I've already started joking with my friends that Dec. 18, 2015, is either going to be the best day of my life or the worst — depending on how "Star Wars: Episode VII" turns out. ;) That's probably a slight exaggeration, but I think everyone I know has figured out by now that I'm really excited — and nervous — about this movie. The recent casting announcement and the upcoming commencement of filming has made me anticipate this movie even more, if that's possible.
In some ways, the whole project still feels a little surreal to me. I can remember hearing the first announcement in late 2012 about Disney purchasing Lucasfilm and thinking it was just a prank or a rumor. By then I think most fans had resigned themselves to the idea we weren't getting any more "Star Wars" films, and Episodes VII-IX were just an interesting concept that wouldn't ever pan out. Then, it seemed just as surreal when they announced the first new "Star Wars" film, Episode VII, would be directed by J.J. Abrams, who at the time was helming the rival "Star Trek" franchise. However, the recent casting announcement, which included the return of classic characters as well as some new faces, is helping the project to finally feel "real," although there's a lot we still don't know.
There's certainly a lot of excitement for this project, but I'm sure film makers also are very well aware of the risk. "Star Wars" is one of the most popular film franchises of all time, and it's also one that's pretty close to my heart — "The Empire Strikes Back" is my personal all-time favorite film. While I've seen all the "Star Wars" films dozens of times, I never got to see any of them when they opened in theaters (except for the animated "Clone Wars" movie), so this new film has extra special meaning for me.
While the announcement about Abrams as director brought supporters and detractors, he's one of my favorite directors and I think he'll work very hard to do a good job on this film, especially since he's such a big "Star Wars" fan himself. I was also pretty happy with the recent casting announcement (though I was keeping my fingers crossed for Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender — two rumors that didn't pan out, at least not yet). ;) I think it will be good to have Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill return as older versions of their characters, at least in the first film. Even if they only have small roles, it will help to pass the torch to the new group. Similar to his "Star Trek" reboot, Abrams has stacked the cast list with some relative unknowns and promising performers who have done good work but are not yet A-listers. Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac are all actors I've been hearing more buzz about, and of course Andy Serkis is great no matter what role he's given (it will be interesting to see if he'll be doing a live or motion-capture performance with this one).
I was initially a bit disappointed when Lucasfilm also announced all the "Star Wars" expanded universe novels would no longer be considered canon, but I'm not too surprised. There's some great material in the "EU," as fans call it, including favorite characters such as Mara Jade, an ex-Imperial agent and Luke Skywalker's wife, and Han Solo and Princess Leia's children. However, I can understand film makers not necessarily wanting to be tied down to the rather extensive material that makes up the EU. Even if they decided to adapt one of the existing novels, they'd have to make changes anyway when transferring the story to film. Moving away from the EU also adds a sense of mystery and suspense to the project; fans won't know how the films will end.
Looking through the cast list, I'm wondering if script writers will still use some of the EU characters. I can see Domhnall Gleeson as possibly Ben Skywalker, Luke's son from the novels, and I've heard speculation Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver could be playing Han and Leia's children, one of whom turns to the dark side in the books. Even though Lucasfilm is distancing itself from the EU, I think Abrams would be wise to pick and choose some of the best elements from the novels — particularly some of the best characters, like Mara Jade — and use them in new ways. Other have also complained about the predominately male cast; there are rumors there are still more casting announcements to come, and hopefully these will include more female faces.
So, what do you think? Are you happy with the casting list so far? Do you think Disney should have kept the EU as canon? What are your hopes for the new movie?