Action Star Donnie Yen Reportedly Joins ‘Episode VIII’ Cast


The rumors surrounding details of Star Wars: The Force Awakens are still coming fast and furious, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cast our gaze beyond Dec. 18 and speculate as to what’s beyond — namely, what we can expect from Episode VIII.

And courtesy of a new report making the rounds, we have our first real casting tidbit about Rian Johnson’s upcoming entry in the saga, due in theaters May 26, 2017.

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According to an article on Singapore-based newspaper The Straits Times, which cites a Hong Kong newspaper called Apple Daily, the film has cast Hong Kong action icon Donnie Yen in the film as “a Chinese Jedi.” Yen’s character, who has not been named, will reportedly meet up with Han Solo and become his ally.

Perhaps the biggest news out of this rumor is what won’t make it into the headlines: This seems to confirm that Han Solo will appear in Episode VIII, dashing any rumors that he could die or disappear in The Force Awakens (I suppose he could still be frozen in carbonite.) But it’s very suspicious that Han is gaining a new compadre. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean something happens to Chewbacca in J.J. Abrams’ film.

Another strange aspect of the report is the line that Yen will be heading to London next month to “start film work.” This sounds more like Yen may be appearing in Star Wars: Rogue One, which recently began filming, although it’s not out of the question that Episode VIII has started early pre-production and Yen is required. This would seem to conflict with the other line that Yen meets up with Han Solo, who the newspaper confirms is played by Harrison Ford and not some younger actor.

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The only other actor confirmed for Episode VIII is Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron.

Other actors considered for the role include Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Wang Leehom, Chang Chen, Daniel Wu and Stephen Chow. Li was also one of the finalists, but the newspaper reports his price was too high.

Donnie Yen in “Blade II.”

You might recognize the 51-year-old Yen as the villain in Shanghai Knights, or as the vampire Snowman in Blade II. Yen is actually a popular and bankable action film star in the Asian film industry, with starring roles in movies like Ip Man. He’s also a stunt choreographer, so this could hint at the sequel trilogy, or at least Episode VIII, delving into some martial arts fighting sequences.

It’s also another sign of Disney’s commitment to incorporate actors of multiple ethnicities into the franchise, although it doesn’t hurt that Hollywood is cashing in on huge box office results in China. Yen’s casting comes on the heels of rumors of another Asian actor being cast in the films.

I’d be most excited to see the Star Wars sequels incorporate the style and energy of Hong Kong action films into lightsaber fighting, based off of the films of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The prequels’ fights were impressive but often relied too much on CGI, which lessened their physical impact onscreen. An emphasis on Asian cinema’s authentic, brutal style could reinvigorate the lightsaber fight like the franchise needs.

Next: Is Disney Planning a Star Wars Theme Park Expansion?