With the announcement that there will be a new trilogy of Star Wars films coming soon from Disney and Lucasfilm, comes the inevitable question about the casting.
Unlike the previous trilogy of follow-ups, which delved into the past of the movies' universe, meaning that the need to recast existing roles was fairly minimal, and when they did so it was usually with characters substantially younger than the previous actors--who were, in turn, fifteen or twenty years older than they had been when they started the whole endeavor, so it only made sense to get rid of them.
This time around, it's not as clear what to do; the announcement is that Star Wars Episode VII will be the first of a trilogy that will begin coming to theaters in 2015. Persistent rumors have suggested that, once again, Luke Skywalker and his sister Leia will be key players in the story. And, not surprisingly, what started as a question ("Will they use the same actors?") has become a fervent hope for some fans.
But let's assume for a minute that, as has been suggested, the actors from the original Star Wars trilogy are still too old to play their characters in this new movie. If Luke and Han are out there swashbucking and butt-kicking, it's hard to imagine Mark Hamill out there facing down a hot young actor in a lightsaber duel.
Not that it's impossible, mind you--Christopher Lee did alright as Count Dooku in his limited battle sequences in the prequel trilogy.
In any event, to many it seems unlikely that Hamill, Fisher and company will return--particularly since it's extremely unlikely that Harrison Ford would, and having the rest of them accounted for while Han was recast would not only be a distraction but, as we've pointed out before, wouldn't be particularly fiscally responsible since neither Fisher nor Hamill have exactly been box office draws in recent years.
And with all of that in mind, how should Lucasfilm go about recasting the parts? There are, of course, basically two schools of thought on this, and while it's the same thing we hear everytime someone is casting a superhero movie, the whole thing seems a bit exaggerated for Star Wars--because we would be discussing the entire cast, rather than just the lead, for starters. Besides that, since Star Wars originated as a film and not as some other source material that was then adapted, Luke Skywalker didn't find his origin as lines on paper, or a vague image in the imatination of the reader. No, Luke Skywalker began his life looking like Mark Hamill.
Casting the movie using hot young stars is safe and easy, because the studio has a sense of what they're getting into when they enter into the films. It's--more or less--what they did with the prequel trilogy, taking actors who were established and respected before Star Wars ever got hold of them for most of the major roles. The problem with this approach is that established stars will come with their own baggage. They bring with them audience expectations based on what viewers have seen in the past, and those expectations will be piled on top of the existing expectations that the audience has of the characters.
Then there's the other way to go, which more closely mirrors how most of the original trilogy and Harry Potter series was cast--go with mostly unknown actors, using the audition process and their physical resemblance to the characters they need to play as part of the equation. This could bring together a cast that more closely resembles the old cast, which has both obvious benefits and almost equally-obvious flaws.
After all, if you just pick a group of people who look like, but aren't, the original cast then anything the fans don't like about them will be compared to the originals. If they aren't beloved from the outset, the question will become, "Couldn't we have figured out a way to get the 'real' Luke back?".
And that's really the problem with unknowns--they're high risk and high reward. For every Harry Potter or Christopher Reeve, there are dozens more who don't work out. And if the cast for these films didn't connect with the audience then it would likely haunt Disney for a while, since they're committed to at least three movies initially and since, frankly, it's not as though Lucasfilm did the best job casting the prequels.
Personally, I support the strategy of casting a real-life brother and sister as Luke and Leia, but only if they reboot the whole series and the pair have to lock lips again. It would recapture the "ick factor" we all felt when we realized what had just happened, retaining that feeling even though it would no longer be a surprise to most viewers to learn the pair were related.