Filmmaker J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens - the seventh live-action movie installment in the Star Wars franchise - hasn't opened in theaters yet (at the time of writing this), yet both of the next two Star Wars films on Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm's release slate have already entered production. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla (2014)) is now well into shooting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, while writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) has done some real-world location filming for Star Wars: Episode VIII in Ireland.
A number of the new (and younger) characters who will debut in Force Awakens - such as Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) - are expected to return in Episode VIII. Meanwhile, Johnson is busy adding even more new blood into the mix for his Star Wars adventure, including Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro as a potential villainous type - and possibly two more key female characters, according to the latest report on the matter.
Latino Review has provided an update on the Episode VIII casting situation; while it was previously reported that casting is underway for a new female lead role, LR claims there are two "substantial" roles for women in Episode VIII that need to be filled. The names on that previously released shortlist - composed of the rising stars Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) - are reportedly in consideration for either of these roles, while it seems Gugu Mbatha-Raw is likewise among the finalists being eyed to play one of the two Star Wars roles.
Deadline also recently reported that the British thespian Mbatha-Raw, who is very much a rising star herself, is on the shortlist to play Marion in Lionsgate's Robin Hood: Origins film. Both Episode VIII and Robin Hood will be in production at the same time, so Mbatha-Raw will not be able to appear in both of these films. It's also worth noting that Cooke may be out of the running at this juncture for Star Wars, though, as she is in talks to costar in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One - which, like Episode VIII, is scheduled for arrival in 2017.
Mbatha-Raw broke-out in 2014 with acclaimed roles in the period drama Belle and showbiz melodrama Beyond the Lights; Mbatha-Raw played a small role in Jupiter Ascending earlier this year, though she is expected to play more extensive roles in upcoming true story-based dramas Concussion and The Free State of Jones (in addition to having a small role in Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast in 2017). Truth be told, though, all four of the contenders shortlisted for Episode VIII right now are young stars with promising futures ahead of them, so it's a win-win situation for the Star Wars fan-base no matter how things ultimately shake out.
It's also encouraging to see that the Star Wars universe becoming an increasingly diverse place (as far as the human population is concerned, that is), with regard to both gender and race - seeing as Force Awakens and Rogue One's collective cast also includes such noteworthy folk as Gwendoline Christie, Oscar Isaac, Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, and Donnie Yen, among others. The animated side of Star Wars is also expanding and growing by the year, with the Star Wars Rebels animated TV series having added Sarah Michelle Gellar (among others) to its voice acting roster for its fast-approaching season 2.
You can expect an update on the Episode VIII casting situation over the next couple months, as the countdown to Episode VII/Force Awakens continues. In the meantime, feel free to let us know which of the short-listed cast members for Episode VIII you want to see travel to a galaxy far, far away.
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.