The Pitch – We Fancast Episode VII For You—Deal With it

downeyHeath Ledger as the Joker.

Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark.

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

Marrying a beloved character with a living, breathing actor is always going to be a controversial process—especially if you’re trying to reinvent them to a degree. Your movie won’t be out for a year or more, and now irate fans have all the time in the world to mock even the idea that this person could become their favorite character. This guy, as the Joker?? Are you serious??

Part of the problem is that characters in print media, especially comics, can look vastly different depending on who’s illustrating them—my ideal Tony Stark may be nothing like your ideal Tony Stark, and we could both have valid points because all there really is to go on is “white, black hair, goatee”. That’s why taking a slightly askew angle with your casting can be such a powerful move—in Downey’s case, launching an entire filmic universe on the back on one man’s likeability—because it imbues a distinct human element to what is often, honestly, a very bland sketch of a person. People freaked out about Jesse Eisenberg being cast as Lex Luthor in the Batman/Superman movie, and hey, that movie may yet be a train wreck, but Eisenberg screams “rich asshole” to the moviegoing public already (much like Downey screamed “hard living”), and that’s far more important to producing a resonant Lex Luthor on the big screen than whether he’s old and/or bald enough. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to say what Christopher Nolan saw in Heath Ledger that screamed “Joker”, but hell if he wasn’t proven right.

Almost eighteen months after the announcement that Episode VII would be a reality, we still have essentially zero hard information on who’s going to be in the damned thing. Even the Big Three have been stubbornly vague about it. But with news starting to come out that filming will begin this May, we seem at long last to be on the verge of getting real names—actor names, at the very least, if not their characters. We may even see things like “so-and-so will play the son of Luke Skywalker” without an actual first name coming out until months later—which would certainly be rough on Expanded Universe fans clinging to the hope that a Ben or a Jaina may show up.

So to make the next few months a little more bearable, I figured we might as well jump the gun and cast the thing ourselves. Fancasting is certainly not the most dignified practice, and I’m sure a few of you are rolling your eyes right now, but in light of what the EU is about to go through I thought we could use a brief indulgence. So I asked the others to pick one EU character that could conceivably appear in Episode VII and give their own personal casting choice—not just as fanwank, though it certainly is that, but ideally, in the hopes of producing an inspired take on an old character that no one else might have considered; someone who could stand alongside Downey and Ledger as having overcome the popular imagination and become the character through sheer force of talent. Here’s what we came up with.

Alexander: Rutger Hauer as Grand Admiral Gilad Pellaeon

When it comes to fancasting, it’s an activity I’d normally prefer not to indulge in. Far too often, it’s nothing more than an exercise in knee-jerk wishful thinking, casting (usually extremely famous) actors and actresses in roles they’re not even remotely suited for solely on the basis that the caster wants to see them onscreen, without regard for their ability to play a particular character convincingly or the likelihood of that occurring. When it comes to playing a preexisting character, the odds are are much more in the favor of a complete unknown being the best fit for the role than a regular winner of the “Box Office Draw of the Year” award.

While it hardly seems necessary for any characters from the Expanded Universe to make their way to the big screen completely untouched, there are some that the story would likely benefit from the addition of, if only as concepts rather than complete characters. One or more of the Solo children, for one. Luke Skywalker’s apprentices. Bureaucrat supreme Borsk Fey’lya. And, of course, Grand Admiral Gilad Pellaeon, post-Galactic Civil War (benevolent) military dictator of the self-proclaimed successors to Palpatine’s Galactic Empire.

For reasons explored more thoroughly in other articles, I feel it would be terribly unfortunate if the Empire was simply treated as having vanished completely off the face of the galaxy in the aftermath of Endor, with its quarter-century existence having no bearing on the galaxy in the following decades. If only for a brief moment (though ideally with a more significant role), to affirm its continued existence in one form or another, I’d like to see at least one prominent representative of the Empire, such as its leader (as embodied by Pellaeon in the novels), appear on-screen. And to play that role, one name sticks out in my mind.

