In an epic Vanity Fair feature published Tuesday, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy laid out how the next phase of Star Wars is focused on television, with the serialized saga of The Mandalorian and its spin-offs soon to be joined by other series set in different periods and starring different characters.
While offering up a hard sell on the exciting projects on the horizon, with some exceptionally charming Ewan McGregor and Diego Luna quotes for flavor, writer Anthony Breznican does also explore some recent missteps made during production. To quote from the piece:
To keep minting fans, Lucasfilm must give new generations their own collection of characters to love and hate, and not every classic character can be brought back endlessly anyway. Kennedy is well aware of all this now. In The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Mark Hamill, 70, delivered performances as 30-something Luke Skywalker, but younger actors played Luke’s body while advanced deepfake technology replaced the face. Bringing Luke to life is now a team sport. But that tech has its limitations. So does recasting.
The 2018 movie Solo explored Han Solo’s younger years, with Alden Ehrenreich taking on the role of the smuggler originated by Harrison Ford. The film has its admirers, but it made less at the box office than any other live-action Star Wars movie. Solo’s swagger may be too singular for another actor to replicate. “There should be moments along the way when you learn things,” says Kennedy. “Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”
It’s a concerning position in a number of ways, at least for anyone who (like this writer) has little patience for the deepfake approach. Star Wars has always been a franchise where the question of who actually plays a character can be a complicated one, whether it be an originally uncredited James Earl Jones providing the voice for the Darth Vader played on screen by David Prowse in Episode IV: A New Hope or the titular character of The Mandalorian being a collaboration between star Pedro Pascal and the stunt performers and body doubles who also fill in.
This isn’t limited to helmeted characters: While Frank Oz both provided the voice and operated the puppet for Yoda’s earlier appearances, voice actor Tom Kane took on the role for Star Wars: The Clone Wars — and, fun fact learned while researching this piece, John Lithgow played Yoda in NPR radio drama adaptations of both Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. (You can be the judge of whose take is the best.)
In some ways, the “team” effort involved in creating the illusion of a 30-something Mark Hamill saying new dialogue and interacting with new characters could be seen as just the next evolution of this process — after all, all franchises eventually have to face the fact that actors age and times change. The problem is the results: Please raise your hand if you can watch Return of the Jedi and Chapter 6 of The Book of Boba Fett back-to-back and not notice a difference in the Luke Skywalkers on screen. An unsettling difference, at that.
There may come a point at which this is no longer true, but right now the technology just isn’t there, and hasn’t been there for years. The real solution, which does sound like is a big factor in LucasFilms’ plans, is this line: “To keep minting fans, Lucasfilm must give new generations their own collection of characters to love and hate.” It’s what happens if that proves unsuccessful that proves worrying — because if the new characters don’t connect with fans, and LucasFilm is too burned by memories of Solo to consider recasting with new actors… then deepfake versions of classic characters may become their last resort.