John Boyega and Letitia Wright have solidly built their resumes on individual blockbuster successes. Pop culture enthusiasts would be hard-pressed not to know Finn from Star Wars or Shuri from Black Panther as they have truly become iconic figures. These characters are particularly empowering as young black protagonists with impactful narrative agencies and bracing identities. Putting such captivating onscreen personalities as Boyega and Wright in a single movie is thus such a logical move and the fact that it’s really happening should be celebrated.
Deadline has the scoop on a new film that exhilaratingly combines these amazing actors with the demonstrable currency of science-fiction — particularly space movies. Boyega and Wright will headline Hold Back the Stars, which is an adaptation of Katie Khan‘s novel of the same name. Mike Cahill (Another Earth, I Origins) is slated to helm the project from a screenplay by relative up-and-comer Christy Hall. As a fun coincidence, Hall actually wrote the script for a drama in development titled Daddio, which previously cast Boyega’s Star Wars costar Daisy Ridley.
Hold Back the Stars is described by Deadline as “Romeo and Juliet meets Gravity,” and a pretty evocative image can be painted with that description alone. But let’s dig a little deeper because the original book has more to offer. Boyega and Wright’s protagonists to fall in love and both of them end up in space at some point. But what happens when their days are quickly numbered by an excursion that goes terribly wrong? When they evidently only have 90 minutes left to live as they drift among the stars?
Khan’s novel follows a forbidden romance that blossoms between Carys (Wright) and Max (Boyega) in a distant utopian future. Parts of the world have been demolished after nuclear warfare, making way for the countries that remain to transform into a collective society named Europia. In this new highly-curated and futuristic world, cultural divides have apparently been shattered. People live a rotational nomadic life, moving between districts every few years. Belief systems are simplified into two opposing factions from the vast array of religions humans were once familiar with. Most prominently, love as a whole has become a hyper-controlled affair in Europia. According to the Couples Rule, only people later in their thirties are allowed to form long-lasting relationships. Carys and Max are much younger than that, though, and are already head over heels for each other.
Hold Back the Stars is set up with contrasting timelines. Readers follow the pair’s present-day dilemma of potentially facing death in space alongside flashbacks to their blossoming romance back on earth. Societal and cultural constrictions seek to hinder their bond, but a sense of purpose and fate surround their relationship nonetheless. Admittedly, these elements ensure that Hold Back the Stars is distinctly escapist. The book certainly benefits from a suspension of disbelief to truly buy the machinations and technicalities of its world-building. The most distracting thing about the novel is that Khan’s choice to divvy up the book into segments of past and present also, unfortunately, doesn’t allow the drama and tension of the story to flow as efficiently.
However, the emotional core of Carys and Max is sustained by how layered and believable both characters are as they naturally develop over the course of the novel. They seem perfect for Wright and Boyega as actors, too. Carys’ intelligence is a vital part of her character, which Wright totally pulls off. The actress’ roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as other projects like Black Mirror, exemplify that she can be as cool, lovable, and sparklingly witty as she is inquisitive and knowledgeable. Meanwhile, Max’s penchant for funny banter is something that Boyega consistently excels in on screen. Among Attack the Block, Star Wars, and Pacific Rim: Uprising, Boyega is likability personified as his performances invite warmth and comfort.
Combine all of that with the deeply moving sensibilities of Cahill’s drama-centric sci-fi movies, and I’m looking forward to Hold Back the Stars despite the novel’s technical shortcomings. Cahill’s first venture into the genre, Another Earth, is a meditative masterpiece; an emotionally charged and beautifully devastating portrait of trauma and recovery that intersects scientific breakthrough with the potential for rebirth. When a “mirror” Earth is discovered, the film’s protagonist sees an opportunity to right the wrongs of her past transgressions when a way to travel between her world and this new one is unveiled. In comparison, Cahill’s next feature I Origins discusses the possible intersection of science and faith. In the movie, love’s capacity to change the course of a person’s life is earnestly portrayed through the story of a scientist who inexplicably falls for a mysterious woman after a passionate, unexpected encounter.
Clearly, this sort of sweeping romance and deep emotional dissection is well within Cahill’s wheelhouse. The cerebral nature of his work never gives way to unbelievable saccharine sentimentality. Instead, sci-fi and romance marry impeccably to deliver profound, if far-flung, observations about the human condition. Hence, with Cahill’s sensitive filmmaking and two ideal co-stars, the extensive love story of Hold Back the Stars — against-all-odds as it is — would make for a spectacular delight.