Rutger Hauer. Perhaps best remembered for sharing the screen with Harrison Ford in the 1980s film Blade Runner - for which, alone, he has more than earned a place in the Sequel Trilogy – Hauer is no stranger to science fiction, but has also done his fair share of swordplay (his first role was as the star of a swashbuckling Dutch medieval television series, and has long held a passion for fencing): a combination that Star Wars fans ought to be more than a little familiar with. He’s occupied corners both villainous and heroic, as well as most places between the two, which would lend itself well to representing an Empire that has drifted away from its antagonistic origins.

At the age of 70 in 2014, he’s old enough to believably play a character who served opposite to our heroes during the Original Trilogy, and have since risen to a position of authority in the Imperial remnant. The Expanded Universe’s Pellaeon is most noticeably recognized by his taste in white uniforms and his matching white mustache, but Hauer’s own natural features are no less memorable or recognizable, and are also not so widely known as to distract from his portrayal of the character, as might occur if someone more famous was to be gifted the role (such as perennial fancasting favorite Gary Oldman).

Furthermore, there’s little doubt that he possesses the necessary gravitas to pull off a high rank and the Imperial fashion sense with as much style as Peter Cushing did playing Grand Moff Tarkin. While it’s true that there might be other actors better suited to filling the Expanded Universe’s version of Grand Admiral Pellaeon’s very specific set of shoes, in terms of being able to convincingly play the role as seen through the fresh lens of the Sequel Trilogy and warranting a place in one of the greatest science fiction sagas of all time, I can’t think of anyone better than Rutger Hauer.

Lucas: In thinking about which role to cast, I set myself two guidelines: the character had to have a realistic chance in a film series not strictly tethered to the Expanded Universe as we know it, and the character had to be one whose appearance would really add something compelling to a sequel trilogy. Casting Jacen Solo or Ben Skywalker on the thin hope that any major-character descendants would closely resemble the ones we already have seems like a bit of a waste. And as much as I might like to see Soontir Fel in the movies, it’s not really clear how he could fit in without writing my own script to explain what he’d be adding (Jon Hamm can totally get his own spinoff movie, anyway).

Those guidelines quickly led me to two characters, and I’m going to cast them both. Just try and stop me, Mike. They operate great as a pair, and both, or either, would be a perfectly on-point addition to the sequel trilogy. I’m talking about Talon Karrde and Booster Terrik. One of my favorite elements of the original trilogy is the criminal underworld, and I would love to see it represented in the sequels. Han and Lando have moved away from the fringe in the Expanded Universe, and logically they should have done the same in the sequel trilogy. It will be up to other characters to make up our quota of full-fledged smugglers and scoundrels. Karrde and Booster are the EU characters best positioned to take up that mantle, a set of smuggling kingpins and information-broker rivals who make an unlikely, bickering buddy cop pairing. As fringe kingpins, they can bring in that shady element, and their particular backgrounds as the galaxy’s top information brokers bring them naturally into any plot as contacts from whom the heroes can seek information about any new threat. For the purposes of this casting, I’m imagining a slight de-aging of the characters, as Karrde is approximately Han’s age, and Booster is even older. Filling up the sequels with septuagenarians and nonagenarians probably isn’t the best or most likely outcome, and positioning the characters just a little younger relative to the Skywalkers and Solos helps keep them more vital, bridge the generation gap between the big three and the younger heroes, and brings the characters closer to the ages at which they’re best remembered by EU fans.

Talon Karrde is the criminal contrast to Han. A suave, powerful, know-it-all crook who specializes in collecting the galaxy’s secrets, he’s the smuggler boss Han could have eventually been had he not gone legitimate. Charming and a little mysterious, with a playful sense of humor, he was originally positioned as a powerful neutral in the Thrawn trilogy, one who wanted to stay out of the war and profit from both sides. Like Han, his innate decency combined with the force of circumstances to eventually drive him onto the side of the good guys, but the sequels would be able to play him either way, retaining him as an old ally or reusing his ambiguous neutrality to give him an arc. Who do I think could play a handsome, charming, witty, morally ambiguous scoundrel who can vex our heroes even as he allies with them? Well, Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen, best known as Aragorn, has build his reputation on stoic-badass type characters in serious action dramas, but he has range far beyond that. He’s a talented actor, and is quite capable of charm and humor, as seen in his dryly-witty turn in Appaloosa, where he shares an easy buddy chemistry with Ed Harris. Mortensen has the looks, charisma, gravity, and darkness to play Karrde perfectly, and is exactly the kind of actor, with recognition but not too big a name, to fit into a Star Wars film.

