The Force Awakens ten years after the big casting reveal

A look back at the cast that shaped the sequels
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren and Rey duel with their lightsabers. Image credit: Star
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren and Rey duel with their lightsabers. Image credit: Star /

It’s hard to imagine that an entire trilogy of movies has been released in the last ten years, but it is true that this week marks the tenth anniversary of the casting announcement for what we now know as Star Wars Episode VII:  The Force Awakens. It is worth remembering where the sequel trilogy started and how it made us feel.

Seven years after Anakin Skywalker took his first breath within Darth Vader’s helmet in Revenge of the Sith, Forrest Wickman of Slate reported exciting news:

"“George Lucas has been saying lately that he will never make another sequel to Star Wars—and he may have found a roundabout way of keeping his promise.”"

Forrest Wickman

The 2012 Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm was something of a surprise but also marked a possible paradigm shift.  It also begged the question of what Disney intended to do with the galaxy far, far away.  A 1978 article in Time magazine cited George Lucas as having plans for twelve movies, but J.W. Rinzler, LucasFilm executive editor and author of The Making of Star Wars, relates Lucas’ comments on three trilogies in “The Long, Winding, and Shapeshifting Trail to Episodes VII, VIII & IX.”

"The other one - what happens to Luke afterward - is much more ethereal. I have a tiny notebook full of notes on that. If I'm really ambitious, I could proceed to figure out what would have happened to Luke."

George Lucas

The seventh film aimed to answer the question of the Skywalker legacy, but it came after decades of creative works ranging from Marvel comics storylines to the animated The Clone Wars series.  I, like many fans, had to wonder where Disney would go next.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Star Wars: The Last Jedi..Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)..Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd. ..© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. /

The casting list was an early glimpse into the new era. Reassuringly, we not only saw Mark Hamill promised to return as Luke, but several other beloved figures. Based on the list, audiences could expect the return of Leia Organa, Han Solo, C-3PO, Chewbacca, and R2-D2. Some of these characters had been entirely absent from the prequel trilogy covering the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. The excitement was understandable. 

In the list of newcomers, two names immediately stood out to me. Academy Award nominee Max von Sydow was known for roles of great gravitas such as The Apostle Peter in Quo Vadis and the titular character in The Exorcist. At the time, he had recently been nominated for an Academy Award for portraying The Renter in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Whatever role he filled in J.J. Abrams’ continuation of the Skywalker saga was guaranteed to be memorable.

Equally as recognizable in the early years of the 21st Century was the name of Andy Serkis. His career up to this point was varied and appreciated, but many of us knew him very well as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the first installment of The Hobbit. He also voiced the giant primate at the heart of King Kong. The motion capture and portrayal of Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes garnered acclaim. He might be a sinister character in the making, but his turn as Jenna’s flamboyant boss in 13 Going on 30 recalled a lighter-hearted side.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Star Wars: The Last Jedi..Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)..Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd. ..© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. /

The remaining cast, as announced in 2014, was not as familiar to me. Adam Driver played a complicated boyfriend in Girls so irritatingly that I hoped he would be a villain, but that was perhaps an unfair assessment. I had not seen his work in Lincoln or Law and Order. Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, meanwhile, was Harry Potter’s Bill Weasley for me and Levin in the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina.  He was certain to be on the side of the angels in Episode VII.

Rounding out the cast were three players whose work I was introduced to with this movie. The teaser trailer that was released in late 2014 opened with the sudden appearance of a frantic stormtrooper played by John Boyega.  He gained fame in the United Kingdom in 2011 in Attack the Block but also played a young boxer in Da Brick.

Oscar Isaac had been appearing on screens since 1996, but news of his involvement in came just five days after the release of Ex Machina and this was a film he shared with Gleeson.

(Left to right( Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), BB-8, D-O, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) in STAR WARS: EPISODE IX /

Finally, Daisy Ridley. There was no telling what her role might be, but this was the franchise built on the stories of Princess Leia and Queen Amidala. Ridley had appeared in short films and television programs in 2013, but she was a newcomer to feature-length films.

The sequel trilogy has come and gone. Some of the actors mentioned on this day a decade ago are no longer with us, while all of the characters played by this cast have left marks on fans’ hearts. It’s wonderful to see how far the franchise has come.

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