Top 10 Pros and Cons of Returning Cast Members in 'Star Wars: Episode 7'Ever since it was first announced that Disney would purchase Lucasfilm with the intention of making more Star Wars movies, fans were left to debate (and dream) about potential story details. Of course, every longtime fan of the Galaxy Far, Far Away has their own idea about where they'd like to see the creative team (producer Kathleen Kennedy, director J.J. Abrams, and screenwriter Michael Arndt) take the series going forward - be it a fresh continuation of the Skywalker family story, an adaptation of already-existing Expanded Universe material, or a completely new (and never before seen) direction with very few returning characters. However, recent reports have begun to rule-out the latter - indicating that not only will we likely see the return of fan-favorite characters, we'll also see the return of their respective fan-favorite actors. While there's been no official confirmation that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, or Mark Hamill will reprise their roles, the more we learn about the upcoming trilogy, the more likely these casting reports sound. Which brings us to the central question, and one that has been raging in the comment sections of our Star Wars news write-ups: will the return of the iconic cast members, after over 30 years away from the franchise, help or hurt Star Wars: Episode VII (and beyond)? Here are our 10 Pros and Cons of Returning Cast Members in Star Wars: Episode VII.
Pro - 9 Episodes Worth of Star Wars ContinuityA continuation of the Anakin Skywalker lineage plot line could deliver one of the biggest and longest cinematic through-lines in movie history. Little is known about the Episode 7 story but most reports suggest that Lucasfilm intends to incorporate Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Leia Organa into the next trilogy plot - likely with a focus on the next generation of Solo and Skywalker children (such as Jacen, Jaina and Anakin Solo and/or Ben Skywalker). A direct continuation of the plot would allow Lucasfilm to weave a much larger overarching narrative - compared to the boy confronts the dark side story of Luke Skywalker (via Episodes 4-6) or, as a result of the prequels, the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker (via Episodes 1-6). Additionally, anyone familiar with the Star Wars Expanded Universe knows there's plenty of recurring thematic material that comes back around - meaning that watching Star Wars: Episodes 1-9, could be an extremely rich and interconnected story experience at every level.
Con - A New Trilogy Saddled by Old ProblemsOver 40 years, George Lucas delivered one of the most memorable franchises in entertainment history - nurturing one of the richest fan cultures in the world. Yet, for all the success in the Star Wars universe, there are also a lot of questionable and downright cheesy additions that plagued the series. Lucas' attempt to fit every piece of the puzzle into a complete and intertwined narrative subsequently resulted in especially controversial moments. For example: long-detested Jar Jar Binks returns in Episode 2 and plays a significant (albeit unintentional) role in Chancellor Palpatine's subjugation of the Senate; Han Solo steps on Jabba the Hut's tail in the Episode 4 Special Edition (after shooting Greedo second), and Hayden Christensen replaced Sebastian Shaw as the spirit version of Anakin Skywalker in Episode 6. For Episode 7, Lucas won't be as directly involved, but if we are to see original characters return in the new trilogy, they'll come saddled with at least a few mistakes from series past - midi-chlorians, most notably.
Pro - Continue the Story of Old FriendsWhat Star Wars fan hasn't dreamed about the further adventures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Leia Organa after the defeat of the Galactic Empire? The very existence of the Star Wars Expanded Universe proves that moviegoers and readers are eager to explore the numerous possibilities. Among a wide variety of goofy post-Return of the Jedi plot ideas, there are also a number of extremely captivating narratives that successfully build on established characters and mythos. As mentioned before, many of those Expanded Universe stories follow Anakin Skywalker's grandchildren as well as their iconic (albeit aging) parents - marking a new and very different chapter for fan-favorite characters in a post-Galactic Empire setting. That said, this doesn't mean that Star Wars: Episode VII is shaping up to be Girl Meets World in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. If Lucasfilm is using the Expanded Universe as a template for the next trilogy, expect those returning characters to go through some especially painful times - in addition to the requisite lightsaber battles, vicious Sith warriors, and alien worlds. The possibilities are definitely exciting.
