If you’re reading this, chances are pretty high that you’ve got some vested interest in Star Wars. And if that’s the case, than you must have seen the same thing I did this weekend: Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s face plastered across every film news site in the known universe, with the words Star Wars: Episode VII following shortly after. The anticipation swells as you think of Ejiofor and Star Wars as a perfect match; he’s got talent and charisma galore, and Serenity proves he’s no stranger to the space opera action adventure. His name even sounds a little like “Chewie.” That’s got to mean something.
And then you actually read beyond the words “Chiwetel Ejiofor” and “Star Wars” and that giddy excitement transforms back into the same dull Star Wars-less banality of everyday life. Here’s the connection The Times discovered between Ejiofor and Episode VII director J. J. Abrams.
“The British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, front-runner in this year’s Oscar race, is sitting in the lobby of J. J. Abrams’ office.” Then, when prodded about Ejiofor’s office-lobby involvement, Abrams drops this juicy morsel: “I can’t discuss casting. But he’s a very talented gentleman.”
That’s it. No rumors of casting negotiations. No rumors of an audition. Ejiofor just happened to be sitting in Abrams’ office, and when questioned, Abrams complimented his acting ability and said nothing more. This isn’t even the first time a Star Wars rumor has been concocted from the last dregs of the news barrel. About a month ago Daniel Day-Lewis’ name was being bandied about- wait for it- because El Mayimbe of Latino Review saw Day-Lewis having lunch with Kathleen Kennedy and George Lucas. I’m surprised no one reported on the implications of Day-Lewis’ meal choice. A salad with light dressing might signify his uncertainty to join the project, while the robust Italian flavors of a panini might represent more forceful negotiations.
This unique level of Star Wars crazy isn’t really something to be surprised about. In merging Star Wars and J. J. Abrams together into a single entity, Disney has summoned up the perfect storm of insane fan theorizing. Abrams has demonstrated over and over that his preferred mode of operations is total secrecy, and that he’ll only emerge from the deep, dark depths of his underground burrow to throw some microscopic tease at his audience before scrambling back in. Creature features Super 8 and Cloverfield were built up with expansive viral marketing campaigns, providing layers of detail for background characters and vast offshoots of setting, but saying oh so very little about the actual movies. Cloverfield’s viral marketing, in particular, provided everything you could possibly want to know about Slusho!, a make-believe frozen beverage that had essentially nothing to do with the film in question. And who could forget when Abrams showed up on Conan with the first-ever clip from Star Trek Into Darkness: three frames of Spock almost catching on fire.
So you pair Abrams – a man who can’t even collaborate on a novel without releasing a cryptic black and white teaser trailer of a man stumbling around on a beach- with Star Wars, arguably the most popular entertainment franchise in film history. And the obvious happens. Abrams keeps things completely hush-hush while Star Wars fans (and a Star Wars-obsessed media) go out of their minds in an attempt to squeeze blood from any and every stone that sort of resembles Yoda in the right light.
You’d think, given the amount of times this crowd has been burned by the combined forces of Star Wars and Abrams, that they’d be a little hesitant before climbing back aboard the hype train. Abrams has had his share of successes, but for every winner there’s a Cloverfield lurking in the shadows; a steady build of viral marketing buzz that brought anticipation far above what a fairly ordinary found-footage flick deserved. And the king of film letdowns is none other than Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a film that obliterated its audience’s expectations in an unprecedented ratio of anticipation to actual payoff.
Yet the cynics aren’t winning this battle, and the frenzy around Star Wars continues to grow with each passing celebrity who stands next to J.J. Abrams for too long. One might think it’s some glimmer of hope in all of us, that continues to beat away the bad thoughts and the skeptics and keep Star Wars close to our hearts. Or it might be that the world at large truly believes that this perfect storm of hype is also the perfect combination to create a great new Star Wars trilogy. Personally, I just think it’s because Chiwetel Ejiofor would make a great Lando Jr.