The Star Wars saga is returning to the big screen this December with J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and Lucasfilm is wasting no time in getting their sequel trilogy out. The studio has dated Rian Johnson’s currently untitled Star Wars: Episode VIII for May 2017, meaning that the director will have to start rolling cameras in the first half of 2016 if they are to stay on schedule.

As such, Johnson is busy handling pre-production responsibilities, which includes casting some of the franchise’s new additions for the upcoming film. Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro remains on track to take on an unspecified villain role, and now a short list for the mystery female lead has been revealed.

The Wrap is reporting that Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) are the top contenders for that new role. Some sources say that Johnson is still holding auditions for several actresses, while others claim he’s narrowed the field down to the three listed here and they’ll be doing screen tests with Force Awakens star John Boyega (who plays Finn) by the end of the month. Either way, all three actors seem to be in contention.

Of course, as with most things Star Wars, details about what the new role entails are nonexistent. As such, it makes it difficult to say which of the reported trio is the true front-runner. You may recall that Maslany was a candidate for the Star Wars: Rogue One lead part that eventually went to Felicity Jones, so she obviously has made an impression with Disney and Lucasfilm. However, all three ladies have shown they are talented performers (receiving much acclaim and even awards – both in nominations and wins), so any of them would be a welcome inclusion to the series.

Star Wars Episode 8 actress short list Star Wars: Episode 8 Female Lead Casting Shortlist Revealed

Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany, and Olivia Cooke

The rumor mill has suggested that the role in question is that of Han Solo’s daughter, which calls into question not only the plot of Episode VIII, but also our preconceived notions of The Force Awakens. Daisy Ridley’s Rey has long been speculated to be the offspring of Han and Princess Leia, but insiders close to the production maintain that none of the new heroes are a Skywalker or Solo. Always one for some misdirection, Abrams has also teased that the last names of Finn and Rey are purposely being kept a secret until the film comes out, so we most likely won’t find out for sure what’s going on until then.

In the meantime, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Episode VIII is going to continue to add to the saga’s roster of characters. Every film prior has given us new heroes and villains to meet, so this is keeping in line with Star Wars tradition. Some of the series’ most famous faces, such as Lando Calrissian and Yoda, didn’t make their first appearance until a sequel, and left a major impact on moviegoers. Ideally, this new lead (whoever she ends up being) will be able to join those ranks and give fans another favorite to latch on to.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.

Source: The Wrap

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