Sometimes, we get a rare, priceless opportunity to watch the rise of new cinema icons. Who knows how these lucky few are chosen – whether by connections, hard work, or luck of the draw? These players are thrust into the spotlight before our eyes, for the amount of time that any of us can sit still in a cool, dark room, clad in the raiment of greatness. Who knows if they’ll last? (I dare you to name anything else featuring the guy who played Captain Panaka without hitting up Wikipedia.) All we really know about these actors is that their faces will go into the history books. People will know who they are long after the world forgets Dick Cheney, Jon Stewart, and Lady Gaga. They are Those-Who-Have-Been-in-Star-Wars, and they will be special for generations.
So casting Episode VII is a big, big deal. The fact that J.J. Abrams is pursuing fresh talent with big chops, especially Lupita Nyong’o of Twelve Years a Slave, indicates that his attitude is exactly where it should be: this is not a sci-fi franchise. It’s a cultural installation more central to American identity than peanut butter sandwiches. It needs to be taken very seriously. The fact that Abrams is even meeting with this actress indicates that he understands that the next step in the progression calls for something more complex than a deadpan Padme or an obnoxious Anakin. Even fans who were children for Episodes I, II, and III are ready for something more grown-up this time.
Twelve Years a Slave was certainly serious enough, and Nyong’o won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Patsey, an abused slave. Her part was emotionally tricky and fraught with challenges, demanding the kind of depth and range that audiences deserve to see in Star Wars. According to the Hollywood Reporter, she is now meeting about a role as a descendent of Obi-Wan Kenobi, or a Sith warrior.
These scraps of information alone are now igniting forums across the web. It’s no longer possible to ignore the fact that we are possibly facing a change: a Star Wars that could finally meet our expectations. Whether this particular hot-button actress makes the cast or not, she’s a bellwether for the tone of Episode VII. For fans, she represents a new hope.