Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reactions to Star Wars VII cast announcement

For tonight's entertainment-themed entry, I'm taking advantage of today being the original Star Wars Day, which is the anniversary of the premiere of Episode IV, to make good on my promise to post reactions to last month's cast announcement for Episode VII, which I made first in Pyramids on Star Wars Day and then in Music for Revenge of the Sixth.*

First, here's what I posted at fandom_lounge on JournalFen last month. Star Wars: Episode VII Cast Announced (Warning: page seems to display properly with Internet Explorer only; Firefox and Chrome just retrieve text, missing the photo of the entire cast at Pinewood Studios.)

The Star Wars team is thrilled to announce the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in the new film.

Director J.J. Abrams says, "We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."

Star Wars: Episode VII is being directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer. The movie opens worldwide on December 18, 2015.
One of the items that only displayed properly using Internet Explorer is this publicity still, which is much easier to see at

The article pointed out an imbalance in the cast.
It should be noted, there are only two women and nine men (and two droids) in the cast announcement. Of course, with a large "space opera" ensemble, there will be many more cast along the way, and this doesn't preclude the possibility of more cameos for returnees to the franchise.
Follow over the jump for more about that angle and others dealing with the casting and Disney's reviving the franchise.

First, some info about the actors new to the franchise from
Going down the list of the new castmembers, both Driver and Isaac saw their stars rise in the last few years. Aside from appearing together in "Inside Llewyn Davis," which Isaac starred in and was nominated for multiple awards for, Driver, rumored for the role of the villain of "Star Wars: Episode VII" for a few months, has starred in HBO's Girls.

Boyega is still at an early point in his career, but starred in the grounded low-budget "Attack the Block" as one of several ordinary kids trying to fend off an alien invasion. Serkis is a genre heavyweight, having starred, thanks to his motion capture abilities, as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films, and as Caesar in the new Planet of the Apes films. Gleeson is also sharing screen time with Isaac in an upcoming film called "Ex Machina" (no, not the comic book), and was the elder Weasley brother Bill in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

Max von Sydow is a veteran character actor with multiple genre and sci-fi/fantasy credits across over 150 roles and a 65-year acting career. Some notable films for Star Wars fans include "Flash Gordon," "Dune," "Conan the Barbarian," the voice of Vigo in "Ghostbusters II," "Minority Report," and more. He too shared screentime with Isaac, in 2010's Robin Hood. Daisy Ridley is a newcomer to film, with only a handful of guest star TV and short film credits to her name.
There's more about the cast at ABC's Where Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and the New Cast of 'Star Wars: Episode VII' Come From?

As for the gender imbalance, Annalee Newitz of io9 has a great rant about it in Hey Star Wars -- Where the Hell Are the Women?
This morning we all delighted in the casting announcement for Star Wars VII. And then the reality set in: There is only one new female character being added to what is arguably the world's most beloved mythic series. It's as if 51 percent of the population cried out in pain, and was suddenly silenced.
Leia would still be there, as the fighting princess — but maybe there would be a female fighter pilot whose swagger could rival Han Solo's, or a female Sith strutting through some scenery-chewing lines. Nope. There's one female name other than Carrie Fisher's on that cast list: the relative unknown Daisy Ridley, whom fans are speculating might play the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Of course, more cast members will be announced, but this is probably our core cast — the main characters.

Having Ridley is great, but one new female lead in a cast of men? That's how we launch ourselves into the future of this series, which inspires little girls with pink swords, as well as old girls like myself who graduated to sharper weapons long ago? Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)? Mythic tales are supposed to open up possibilities, not shut them down.
We already know that this movie won't cleave to the Star Wars Extended Universe, where there are a ton of amazing female characters ranging from evil to superheroic. So I'm not pissed off that JJ Abrams isn't giving me a live-action version of Mara Jade or Ahsoka or Asajj Ventress. Instead, I'm stunned that Kasdan and Abrams' imaginations appear to have failed where the many authors of the EU didn't. Why not invent new female characters? It's not as if having a gender-balanced EU drove fans away. Far from it. Indeed, many of the Star Wars creators today, like Clone Wars creator Dave Filoni, drew their inspiration from EU comics and books.
I'll be back with more about the relationship between the Disney revival and the Extended Universe, but first I'll conclude the rant.
Myths are powerful things, because we learn who we are by telling stories. When are we going to let little girls and kids of diverse races have fantasies as powerful as those given to white boys? When?

