If ever a movie had pressure on it to live up to expectations, it's surely J.J. Abrams' upcoming continuation of the Star Wars franchise. And one of the key ingredients to making it a success will be the casting of its roles. We don't know exactly what those roles are yet, nor who will be signed up. We do, however, know who's been brought in to read -- and who we'd like to see get a chance to join the Star Wars universe.
The only thing we can be pretty sure of is the return of veterans Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford -- who've all managed to let slip their involvement in Episode VII before Disney essentially confirmed their casting. Beyond that, we hope to see cameos from other legacy actors like Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando), and fan favorites Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and the ever-affable Warwick Davis (Wicket the Ewok).
Great as it would be to see these guys back in action in outer space, we know that a future installment of Star Wars will need to focus on a new generation of heroes and villains, and this is where rumor and speculation seems to be focused at the moment. We know that Saiorse Ronan has been brought in to read for a role, along with other youthful talents, including Alex Pettyfer, Liam McIntyre, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Michael B. Jordan and Ksenia Solo. These are all solid picks given that the casting of Star Wars has always been about finding fresh young faces to turn into iconic characters.
It's also been about finding character actors who can lend their dramatic chops to a space film that might otherwise veer into camp territory, which is why we hope the rumors about Benedict Cumberbatch being cast wind up being true. Every franchise he joins, from Star Trek to The Hobbit, is made better through his refined performances. Other actors of the same ilk who've been rumored to join include Diane Kruger, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis. It's doubtful that he would sign up for Star Wars, which would probably demand a contract for multiple films, given the fact that he's been trying to retire since the early aughts, but we still get giddy at the idea of a Jedi Day-Lewis.
As for our own personal casting wishlist, we've considered dozens of actors young and old to imagine how they'd fit in a galaxy far, far away -- and found a handful who fit the bill quite nicely.
First up, Franz Drameh, who delivered an understated performance in Attack the Block as a young thug squaring off with his criminal friends against an invasion of alien beasts. It'd be great to see more from this intense young actor and he'd probably make a great villain for the Empire. Lea Seydoux has slowly been building up a respectable career with memorable turns in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Midnight in Paris and this year's Palme d'Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Color. It'd be good if Abrams snapped her up for Star Wars before another franchise snags her first. Also on our wishlist is Dane DeHaan, who could easily follow in Hayden Christensen's footsteps as a brooding, impressionable character tempted by the forces of evil. Hopefully, with J.J. Abrams at the helm, all the actors who wind up in Episode VII will deliver more nuanced performances than Christensen.
Tilda Swinton, who's built an admirable career largely on the fringes of mainstream cinema, seems poised for a gig on the Imperial Senate, where she'd be a force to be reckoned with, and if need be, could probably swing a lightsaber pretty well. Also, Swinton's unique beauty would lend itself nicely to any role, whether human or even alien.
As for bad guys, well, veteran performers like Frank Langella, Giancarlo Esposito, John Hawkes and Idris Elba all spring to mind as guys who'd make the lure of the Dark Side that much more appealing. Langella has already brought one sci-fi villain to life as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe, Esposito wowed audiences with his business-like portrayal of drug kingpin Gustavo Fring on Breaking Bad, John Hawkes was absolutely terrifying in Winter's Bone and Idris Elba has shown time and again (in The Wire and Pacific Rim) that he can conjure deep reserves of intense anger that simmer just below his surface. All of these men could follow in the footsteps of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine.
There will inevitably be dozens of additional rumors to come and go as we build towards Episode VII's 2015 release, but for now, we have plenty of names to consider and imagine bringing to life a spectacle that will hopefully revitalize a tired franchise for a whole new generation of fanboys.