As C-3PO would say: “Thank the maker!” Star Wars: Episode VIII is officially underway.
Disney and Lucasfilm made the announcement on Monday with a new video – picking up right where the last movie left off (see it above). Also unveiled were some new cast additions: Traffic Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro, who was long rumored for a villainous part (if you consider him repeatedly saying he was doing the movie a rumor), and surprise addition Jurassic Park and Enlightened star Laura Dern.
While Del Toro has confirmed he’s playing someone who tilts toward the dark side, there has been no indication who Dern might play – although if Episode VIII delves into the question of Rey’s family, she seems to be a likely option to play her mother. But for now, anything is possible. (And what ties to the original trilogy might Rey’s mother have, anyway? Here’s my guess.)
Dern and Del Toro are joined by relative unknown Kelly Marie Tran, a San Diego native, UCLA grad, and veteran of the improv comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade. Calling her a “newcomer” is a bit of a misstatement, since she has been working for years in small roles, including appearances in many CollegeHumor shorts and bit parts in TV shows such as About a Boy, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Her role was also unspecified, but presumably it’s a significant one if she merits inclusion in the start-of-production announcement. The presence of an Asian-American actress among the main cast is another step forward for the Star Wars universe, which began significantly diversifying its human population with The Force Awakens.
Episode VIII is being written and directed by Looper and Brick filmmaker Rian Johnson and will be produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Johnson’s longtime producing partner Ram Bergman.
Although Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger said last week principal photography was already underway, the studio announcement Monday said filming had just began. (Technically, it started back in September, when the crew returned to the Irish seaside location of Skellig Michael for the shots featured in the video above.)
Here’s how the studio announcement began:
“Rey took her first steps into a larger world in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and will continue her epic journey with Finn, Poe, and Luke Skywalker in the next chapter of the continuing Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode VIII, which began principal photography at Pinewood Studios in London on Feb. 15, 2016.”
The cast of The Force Awakens is back in action, too – 22 months after many were first announced with with a now-iconic black and white photo of the cast assembled on a soundstage for a table read of the script. For Episode VIII, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Anthony Daniels will all return, joining the galaxy’s new generation: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson. Captain Phasma obviously survived her trip into the garbage compactor, since Gwendoline Christie is returning as the chrome trooper, and we’ll get more of Supreme Leader Snoke and kindly Maz Kanata, with performance-capture stars Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o resuming their roles.
If you still haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, don’t think too hard about who is missing from that list – although it’s kind of obvious. (And I’m not talking about BB-8. If that roly-poly robot weren’t in the sequel, there would be riots.)
One name who still hasn’t appeared: Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. Han Solo’s frenemy and inveterate con artist turned Cloud City politician only joined Star Wars in its second installment, The Empire Strikes Back, so many fans were hoping for a little symmetry by seeing the 78-year-old actor back in the blue cape for Episode VIII. No such luck – although it’s possible, even likely, his presence could be saved as a surprise.
Episode VIII will be executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Jason McGatlin, and Tom Karnowski, and the sequel will get some new crew as well. Among them, cinematographer Steve Yedlin (who worked with Johnson on Looper), editor Bob Ducsay (Looper, San Andreas), production designer Rick Heinrichs (Fargo, Captain America), hair and make-up designer Peter Swords King (The Lord of the Rings saga), and U.S. casting director Mary Vernieu (Black Swan, Looper – see a pattern here?)
They join returning crew members co-producer and VP post production Pippa Anderson, creature and droid FX creative supervisor Neal Scanlan, costume designer Michael Kaplan, prop master Jamie Wilkinson, SFX supervisor Chris Corbould, stunt coordinator Rob Inch, VFX supervisor Ben Morris, and U.K. casting director Nina Gold.
Star Wars: Episode VIII is set for release Dec. 15, 2017, but we’ll get more galactic adventure on the big screen before that, with Star Wars: Rogue One, a stand-alone story about the team that steals the plans for the original Death Star, dropping this year, on Dec. 16.
Expect things to go quiet on Episode VIII for the near future while director Gareth Edwards’ Rebel heist film moves to the center of the galaxy.