UPDATE: Responding to these criticisms, JJ Abrams has said that he has a "substantial role" yet to fill in the cast, and that it will be a female part. We can't wait to find out more.
Here's the relevant paragraph from that Hollywood Reporter article.
Earlier this year, THR revealed that the production was seeking a mixed-raced female in her 20s. The director did meet with 12 Years a Slave actress Lupita Nyong'o just before the Oscars, although it is not known for what part. And at one point, speculation centered on unknown British actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers. It is unclear if that young female part still exists or if it has been removed due to rewrites.
That would be an improvement.

Finally, The Mary Sue published a rant after the cast announcement, The Star Wars Expanded Universe is Dead, Long Live the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  Here are the parts I found most illuminating.
So Disney has decided that they’re going to nuke most of the previously established Star Wars canon. I think this is as good a reason as any to finally bury the destructive concept of canon in fictional works. Note that this does not mean that I am against stories in continuity with each other, that’s not my position at all. I love continuity, and the story options that it enables. But even as I enjoy continuity, I don’t see why we should be judging stories as more or less significant than another on any basis but their merits. And that’s all canon does, it arbitrarily privileges some continuities over others. Why should we recognize that kind of a distinction? Why should we give a soulless corporate entity that kind of power over our culture? Because that’s what we’re really talking about here.

Canon is, at its root, only a way to designate this story as more important than that story, more significant, more “true.” The term canon, as applied to fictional works, initially came about as a manner to draw a distinction between the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and fan works that used the same characters. It was initially more or less a joke, a way of reifying and exaggerating the importance of Doyle’s work when compared to his imitators.

But since that initial, half-in-jest start to the concept, it has gained an almost unholy amount of power. People started believing in this, as if it somehow mattered. Arguments about canon have become one of the great plagues of fandom, a billowing swarm of cognitive locusts that threatens to swoop in and strip any conversation of fun at any time. Canon means that if someone writes a story in your favorite setting that you don’t like, and they have the mojo to get it declared canon by the mystic copyright fairies in the sky, that now they haven’t just told a story that you don’t like, they have defaced your childhood. And when that happens, especially to long running properties, the consequences can be dire once someone with a grudge gets in the writer’s seat.
So now Episode II‘s “I don’t like sand” speech is canon, but Bastila’s fall to the Dark Side isn’t. Disney would have us believe that this means Anikin’s whining is more important than the actually touching and painful story in KOTOR. I’m sure Disney has all sorts of compelling financial interests in making such a stupid proclamation. I’m less clear about why any of us would care about their opinion on the matter.
This example annoys me, and not because it's wrong.  It's because I agree with it.  I'm quite a big fan of the Bioware Old Republic games, as anyone who was paying attention when I referenced Star Wars: The Old Republic would know.  I've played that game quite a lot.  Bastilia, Revan, and their descendants are enjoyable characters, much more so than the tragic Anakin Skywalker.

But enough of me.  Back to the rant.
No, really: why the hell do we care what Disney thinks about this? They don’t own Star Wars. We own Star Wars. They just hold the licences.
Canon serves no narrative function. The cues and signals that creators can use to delineate one continuity from another are wholly unimportant to the actual quality of the stories contained within those continuities. What’s worse is that the modern concept of canon is almost entirely a tool of big business, used to privilege one of their product lines over the others, even as they make money on other, non-canon story-lines.
So, so very much of our culture is now owned by corporate entities which consider them little more than assets to balance a ledger. To them, canon is only a tool that can be used to enhance one product line at the expense of another. It’s an absurd state of affairs to let someone else’s accountant tell us which stories we are supposed to pay more attention to.
We should get rid of the concept of canon entirely, since all it does is give copyright holders (many of whom are immortal, inhuman entities which view us as nothing more than a resource to be exploited) a tool with which to exert control over our culture.

And it is our culture. We’re the ones who care about it, who find meaning in it. We’re the ones that give it life. We should be the ones who decide which parts of our culture we think are the most important. Not some boardroom where rich people decide what kinds of stories get privileged in our spaces. There’s a reason why fanon and headcanon are so popular these days; we’re getting sick of being told which fiction is “true” and which “false.” We’re getting sick of seeing the stories and characters we love being debased, spun off, re-branded, and mutilated.

This latest absurd declaration from Disney about what is and isn’t true in the Star Wars galaxy should be canon’s epitaph. Let it die. Let it all die. And when it’s gone, and we’ve danced around the pyre, let’s build something new in its place. Something better. Something we control.
Well, look at that--a call to take back our culture from the corporations.  I'm impressed.

*I know I promised Godzilla in last week's The economics of anime and manga plus bonus movie links, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up.  It was also the last.  I'll get around to that in the next week or so.

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