Booster Terrik is a burly, surly smuggler, a legendary Corellian hellraiser whose stint in a hard-labor Kessel prison did nothing to improve his gruff, weathered exterior. Inside, however, he’s fiercely loyal, bitingly funny, completely devoted to his family, and dedicated to needling and one-upping Karrde, his friend and rival in the smuggling-and-information-brokering business. Oh, and did I mention that his den of crime is a crooked casino . . . aboard his personal Star Destroyer? It should be immediately apparent that Booster is a cinematic character, a larger-than-life figure who comes with an incredible ready-made setting. To play this grouchy but lovable human grizzly bear, I settled on Jeff Bridges (who, let’s be honest, wouldn’t make a bad Karrde, either). There’s no doubt that Bridges can do charmingly gruff, and he has the looks, age, and skill to nail the role of Booster. Though in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that Bridges only barely beat out the endlessly talented Bryan Cranston, who can also do charmingly gruff and looks exactly like Booster in The Phantom Affair.

Mortensen and Bridges would make a powerful combination as Karrde and Booster, one that would do a great job of livening up the sequel trilogy, bringing the scoundrel element back into the movies, and perfectly embodying a pair of fan-favorite characters.

Ben: Warwick Davis as Marn Hierogrpyh

There’s all manner of great EU characters, but when considering which could work and connect with a larger audience – one stands out. Step forward, Knights of the Republic’s Marn “Gryph” Hierogryph! The Gryph is a highly memorable character operating on the margins of legality while never being a total bastard. In short, a great Star Wars character and one that frequently gets the best lines.

Who could play this role? The Tolkien films have proved that size does not matter at all, there’s all kinds of cinematic tricks that can achieve that illusion – as the Gryph is short. But might it be better to go with someone who has that height naturally? There is one notable, highly experienced excellent actor and he has a wealth of previous Star Wars experience! It can be none other than Warwick Davis.

What makes the role so suited to Davis’ skills? The sheer width of it! In the KOTOR stories Gryph’s role ranges from the comedic to serious, adversary to ally, without ever being entirely deadly serious or clown. That is one very complex balancing act! Also unless the audience care about this shifty individual, it all collapses, the Gryph’s charm and charismatic qualities have to be exhibited as well. Davis has done just such a wide array of work: Star Wars, Willow, Harry Potter but also comedy roles. He could quite likely win over the audience to Marn’s freewheeling entrepreneurial outlook! However, there is one major potential bugbear – a role like the Gryph could require substantive make-up that could be less appealing.

What if there was another option? One that allowed Davis to bring his experience to bear without hours of make-up at a time? We live in a time of unprecedented SFX technology – one of which is the digital capture that Andy Serkis made such a success of Gollum with. Could this work for a Davis portrayal of the Gryph? It would certainly be worth a try if nothing else. While you can do an Olivier and tell the actors to simply act it, Davis can add in those little subtleties of how things work for beings of a certain height, or the lack of, with ease as he’s lived it. A final attraction could also be that the Gryph is never defined by his size in the KOTOR stories and the same should be so here.

Of course, this does assume that playing Wicket and Flitwick didn’t put him off playing such characters, given the fan attention that follows. Equally the idea of getting a new subset of might well appeal! The more serious hurdle is that the Grpyh works best when there’s a straight character he has to play off of. Who could that be? Well, seeing him and Pellaeon cross paths could be fun…

Postscript: For those who say the Gryph cannot possibility appear in the ST due to occupying a point in time millennia before, do you know nothing of film artifice? Two solutions come easily to mind – one quite blatant, the other more subtle. The subtle option is to simply have a descendant bearing the same name Hierogryph, while possessing the same flexibly pragmatic outlook of his ancestor. The blatant one simply has the Gryph end up with a business deal gone bad, one that ends with in a Sith Oubliette – which, of course, sticks him into suspended animation, oh, you didn’t know that’s what it does? Oh well, care to hazard a guess as to when it gets opened up?

