Pacific Rim Uprising has had an interesting journey to the big screen. The sequel to director Guillermo del Toro's 2013 film has taken a while to develop and has gone through some major changes along the way. Del Toro left to go do a little passion project called The Shape of Water (which I'd say worked out pretty well), and Daredevil and Spartacus showrunner Steven DeKnight took over the sequel. DeKnight wanted to get the story just right, and his writers turned in a script they loved featuring Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Becket from the first film. When Hunnam dropped out to film Papillon, the team kept the same structure, but replaced Raleigh with a brother sister duo. But that didn't work out either, and that's when the inspiration came for John Boyega's character. Steven DeKnight explained:
We finished [the script] and nobody liked it, including me, and I helped write it. And then [producers] Mary [Parent] and Guillermo [del Toro] came up with this idea of the son of Stacker Pentecost.
You have to appreciate Steven DeKnight's honesty here speaking to io9 about the entire process. That can't be an easy thing to be prepping for a huge blockbuster and then to have your star not return. It's cool to hear too that although Guillermo del Toro isn't directing anymore, it is clear that he is still involved in the franchise. He was one of the people who came up with the idea that changed the protagonist and ultimately saved the film after Charlie Hunnam's exit. After making this pivot, Steven DeKnight brought in T.S. Nowlin, the writer of the Maze Runner movies, to make the script, written by Kira Snyder and Emily Carmichael, work for Jake Pentecost. It sounds like they were happy with it, and now we are mere weeks away from the film. This pivot also creates a potentially more interesting narrative than having the hero Raleigh Becket return. Jake Pentecost has this impossible legacy to live up to as he carries the weight of the world and his name on his shoulders.
While there are surely some fans who would have liked to see Charlie Hunnam back for Pacific Rim Uprising, these giant blockbusters have a lot of financial interests at play, which means they have release windows they have to hit. And to be honest, the humans were the least memorable part of Pacific Rim. Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Becket was fine, but not memorable. Make no mistake, the selling point for these films is giant robots fighting giant monsters, but thinking back to Pacific Rim, I remember more of Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost than I do Hunnam's Raleigh Becket, but your mileage may vary. John Boyega brings a different kind of charisma than Hunnam that I think will work well for this film. Boyega also brings a hugely recognizable face to this franchise, coming off of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was the biggest film of last year.