Fisher has repeatedly confirmed her involvement, and that she’ll be shooting for six months, with strong rumours indicating a similar situation for Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. The combination of the original cast members alongside the new names goes some way to support the suggestion that this film is very much a ‘passing of the torch’ – handing the Star Wars franchise over to a new generation.
Which of these eligible young men will fit best into that picture? The name of Jesse Plemons has been in the mix for several months now, showing up repeatedly where other names have fallen by the wayside. Both Matthew James Thomas and Ray Fisher, on the other hand, would fit Abrams’ alleged vision of a more unknown actor surrounded by recognizable faces (the original cast), and have proven themselves in more action-oriented roles, albeit on stage. Ed Speelers would easily fill the charisma vacuum that dominated Episodes I, II and III, and is perhaps, so far, little known to anyone that doesn’t watch Downton Abbey.
But, it is John Boyega that should lead the field here. He has proven himself to be a charismatic, intense and powerful performer, deftly handling drama while ably serving the humorous aspects of a script. He has the gravitas to face-off against any menace brought forth – potentially – by Adam Driver, the physical prowess to handle action, and the onscreen magnetism needed to hold his own against the intimidating likes of Fisher, Hamill and Ford.
While Abrams and his team work their way through their Star Wars: Episode VII casting list, it will hopefully be John Boyega’s name that rises to the top. In a field of strong contenders, the force is strong with this one.