Lisa: Let’s break up the boys club! I love what the others have written so far and I sincerely hope Talon Karrde and Booster Terrik are included in the ST. However I wrote an Escape Pod for Mara Jade and I definitely want her included in the ST as Luke’s wife so I’m going to cast her. I think Bryce Dallas Howard would be a good fit for Mara. She’s already rocked the patented red hair that Jade has and she has experience in Superhero movies (Spider-Man).

She’s not so well known that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. The Star Wars franchise seems to take little known actors and put them into these roles and build upon them. There are multiple rumors that big name actors would love to be involved in this project but I’m not going to hold out hope that these will actually happen. Therefore I feel like we should be looking at, especially for the EU characters, some lesser known actor/actresses. The rumor mill has continually said Ben Skywalker is going to be part of the focus of Episode VII and I’d hope they won’t do the oh so classic “mother is long dead” thing for our new hero. Once again the EU has given Star Wars a strong female character and it would be a shame if they didn’t use her in furthering the new story. Bryce has the look and acting experience to add something special to the character.

Mike: I’ve already laid out what I called my “best-case scenario” for Episode VII where the EU is concerned, wherein the film is set roughly forty years after Return of the Jedi and the main character is a 20ish Ben Skywalker—thereby preserving at least the possibility that a lot of the EU could still have happened. Recent reports appear to contradict my premise that Jesse Plemons was being considered for Ben (given that Abrams was open to, or even actively looking for, a nonwhite actor), but one aspect for which I still hold out hope is a 40ish Jaina Solo playing a supporting role as mentor to the main Jedi character.

2013 FX Upfront Bowling EventAnd if the EU be damned, well, I want that anyway. After coming this close to getting her own trilogy of novels, Jaina may be the one adult character to have actually grown consistently in value from the New Jedi Order series to the “present day”—and I want to see all those years of hard experience up there on the big screen whether or not they came from a Vong invasion and a Sith brother. And to me, the person who most captures that feeling—not teenage heartthrob Jaina or bug cultist Jaina, but Sword of the Jedi Jaina Kriffing Solo—is Keri Russell.

Currently starring as Soviet spy Elizabeth Jennings in the 80′s-era espionage drama The Americans, Russell marries the measured grace of a dancer (which she is) with the efficient lethality of an assassin, and balances all that with the heartfelt and relatable emotions of a wife and mother with two adolescent children who know nothing of her true life. Like Jaina, Elizabeth has trained for this role since childhood and struggles to adopt what anyone else would regard as a “normal” existence. Also like Jaina, Russell herself has grown up in the public eye; she’s known primarily for the TV series Felicity from 1998 to 2002, but has been in the national spotlight going all the way back to Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

A character with so much historical baggage (even without the EU, this is the daughter of Han and Leia we’re talking about) deserves an actor with real-world weight behind her, much like what RDJ brought to Tony Stark. Involving a near-middle-aged, never-before-seen Jedi Knight, or even Master, in Episode VII is a tall order for new fans to get their heads around, but if there’s one EU character who can fit that bill, it’s Jaina—and Keri Russell’s distinct mix of intensity, poise, and compassion is the perfect match.

4 comments

  1. MWB8 says:

    Mike and I must be long-lost brothers – yesterday, it was X-wing Alliance, today it is Keri Russell as Jaina Solo. Inspired.

      • MWB8 says:

        But seriously, very inspired to compare Jaina to Elizabeth. I would have never gotten there.

        All of you out in 1138 world not watching The Americans need to get on it. One of the best shows on television right now, and Elizabeth certainly one of the best characters on television. Her exclusion at the Emmy’s last year – and their continued focus on Claire Danes and Homeland – is disappointing.

  2. emtveit says:

    I like the idea of Bridges as Karrde. He looks like Karrde to me. But, I also think he’d make a good Booster, as well. ‘Course, if you do that, then you have to find a Mirax and a Corran Horn…

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