Con - Risk Underserving Iconic CharactersWhile the prequels successfully served Obi-Wan Kenobi through a number of slick action set-pieces, entertaining dialogue, and a solid performance from Ewan McGregor, revisiting fan-favorite characters rarely lives up to expectation - especially in the Star Wars series. In fact, fans maintain that a number of iconic characters were actually damaged by any appearances outside of Episode 4-6. Among other underwhelming return/prologue appearances, Yoda, easily one of the most beloved players in the franchise, was often reduced to a bouncing CGI cartoon; the mystery around Boba Fett was extinguished with a dull revelation; and, for many, the fundamental three-installment exploration of Darth Vader's (melodramatic) origins failed to improve the character - and, conversely, actually undercut his menace in Episodes 4-6. Even if further exploration of Luke, Leia, and Han is merely "good," Episode 7 stands the risk of harming the tremendous affection that enthusiasts already have for the characters. After all, Lucas' "Han Shot Second" change irked longtime followers who felt the alteration fundamentally undercut the character. Now, fast forward 30 years; what are the chances that fans will see an aged Han Solo that lives up to subjective and hyped-up expectations?
Pro - Familiar Faces Will Help Sell The MovieAfter a mixed reaction to the prequel trilogy, familiar faces are guaranteed to help sell the next Star Wars installment - to both die-hards and non-fans alike. For fans, appearances by Han, Luke, and Leia (among other possible characters) will aid in washing away some of those (aforementioned) pesky prequel problems. Much of the current Star Wars franchise landscape has been based in the past - especially with the success of the (quality) Star Wars: The Clone Wars computer animated series. As a result, viewers will be ready for a jump into the future and a return to the original cast of characters that kicked-off the saga. For non-fans, who may not be quite as connected to the ebb and flow of the franchise, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo are still cultural touchstones. Considering modern remakes of retro TV shows and films are all the rage these days, direct ties to the original Star Wars trilogy could re-energize less-impassioned viewers who might have been underwhelmed by the prequel trilogy (or the Episode 1 3D rerelease).
Con - Comparatively, New Characters Might Be A LetdownThe Star Wars franchise doesn't have a flawless track-record when it comes to introducing new characters. While the prequels are notorious for a questionable roster of fresh faces, their were also plenty of controversial additions long before Episode 1: most notably the Ewoks. However, assuming that returning characters in Episode 7 are a success (see Pro #1), they will undoubtedly create added pressure for the series going forward. In order for new trilogy characters to be worthwhile additions, they'll have to stand toe-to-toe with some of the most iconic and beloved characters ever seen onscreen - while also establishing their own stories and dramatic setups for future payoff. If new heroes are significantly less interesting than seeing old veterans reunite, Episode 7 will have missed the most important mark: to establish a new batch of fascinating and capable Star Wars adventurers. An intelligent script and smart casting will be instrumental in the success of the new characters but, considering how eager fans are for more Han, Luke, and Leia, the filmmakers have a tricky balance ahead of them.
Pro - Fan-favorite Actors Reprising Iconic RolesFollowing his days as Han Solo, Harrison Ford kept busy with plenty of high profile work on the big screen. However, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill haven't been quite as noticeable, as the former mostly enjoyed a mix of supporting roles and guest appearances for both TV and movies, while the latter has spent the last decade focused on video game and animated voice work. Consequently, it's understandable why so many fans would be anxious to see the trio back together for Star Wars: Episode 7. Simply imagining a war-torn Hamill once again brandishing a lightsaber, this time as a wise Jedi Master, is sure to bring chills to series fans - as would the thought of Fisher and Ford once again flirting and wisecracking in the middle of a firefight. Of course, several other returning actors could also make an appearance: Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Warwick Davis (Wicket W. Warrick), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), to name a few. Regardless of whether or not the actors would all be visible (given that some would be unrecognizable under makeup and prosthetics), culling original trilogy acting talent would help build enthusiasm for the new films and offer some fun on-screen payoff.
