So, in what has become only the second most annoying photograph distributed this year, behind Ellen’s freaking selfie, a photo of a script-read behind the scenes of Star Wars VII surfaced. In it we see what are purportedly the principals of the production, including returning actors (so far as we know) Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Anthony Daniels. Most importantly, we see screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan at the right hand of director J.J. “Lensflare” Abrams. We see a lot of new faces as well as a familiar actor we haven’t seen face-to-face much: Andy Serkis (Gollum from the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films).
Let’s put up what people have said is wrong about this picture. First, they’re saying there are not enough women in this cast, or at least in this snapshot of the cast. That’s true, but that is typical of most action adventure films, now, isn’t it? The Marvel movies are slowly cracking that barrier, but Pepper Potts is still prone to needing to be saved by Tony Stark, Gwen Stacy is still prone to needing to be saved by Peter Parker, and so on. The Sifs of the Thor movies or the Black Widows of the rest of the Marvel movies (seemingly — Scarlett Johanson, you are sooooo rich) are more exception than the rule. Looking to Abrams’ Star Trek movies, there was much in terms of eye candy but not toward equality. Seemingly, Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) was more vital to Star Trek Into Darkness for her underwear shot than anything else.
I’m not saying that, knowing what the landscape looks like, the Star Wars team shouldn’t be trying harder, and because this is one single picture, how the gender makeup of the full cast could be determined is impossible. At the same time, it is probably unfair to expect that of this movie, or any pre-existing franchise for that matter. That falls to new series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, which themselves have severe problems in this arena. (Girls gotta chase boys, even through dystopia, amirite?) In the end, the important thing about the women of the new Star Wars movie is that they should be strong, that they can stand on their own, they don’t “need saving,” and that by the last of these movies’ cycle, they’re not all pregnant and crying. See Revenge Of The Sith for more information.
The other uproar was that there was a lack of racial diversity in the cast. There’s one black man in a very white room, and he’s not Billy Dee Williams. Fine, but how are we to know that these pasty ghostfaces are all going to be white in the movie. How do we know if Serkis is going to be humanoid at all? And just because he wasn’t here for this script-read, how do we know there’s no Lando Calrissian cameo?
There are things we do know about this collection of faces. The characters people were most interest in during series 1 are back. Having done the flashback to see who Darth Vader was and how he came to be, which is a trip I have always maintained was unnecessary, we are moving forward again with a bit of familiarity. That’s a good thing and will ease us into the next best aspect of this image. While some of the new faces are recognizable and known, they’re not stars. That’s perfect, and necessary. That’s how it all began in the mid-70s with the first cast. Sure, you saw Ford as Bob Falfa in American Graffiti, and maybe Carrie Fisher in Shampoo, but it was easier to buy into them being the characters because they weren’t mega-celebrities. In this, we don’t have Tom Cruise fighting with Ben Stiller as he gets Jedi lessons from Morgan Freeman, and that’s important.
Lawrence Kasdan is more of what we know as “good” Lucasfilm than not. He did a rewrite of the script to whatever it’s going to be called, but was initially just a consultant, more concerned with a proposed series of offshoot “Universe” movies. That was actually his role for The Empire Strikes Back. Original screenwriter Leigh Brackett, a noted sci-fi/pulp writer, wrote a draft of the screenplay. What is not in dispute is that she passed away not too long after, having been battling cancer. During this time, Kasdan had turned in his work for Raiders of the Lost Ark and was then asked to work on the Empire script. How much of the detail was Brackett, how much was George Lucas, and how much was Kasdan is hard to determine. Yet considering how right the balances were (comedy/tragedy, action/plot development, memorable set pieces) in both Raiders and Empire, he tends to get the nod. It is only a positive that he is involved.
Finally, I know pictures can say a thousand words, as the old cliche always nags at us. But is the picture telling us true things? Or is the picture just serving as a prop onto which we can rest our prejudices and anxieties. This particular movie series means a lot to people, and frankly means more than it should. But in an era where franchises are the rule and not the exception, we should have some standards for what constitutes good progress and what does not. This picture doesn’t show progress at all — just people with papers in hand sitting on couches surrounded by crates. This over-sensitive emotional investment in every dead skin flake that falls to the ground at Skywalker Ranch assures only one thing: you’re going to be disappointed with whatever gets delivered, no matter what, if you don’t chill out.
P.S.: If I do have a wish list item to interject into the mix, it would be that a flashback takes place whereby a certain desert creature that digests it’s prey for a thousand years gets rocket-induced indigestion. Just sayin’.