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How are we supposed to react to the breaking rumor that J.J. Abrams has tapped his Star Trek Into Darkness villain, Benedict Cumberbatch, to join the still-formulating Star Wars: Episode VII? As rabid Sherlock fans, we should be jumping for joy that such a brilliant actor will step into a (hopefully) significant role for the franchise. And yet, there’s a part of us that remains burned by Abrams’ "Mystery Box" nonsense, and the lack of concrete facts has us withholding judgment.
Whenever major Star Wars news breaks, I love to get my friend and colleague Adam Frazier from Geeks of Doom on the horn. The man knows Star Wars, and I wanted his opinion on the casting rumor, and where Cumberbatch could fall into Lucas’ existing galaxies.
Sean: So, Adam, the news is "breaking" that Star Trek Into Darkness co-star Benedict Cumberbatch is following director J.J. Abrams to his pending Star Wars project. Not Simon Pegg, as many had hoped/believed. But Khan, himself. I, for one, believe adding Cumberbatch to ANY project is a step in the right direction. Do you see any problems with it? Do you think casting Cumberbatch in Star Wars is a good idea?
Adam Frazier: I think Cumberbatch is a great actor, but I'm a little worried. There's already this "Oh great, here comes J.J. Abrams to ruin another franchise" mentality out there on the Internet amongst fanboys. If you add on top of that, "Oh great, the guy who ruined Khan," the hate for Episode VII might surpass Ben Affleck as Batman. I personally don't have a problem with it -- but I want more diversity between those two franchises.
Sean: I understand that. Why do you think the knives are out for Star Wars already? It can't still be "prequel hate." Why has Abrams gone from "savior" to "potential demon" in the eyes of Star Wars faithful?
Adam: I'm not sure it's the Star Wars faithful that you have to worry about. It's everyone else. The Prequels have millions of apologists -- not to mention younger generations who love the Prequel Trilogy just as much as we loved the Original Trilogy. According to Star Trek fans, Star Trek into Darkness is apparently the worst Trek film ever made. It's that kind of over-the-top hatred that will doom Episode VII before we even know a single plot detail. You know what they say: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to... suffering.
Sean: OK, let's start thinking positive, because I think adding Cumberbatch can only help a project. Any project. He's a terrific actor, and he's about to show everyone his range in a series of major film dramas this fall. But in the Star Wars realm, do you have any guesses on who he might play?
Adam: It's hard to say, considering we know zero about the plot. But clearly, he's too old to play the offspring of Skywalker or Solo [based on the rumors so far about the ages of the supposed leads]. The Expanded Universe contains a wealth of material covering hundreds of novels, comics, and video games. There are so many characters and storylines with cinematic potential. I think he would make a great Grand Admiral Thrawn. But perhaps playing another iconic villain isn't the best move. I can hear it now: "Oh great, he's going to ruin Thrawn the way he ruined Khan!"
I would prefer to see him play a heroic character - maybe a Jedi - the Mace Windu to Old Man Luke's Yoda?
Sean: Wait, do you honestly think he "ruined" Khan?
Adam: I don't - but I'm not a Star Trek fan. The only reason I like Abrams' Trek films is because they are so obviously inspired by Star Wars. The majority of Star Trek fans seem to despise Into Darkness for how it handled Khan. In my opinion, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was nothing more than an attempt by Paramount to make a darker Star Trek film in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back anyway, so I wasn't that invested in Montalbán's version of the character.
Sean: Well, the mishandling of Khan, to me, stems back to Abrams' "Mystery Box" nonsense, and I think that people might have been more accepting if they knew Cumberbatch was Khan from Day One. Then the discussion could have been, "How are they going to approach this classic character?" instead of all the "Is he or isn't he?" garbage that dogged the film up to its release.
Maybe that's the big lesson learned from STID. Transparency can actually help Star Wars. Let us know relatively early who Cumberbatch is playing. Dark Side, or not.
Adam: In a weird way, Star Trek has been the real story of Episode VII. Without George Lucas involved, a lot of people are in the position to say, "Well hey, at least it won't be as bad as the Prequels, right?" But now you've got another crowd saying, "Well, it could be as bad as Star Trek Into Darkness." And I agree, any issues with the mishandling of Khan have zero to do with Cumberbatch's performance and more with the script.
Sean: OK, next question. Does this Cumberbatch news disrupt the rumor that Hamill, Fisher and Ford still might be involved?
Adam: I don't think so - but back to your point on transparency. Why on Earth would you confirm a Star Trek actor in an unknown role for your new Star Wars movie when you haven't even announced a single character name or plot point from the film? We haven't even had an announcement about the original cast yet (and there have been numerous opportunities at Star Wars Celebration, San Diego Comic-Con, and D23 Expo). It's just weird that this rumor seems to coincide with the release of Star Trek Into Darkness on Blu-ray and seems like such an obvious choice -- like Bryan Cranston as Lex Luthor, just some Sherlock nerd's wildest dreams turned into an internet rumor.
Sean: On that note, none of this is official yet. We haven't heard ANYTHING from Disney, LucasFilm, Abrams or Mickey Damn Mouse. At all. Part of me fears that this whole conversation is merely chasing the tail of yet another Star Wars rumor that fans are generating in the absence of any REAL news. I mean, enough people with ears close to the production have been saying "Cumberbatch" for weeks now. And it makes sense, on several levels. But Disney could curb a LOT of this with a few simple "official" announcement, no?
Adam: Yeah, it's funny to see the shift in how Star Wars pre-production is being handled. When Episode III was in pre-production, the official Star Wars Web site offered a paid subscription to watch featurettes on the making of the film as it was happening - you got your first look at concept art, costumes, characters, sets, etc.
Now, under "Mystery Box Man" J.J. Abrams, no one can even figure out what the movie will be about or what characters might be included. I'm not sure what Disney is waiting for ... maybe they don't have a script finished yet?
Sean: That's terrifying to think. Though the news of casting has to mean they have a plot and characters in place. Right?
Adam: I guess? I hope so, anyway. But again, those casting calls and character descriptions from a while back were never confirmed either - until I hear something from Abrams or Kathleen Kennedy, it's all just conjecture.
Sean: Exactly. So, let's wrap up. We're happy that Cumberbatch is potentially part of Star Wars, even though it is still far too early to guess who he might play, or how Abrams could use him. Do we agree?
Adam: Agreed. There's no shortage of amazing actors out there we'd love to see in a Star Wars film, and likewise there are hundreds of actors who grew up loving Star Wars, and would jump at the chance to play in that universe. If Vin Diesel can play a talking tree and Bradley Cooper can embody a talking raccoon, I'm sure Khan can play Thrawn.
Should Benedict Cumberbatch be in Star Wars: Episode VII?