Con - Fan-Favorite Actors Might Not Live-Up to the HypeEpisode 7 wouldn't be the first time that Lucasfilm has dusted off an aging Star Wars actor to reprise an iconic role - when Harrison Ford returned to Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The 2008 film came nineteen years after The Last Crusade and, despite decent reviews, was considered a disappointment for fans of the actor, character, and overarching series. While there were plenty of problems with the film, some die-hards felt as though Ford's performance was a deal breaker - asserting that the actor had resorted to riffing on Indiana Jones as a caricature instead of delivering the same captivating subtleties that made Indy such a hit in the first place. Understandably, it's a problem that could reappear if Ford is asked to step back into the boots of Han Solo - thirty full years after Return of the Jedi. Similarly, Fisher and Hamill will have to readjust to their roles as combat-ready heroes in a blockbuster action production - casting a very bright spotlight on their respective performances. This isn't to say that they can't get in fighting shape again, nail their lines, and usher Luke and Leia into a new big screen chapter - but what if even one of them just can't pull off a successful Star Wars return? Mishandling an iconic character (see Con #2) could both undercut the momentum of the new trilogy while also tarnishing fond memories of the much-beloved original films.
Pro - Shared Universe SynergyConsidering Disney has outright confirmed they will develop standalone Star Wars films to debut in between the numbered episodes, fans should definitely expect to see familiar characters back on the big screen in the years to come. Recent reports suggest that the spin off films could even center on main-line players like Yoda, Boba Fett, and a young Han Solo - making it all the more likely that we'll see several classic trilogy actors back (one way or another). In the case of Han Solo, for example, an appearance by Harrison Ford in Episode 7 would definitely make that rumored standalone film feel a bit more essential to the larger canon. Instead of a one-off adventure (and shameless cash grab), the Han Solo spin-off could actually provide backstory that informs the character's actions as an older man in the new trilogy - even if the connections are very subtle. It's a move that would help sooth resistant fans - especially as Lucasfilm gets closer to casting a young Solo (assuming the rumors are true) - as well as draw in casual viewers, who might otherwise have skipped the standalone films. After all, it worked for The Avengers - why not Star Wars? Plus, that's before we talk about merchandising opportunities.
Con - A Narrow Scope for Such a Vast Fictional UniverseThe Galaxy Far, Far Away is enormous. Full of alien creatures, strange worlds, and hundreds of Expanded Universe story lines that have nothing to do with the central plot of Star Wars: Episodes 1-6. Yet, if reports of Yoda, Han Solo, and Boba Fett standalone films are true - paired with a Skywalker and Solo family storyline in Episode 7, what other adventures might we be missing (i.e. a Seven Samurai-inspired Jedi movie)? Fans and filmgoers are understandably excited to see returning cast members but, so far, the filmmakers appear to be relying heavily on the same stories and character drama that we've seen play-out over the course of the first six films (in addition to countless other mediums). Why not take an entirely fresh direction in the main trilogy or, at the very least, one of two of the spin offs? Star Wars remains one of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world. Admittedly, the prequels may have left some viewers underwhelmed but what's going to reinvigorate the franchise more and best position the series longterm? Revisiting beloved characters (and actors) or a fresh and captivating adventure (albeit punctuated by the same lightsaber wielding Jedi action that made the original films so exciting)? It's possible that Lucasfilm can deliver both but what if that's too tall of an order? Luke Skywalker wanted to get out of his Tatooine comfort zone to adventure and explore the galaxy? Why wouldn't viewers want to do the same?
ConclusionOf course, regardless of what the filmmakers have up their sleeves for Star Wars franchise future, its success will depend highly on the execution. Some fans might be skeptical about the return of one actor or another but if they're working with an inspired script and sharp direction, it's unlikely that the stars won't rise to the occasion and deliver a captivating continuation for their iconic characters. As mentioned earlier, Lucasfilm has not officially weighed-in on the possibility of returning actors in Star Wars: Episode 7 - so it may be some time before we know for sure. Hamill maintains that they are in talks with the studio but have not yet signed contracts and it's possible the actors won't factor into the main story at all - or merely return for glorified cameos. That said, all signs point to a significant role for Hamill, Fisher, and Ford in the new trilogy - but we'll have to wait a little longer to know for sure. Clouded, the future of this franchise is. What do you think of aging Han, Luke, and Leia in Star Wars: Episode 7? What other characters (and actors) would you like to see back for the new trilogy? Share and discuss with us in the comments below. - Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on Star Wars as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news. Star Wars: Episode 7 is set for release in 2015.
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