Rarely has there been this much anticipation for a follow-up film this far in advance of its predecessor's release. While we wait for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to hit theaters, excitement continues to mount for Star Wars: Episode VIII, the 2017 installment of the franchise. With production already underway, there has been considerable speculation about actor appearances, filming locations and character teases.
Casting has been a particularly interesting point of focus, as the The Force Awakens will introduce a new array of younger characters to the series, along with some some of the original cast. We can now reveal more information about the film's female lead role.
According to Collider, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights) is joining the cast, confirming earlier speculation that she was a front runner for the role. As with most aspects of the film, no details have been released about her character or how she will fit into the greater Star Wars universe. If casting speculation is to be believed she beat out Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) for the part.
There is still a chance that one of those three actresses will find herself in a galaxy far, far away, as there was reportedly two major female roles that needed to be cast. What's less likely is the second role going to Maslany, who was a fan favorite from the beginning -- and at one point a contender for Star Wars: Rouge One -- but is currently in negotiations for Lionsgate's Stronger. She would star alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in this film about the Boston Marathon bombing, the production of which would cause scheduling conflicts with Episode VIII (via THR).
Regardless of who else is cast in the film, Mbatha-Raw is a fantastic choice, and has more than earned the title of rising star after her electric performances in both Belle and Beyond the Lights. Granted, nothing is certain until Disney makes a formal announcement, but by now it is clear this franchise is building the next generation of superstars and the talent involved continues to impress as well as elevate expectations that were already astronomically high.
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.