Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Opinion: Why Star Wars Should Avoid Casting Major Actors

By: Selene Jade

Recently there has been news and speculation about what "major actors" might be cast in upcoming Star Wars movies. Many have suggested different Marvel actors. I feel that casting any well-known major actor would not fit with Star Wars, its traditions, or its current cast. Here is why:

One of the allures of Star Wars is its mythos - it's never been like other movies, and their casting has traditionally reflected that. Star Wars has steered clear of casting major actors in their films in main/supporting roles. I'm not including the spin-off movies because they don't tend to conform with traditional Star Wars; they've taken many artistic liberties in other areas as well, so I don't think it's a fair comparison.

"Are you saying Ewan Mcgregor, Natalie Portman and Liam Neeson aren't major actors?"

Yes - first let me clarify what I mean when I say major actors. I mean a well-known actor who is either in their prime or has a legacy that continues to permeate modern pop-culture (think Tom Hanks, or Jennifer Lawrence). Their popularity could be due to them starting in a small handful of popular movies, a large amount of smaller movies, or by being in a large franchise. I want to mention now that I know a lot of Star Wars fans are film buffs, as am I, but when I speak of popularity in terms of being well-known, I am referring to the general public, who aren't as familiar with these actors, so I am trying to show it from their perspective.

The three examples I gave are all of actors who right now are what I would call "major actors". However, in 1997 when filming started for episode I, they did not fit these qualifications. They were what I would classify as "established actors" or actors who are known for one or two recent films but have yet to really solidify themselves in that movie star role. Ewan had brought some attention to himself in Trainspotting but had yet to do many of the larger roles he's known for now such as Moulin Rouge, The DaVinci Code sequel Angels & Demons, The Impossible, or Christopher Robin (among many others). These roles were made possible because of his role in Star Wars. Star Wars is what made him become a "major actor". The same goes for Natalie Portman and Liam Neeson in terms of their status as established actors. She had been in The Professional and Heat but had yet to do V for Vendetta, Black Swan, Jackie, or Thor. Liam Neeson was of course an established actor by that time, but I still would not qualify him as the type of movie star he is today. He had done many movies, and Schindler's List made him notable, but he had yet to do Gangs of New York, Kingdom of Heaven, The Chronicles of Narnia, Taken or the Batman Begins. Star Wars has a unique ability to give these already dedicated and talented actors the exposure needed to completely change the trajectory of their careers. And its nurturing of completely unknown actors mirrors the journey they are taking us all on as we watch the films. Our journey comes alongside theirs, and we bond with both the characters and the actors throughout their experiences.

"What about Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee?"

They fall into their own category - veteran actors. They are actors the everyday person would vaguely recognize but aren't generally tied to any one role, and are seemingly past their prime. Please bear with me because I am grossly simplifying things. Alec Guinness had the most notoriety and success in the 50s, and although he kept acting through the 80s, he wasn't exactly one of the most popular actors of the time. That's not to discredit him in any way - he had tons of success and starred in many things, but his body of work was slowing down. Peter Cushing's career was also starting to wind down by the late 70s - his notable portrayals in Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Who were in the late 50s and 60s. It's also important to note that in general he was a very niche actor - if you didn't watch horror, you probably didn't see him. He was notable, but not mainstream like we see today. Christopher Lee was, oddly enough, very similar to Peter in terms of the roles he took - many of the roles for the first couple decades of his career were uncredited, and the majority of it was in horror. It's important to note that filming for Attack of the Clones began BEFORE Lord of the Rings came out. He is an outlier though in that he seemed to reach his prime around this time. Casting these veteran actors is a nod to traditional storytelling and film's history - it mirrors the teachings of the films themselves by showing respect for those who came before and gave inspiration to filmmakers and moviegoers alike.

"You're forgetting about Sam Jackson - he's well known AND a supporting character and he's been in his prime this whole time"

I'm not. He is an interesting case all around. The main point I have is that he wasn't cast in the usual way - he asked for a role, publicly. And in the beginning he was meant to be a background character, but his character ended up growing. However, I still would not call him an exception to the rule. I would put him in the same category as Ewan, Natalie, and Liam as an established actor. Yes, Pulp Fiction came out and was a hit, and he was in Jurassic Park too, but Jackie Brown had not come out until after filming started, and all of the other Tarantino and Marvel films didn't come until later. I do believe this is a case of hindsight being more favorable than reality.

"Well Andy Serkis was famous for Gollum and Planet of the Apes way before The Force Awakens came out."

It is true that he has been a part of large franchises and that he's received a lot of credit for those roles. But most casual viewers have no idea who played Gollum or Ceasar because they're animated - so is Snoke. This leads me to the next thing I wanted to talk about - unrecognizable characters.

If there's one thing Star Wars does a lot, it's hide famous actors by casting them as aliens. When they do this, there's absolutely no issue because the viewer only knows who the character is played by if they're already familiar with that actor and want to know. Lupita Nyong'o is a good example of this, as is Andy Serkis. Even George himself showed up in the prequels as an alien - it didn't distract from the story, which is the point.

It's important, when discussing these things, to mention one factor of being what I call a "major actor" when discussing the new Disney movies that was never a factor during the original or prequel trilogies, and that is the huge impact of social media, entertainment news and websites, gossip magazines, paparazzi, and the development of geek culture (and the further expansion of pop culture as a whole). These things cause actors who find themselves in certain roles to be immediately catapulted into stardom, making either their face, their name, or both, etched into the minds of everyday viewers. This, along with the "merchandising effect" that seeps into every corner of life, from the clothes we wear to the kitchen utensils we use, is impossible to escape from. This makes the need for deliberate and careful casting even more important, and harder to come by. Star Wars is one of the last franchises that can do this, and I think it's incredibly important that it does.

Overall, Star Wars casts unknown/established actors for their lead roles, and established/veteran actors for their supporting roles. The episodic Disney movies so far have continued this very deliberate casting tradition, and it would be wise for future Star Wars films to preserve the mythos by maintaining a separation between actors and characters by continuing to cast the way they always have (with the exception of using a major actor as a recast of a traditional character - for example, casting Millie Bobby Brown as a young Leia or Sebastian Stan as Luke). Star Wars has a long history of finding talented actors and accentuating their natural abilities and catapulting them into stardom. This tried-and-true method is one thing that makes Star Wars so unique and wonderful. It sets it apart from other franchises and has kept the myth alive for generations.

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization.

Be sure to follow Selene on Twitter @_selenejade,

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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